Category Archives: Desserts

Cheesecakes – Pumpkin and Gingerbread

For as long as I can remember, I have only really liked naked cheesecake – a plain, New York style suited me very nicely. I remember having a taste of cheesecake with raspberry or some other kind of syrup on it, and just thinking it was an abomination. Thus I went through life, declining cheesecake that was not naked because Ew gross gross.

Recently I was tasked with being a guinea pig for a friend who had made pumpkin cheesecake. What drew me in was the gingersnap crust – I love gingersnaps. So I decided to try it, just in case it was good. Surprisingly not gross. Yes, the gingersnaps helped, but overall it was good.

I celebrated two thanksgivings this year, one with one portion of the family, then a second over this last weekend with my grandparents, who tasked me with bringing some yummy baked goods. Not really feeling terribly creative, I opted for the cheesecake – I already had some over-baked molasses cookies I could use for the crust. To my surprise, as I have only once made cheesecake, the recipe called for a LOT of pumpkin because it makes a LOT of filing. I have finally run out of pumpkin, but I had just enough to make half a batch of cheesecake. This is where I got a bit creative – I’m saving as much of my ingredients as possible for the upcoming Bake-a-thon, so I needed something easy that I have a lot of that would go well with that molasses cookie crust. Oh, look! more molasses. Turned out the basic bits of both recipes were mostly the same, so I just split the filling in half by weight at the point where the two recipes diverged. Voilà the following recipes.

***Keep in mind that these are full recipes below – turns out that even though cheesecakes look like they are a mile tall even without the full amount of filling, they really aren’t. Besides, halving the recipe is difficult unless you are using measurable egg, as it calls for 5 of them.

Molasses Cookie Crust

1 dozen Molasses Cookies, crumbled
1/4 cup brown sugar
2 tbsp chopped crystallized ginger
1/4 cup melted butter

Preheat oven to 350°F. Oil bottom and sides of springform pan. Grind cookies, brown sugar and ginger in food processor until finely ground. Add butter and pulse to blend. Transfer mixture to prepared pan; press into bottom and 2″ up side of pan. Bake crust until set and slightly darker, about 10 minutes. Cool completely.

Cheesecake Filling

adapted from BonAppetit and Martha Stewart

4 8-oz packages cream cheese at room temperature
2 cups sugar
5 large eggs
1/4 tsp salt
2 tbsp vanilla extract

Preheat oven to 350°F.

Using electric mixer, beat cream cheese and sugar in large bowl unit light and fluffy, about 2 minutes. Beat in eggs 1 at a time, beating on low speed to incorporate each addition. Add vanilla and beat until incorporated.

Pumpkin Version

15 oz pumpkin puree
3 tbsp all-purpose flour
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp ground ginger
1/4 tsp ground nutmeg
1/4 tsp ground allspice

Beat in pumpkin, then add flour, spices, and salt. Transfer filling to cooled crust. Bake until filling is just set in center and edges begin to crack (filling will move slightly when pan is gently shaken), about 70-80 minutes. Cool 1hr. Run knife around sides of pan to release crust. Chill cheesecake uncovered in pan overnight.

Gingerbread Version

1/4 cup unsulfured molasses
1 1/2 tsp ground ginger
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1 tsp ground nutmeg
1/4 tsp ground cloves
1/2 tsp finely grated lemon zest

Beat in molasses, spices, and lemon zest. Pour filling into cooled crust. Bake until cheesecake is set but still wobbly in the center, 70-80 minutes. Cool 1hr. Run knife around sides of pan to release crust. Chill cheesecake uncovered in pan overnight.

Topping

2 cups mini marshmallows or large marshmallows cut into 1/2″ cubes
1/4 cup whole milk
1 tsp vanilla extract
pinch salt
1 6oz greek yogurt (don’t go non-fat)

Stir marshmallows and milk in medium saucepan over low heat until marshmallows are melted. Remove from heat and stir in vanilla and salt. Cool marshmallow mixture to room temperature, stirring occasionally. (This is somewhat important – I was driving down to southern California at this point in the process, and didn’t take the opportunities I had to stir. When it came time for the next step, I had to use a hand-mixer to get the mixture to incorporate as the marshmallow had set – very annoying.) 

Add greek yogurt to the marshmallow mixture; fold gently just to blend. Pour topping over cheesecake and spread evenly, leaving 1/2″ uncovered around the edges. Chill to set topping, at least 1hr.

Bonus Round!

Love cheesecake but hate eating it with a fork? Muffin pans make marvelous mini-cheesecakes – just be sure to use muffin liners otherwise the crumb crust will hate you for all eternity.

The big differences: for the crust, spoon the crust mixture into each of the muffin cups then use either a very small cup or a 1/4 cup measure to compact the crust. Remember to make sure to have it go up the sides of the muffin cups a bit. Bake for 8-10 minutes, depending on how thick you put the crust. Proceed as above and scoop the filling into each muffin cavity. Bake for 25-30 minutes until set, but still wobbly in the center. Cool, then spoon or pipe the marshmallow topping onto the bites – get creative, because that’s awesome.

Happy Birthday, Leslie!

Some time last week, I realized that I had never asked Leslie what her favorite cake is. After having known her for a year, I hadn’t asked that question. It felt strange, as we had talked about all kinds of other foods, and being the person I am, I try to know what to make someone for their birthday, or more generally just to make them happy.

At any rate, I did the blatant thing and asked Leslie what kind of cake she likes. Her answer: No Idea. It turns out she had some idea (she always has an idea or at least a hunch, which is one of the amazing things about coming to her with off-the-wall questions – you know you’ll get an answer that will likely prove useful), and her guidelines were such: moist, airy, icing, fruit is always good. At one point she was listing some of her favorite fruits, and I latched onto blackberry. I’m not really sure why, as outside of blackberry cobbler I haven’t really had much experience baking with them. My biggest beef with them is their seeds – small and hard and annoying, and they mess with the enjoyment of the wonderful flavor of blackberries. I let that stew in the back of my mind while I approached the second question – what cake can I make that would stay moist? I ran through all of the cakes and other confections I had made and realized that most of my cakes, while light, tend to be on the dryer end of things. So I went on a hunt.

Lo and behold, my old standby bonappetit.com had a recipe for French yogurt cake. It’s essentially pound cake without all the butter, and the image they selected for it – a thin slice of the cake – makes it apparent it’s quite a bit lighter than regular pound cake. Add to that a nice lemony taste, and it sounded like heaven; just how to integrate the blackberry?

Yet another tidbit Leslie let slip in telling me what she does like in a cake was layers and lots of frosting. Once I had discovered the yogurt cake recipe, my imagination went a little wild; I initially imagined something of a marbled/ribbon cake, with a beautiful purple streak running through it. But I don’t really know how to do that, and I would rather not botch it that much. The previous week we had purchased Allouette crème fraîche from Grocery Outlet so that I could see what real crème fraîche is supposed to taste like (I had only ever made the homemade pseudo-stuff out of heated buttermilk and cream left to culture at room temperature). I got it into my head that blackberry and crème fraîche would make an amazing combination – and suddenly I had my layer filling.

So I made two of the yogurt cakes, figuring it would be an amazingly good idea to actually put one together and make sure that it would actually be as good as my mind was telling me it would be. It was pretty amazing, let me tell you. It has a bit of sweetness, especially if you top it with a simple glaze and let it run down the sides; a little bit of tartness both from the blackberry reduction and the crème fraîche; and the yogurt cake provides a wonderful base for it all.

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French Yogurt Cake with Blackberry-Crème Fraiche Filling

Adapted from BonAppetit

Blackberry Sauce
1 lb frozen blackberries
1 cup sugar

Yogurt Cake
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for dusting
2 teaspoons baking powder
3/4 tsp kosher salt
1 cup sugar
1 tbsp finely grated lemon zest
3/4 cup whole-milk Greek yogurt
1/2 cup vegetable oil
2 large eggs
1/2 tsp vanilla extract

In a medium sauce pan, heat the blackberries and sugar over medium-low heat until blackberries are fully thawed and turning to mush. Put the fruit into a blender and purée, then pass the liquid through a mesh sieve back into the pan to remove the seeds. Heat the sauce over low heat until reduced by half, then place in a container and let cool in the fridge until you assemble the cake. This can be done much ahead of time – just make sure you start at least a few hours before you’re ready to assemble the cake.

Preheat the oven to 350°F. Coat loaf pan with vegetable oil, dust with flour, and tap out excess.

Whisk 1 1/2 cups flour, baking powder, and kosher salt in medium bowl.

Using your fingers, rub sugar with lemon zest in a large bowl until sugar is moist. Add yogurt, oil, eggs, and vanilla extract, and whisk to blend. Fold in dry ingredients until just blended.

Pour batter into prepared pan and smooth the top. Bake until the top of the cake is brown and a tester into center comes out clean, approximately 50-55 minutes.

Let cake cool in pan on a wire rack for 15 minutes. Remove from pan and let cool completely before assembling.

Once cooled, cut the cake horizontally into two to three pieces – it all depends on how many layers you want. This is where you can have some fun: for my initial cake, I spread blackberry sauce on both faces of the layers, and spread crème fraîche in between them before smooshing them together. This looked good, but was rather messy. I ended up spreading the blackberry sauce on the bottom bit of the bottom slice, then doing a layer of crème fraîche, placing that in the pan, then doing the same on the next slice up. Finally, I topped it with the top slice, poured over a quick glaze of powdered sugar, milk and vanilla, then drizzled more blackberry sauce over the top. It looked pretty darn good, I have to say.

Granola and Greek Yogurt

Hello CocoFanciers! I’m Mikal and this is my first time posting on here. Those of you that read this (and don’t know either Candice or me personally) know me exclusively via anecdotes on Candice’s posts, and probably are not aware that I am an experienced cook. I’ve been making food most of my life, either with my parents or on my own and started really experimenting on my own when I was a teenager (and even went to school for it briefly), and I have a tendency to make food without using recipes. That isn’t to say I don’t use them at all. If I’m trying to make something specific that I’ve never made before, I’ll use one, but most of the time I just throw stuff together sans recipe.

One thing I’ve been making for a couple months now is granola. My first attempt at making it was for a yogurt, fruit, and granola dessert. Contrary to what I expected, Candice loved it and insisted that I make more. I’ve now had a couple months to make and perfect the guidelines for it and – what is an unusual task for me – write them down.

Granola in the Oven
Look at that bokeh… what? Oh, right! Mmm, granola…

Now remember, these are guidelines. If you don’t like something I include, use something else. The key is to follow the outline and include the necessary ingredients. The goal for this granola is to make something that is slightly chewy, but has crispy and crunchy elements to it.

Ingredients:
3 cups rolled oats
1 cup chopped or sliced almonds
1 cup pepitas
1 cup sunflower seeds
1/4 cup flax seed
1/2 – 2/3 cup syrup (your choice)

Equipment:
A large, flat pan – preferably a commercial aluminum baking sheet
A flat edged cooking utensil
Wax paper
Cup measure
Storage facility

Total cooking and preparation time: ~ 2 hours

Preheat oven to 250°F. Measure and equally spread three cups of rolled oats (quick oats are probably okay, but I prefer rolled oats) on the bottom of the pan (I prefer large, commercial, aluminum baking sheets. You can get them from Costco for just a few dollars each. They’re durable, and good at transferring heat to whatever is on them). I do this by sprinkling the oats out of the cup measure across the pan. Next spread your next ingredient over the oats. And the next. And the next. Until you’ve got all your dry ingredients layered in the pan. Hold the syrup until later. Now place your pan into the oven for 1.5 hours.

Put on some music, dance and sing. Watch Firefly. Plant a garden. Take a relaxing bath. Worried that you’ll forget about it and it’ll burn? Turn it down to 200°F and relax. You’ll have to wait longer, but you are less likely to burn it. The purpose of this step is exclusively to slowly heat and dry out your granola mix. So it’s ok to turn it down.

Beeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeep! Ok, take your granola out. Stir it around. Be sure to mix it nicely. Now flatten it back out by grabbing the edge of the pan and shaking it slightly. Or you can use your utensil. Whichever you prefer. It’s not my granola. You want to use a spatula? Go right ahead! I prefer the shake method. Much quicker. And a little fun, too.

Now that your granola mix is flat, grab your syrup (honey, maple, agave, corn syrup, strawberry, chocolate, the syrup from later in this post, or whatever else you prefer). Drizzle that delicious stuff across the mixture. I prefer a back and forth pattern with streams about one inch apart. Back and forth, side to side. But whatever you need to do to get it nicely covered, do that. Once you’ve done that, mix it around. No! Don’t use your hands! That mixture is hot! No, grab that utensil I told you about earlier. Yeah, the flat edged one. Yeah, that’s the one. Ok, stir it around. Mmmm, sticky. Now flatten it out again.

Granola on Spatula
No waste! Eat it!

Done? Ok. Turn the oven temperature up to 350°F and place the pan back in. This time you’re going to cook it for 12-15 minutes. Don’t go too long or it’ll burn. Sugar burns quickly and easily, so watch it this time.

After it’s done, take it out. But don’t let it cool in the pan. That’s a bad idea. No, dump it out onto a 2 foot length of wax paper. Careful! You don’t want to spill it. Now you just let it cool. The longer it cools, the harder it gets. At some point, you’ll dump it into a container to store. We’ve been using a large ziplock freezer bag, because we don’t have reusable plastic containers that large. But whatever you have that’ll hold it is all you need.

Granola Cooling
It looks and smells delicious at this point.

Whew, that was a lot of text. Yes, I talk a lot. What of it? But wait, I’m not done! I have to tell you about the syrup.

The last two times I made this I used a lot of honey. Unfortunately, honey is rather expensive. Tasty, but expensive. So I decided to make my own syrup. Something that uses honey, but mixes in other ingredients to make the honey last longer. Well, that’s simple. Here’s what you need:

2 cups water
2 cups white sugar
1 cup brown sugar
1 cup honey

Place all the ingredients into a small saucepan. Mix well with a large spoon of some sort. Place on a stove with a temperature somewhere around medium-low. Stir occasionally until it’s nice and syrupy-thick. This could take up to half an hour. Once done, take it off the heat and let it cool. Congratulations! You now have a syrup that tastes a bit like honey, isn’t as expensive, and will last longer for your granola! Enjoy!

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One of the primary purposes of this granola is as a topping for yogurt (though we’ve also added it to muffins and pancakes). You can think of it as a yogurt parfait, but it’s not really necessary to layer it in the same way. What we typically do is get one 6 ounce cup of flavored greek yogurt (such as Brown Cow, and because it tastes better than regular yogurt), add one or two sliced, sugared strawberries and a handful of granola. And there you go! A delicious breakfast, snack, or any other time of the day food.

Granola and Greek Yogurt
Mmm, so tasty…

Easter Brownies

I’m a complete pushover for holidays. It doesn’t matter that I don’t celebrate them in any religious or significant fashion, really – I just love making themed goodies. Halloween is kind of my go-all-out holiday because it’s chocolate, and it’s all about the themed goodies.

I kept going back and forth on what to do for Easter: should I make something themed? should I make something completely holiday-neutral like coffee cake? should I make nothing? Well, if I’m going to make anything for Easter it should be chocolate eggs, right? Nah, I don’t have the skills for that. Bunnies? Molded candies? But that wouldn’t be satisfying. I could just do nothing. Or I could do carrot cake. (That last idea did stick out as a good one, I just didn’t pursue it.) The thing is, I have been doing a lot of thinking recently about my mindset, my expectations, and my frustrations around what I am and am not doing at this point in my life. I get frustrated with my lack of expertise with making chocolates, and my lack of time and resources (money) to spend on testing and perfecting those techniques. So I decided to scale it down a bit: focus on perfecting the handful of recipes I have been using a lot, get scones down, find good muffin recipes – things that would be a good variety for my pseudo-catering gig 203 pastries. (By the way, if you’re in the Bay Area and need yummies, hit me up – I might be able to hook you up with something awesome.)

So what to do that will be relatively simple, but will still feed my need for holiday kitchyness? Why, molded brownies, of course. I spied this silicone mold at JoAnn’s a couple of weeks ago, and had to keep myself from buying it right then and there – mostly because I had no idea what I would do with it.

IMG_9989

I mean, that’s way too huge (those eggs are around 2″ wide or so) to make molded chocolates (ZOMG NO THEY WOULDN’T BE! THEY WOULD BE AMAZING!), and it’s not like you would see the definition in coffee cake or cupcake batter. At this point I’m not sure I even care about the design outline of it – I might use it as a guideline if I end up decorating them with cream cheese frosting, but I don’t know that I will. Or I might just leave them be, and let people figure out what they’re supposed to be; they’re totally egg-shaped enough to be logical, right? I’m totally writing this as they are cooling, so I have no idea what will actually happen. I just know that this recipe might just be amazingly amazing.

Out of curiosity, have you ever made brownies not from a box? I mean, the ingredients are amazingly simple, but I found it a bit daunting to figure out an appropriately good recipe for the most awesome of chocolate treats. I was specifically looking for a recipe that does not call for chocolate bits – half the time when I want chocolate I don’t have edible chocolate in the house, so I needed something that would use cocoa powder. So I went to my mainstay, BonAppetit, to find a good recipe. I found a couple of good basic ones – they look to be pretty simple, and something that I can actually put together the dry ingredients for so that Mikal can make amazing brownies when he wants chocolate. But I also found the following recipe for Cocoa Brownies with Browned Butter and Walnuts. It’s not so much an easy-on-the-go recipe, though it isn’t terribly hard. I would personally halve the amount of walnuts it calls for – I like nutty brownies, but this is just ridiculous.

Cocoa Brownies with Browned Butter and Walnuts

from: BonAppetit

10 tablespoons (1 1/4 sticks) unsalted butter, cut into 1-inch pieces
1 1/4 cups sugar
3/4 cup natural unsweetened cocoa powder (spooned into cup to measure, then leveled)
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 large eggs, chilled
1/3 cup plus 1 tablespoon unbleached all purpose flour
1 cup walnut pieces

Position rack in bottom third of oven; preheat to 325°F. If you’re going to make regular brownies, line 8x8x2-inch baking pan with foil, pressing foil firmly against pan sides and leaving 2-inch overhang. Coat foil with oil if you don’t want to be licking the last yummy remnants of chocolate from said foil.

Melt butter in medium saucepan over medium heat. Continue cooking until butter stops foaming and browned bits form at bottom of pan, stirring often, about 5 minutes. Remove from heat; immediately add sugar, cocoa, 2 teaspoons water, vanilla, and 1/4 teaspoon (generous) salt. Stir to blend. Let cool 5 minutes (mixture will still be hot). Add eggs to hot mixture 1 at a time, beating vigorously to blend after each addition. When mixture looks thick and shiny, add flour and stir until blended. Beat vigorously 60 strokes.(I don’t understand the 60-strokes bit. Just don’t over-do it, but make sure things are happily incorporated.)  Stir in nuts. Transfer batter to prepared pan.

Bake brownies until toothpick inserted into center comes out almost clean (with a few moist crumbs attached), 20-25 minutes.

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If you are using silicone molds, just remember to be patient. You will likely have to piece some of the brownies back together once you have them out of the mold, but they’re so moist that you can’t really tell anyway.


Regarding decorating, I think using any kind of frosting would do this recipe a disservice. It’s decadent and amazing. Aside from the nuts.

Brioche dough for beignet and cinnamon rolls

I discovered Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day a couple of years ago, and I have never once regretted getting it. I am sometimes confused and perplexed by their instructions (you’ll see an example of that in this post), but for the most part they are spot on.

The idea behind the book is that one can have freshly-baked bread whenever they want it as long as they make bulk dough recipes. It pretty much works out that if you make a bulk batch of, say, honey wheat bread on the weekend, you’ll have fresh bread to accompany dinner throughout the week. And the recipes are really nicely scalable, too, in case you don’t necessarily want to have a five quart bucket of dough sitting in your fridge.

I haven’t yet played around with all of the recipes – I feel the need to master the few that I have tried before trying more complex ones. My dough is almost never just right – I tend to worry that I will over-rise it, so my tendency is toward under-risen dough. It tends to come out dense, rather than that nice almost fluffy texture you’ll find in a good baguette. Once I figure out how to make it rise appropriately, I will surely celebrate on here and all the interwebs will know that I can finally make a good loaf of bread.

In the meantime, I have discovered the following recipe for brioche dough in the book, and it’s amazing. It’s my go-to dough for cinnamon or any other type of swirly-roll and beignets. This morning I’m making spinach turkey and cheese rolls because we have some spinach that isn’t quite as happy as it should be. Mikal has also promised to make caramel rolls with my failed caramels if only I would make the dough. The dough is made – and already niftily portioned out into batchy-clumps for easy use.

Brioche Dough

from Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day

Note: The original recipe as posted makes four 1 lb loaves. Considering I forget it is sitting in the fridge half the time, I tend to halve the recipe – it’s a pretty easy split. 

1 1/2 cups lukewarm water
1 1/2 tbsp granulated yeast (2 packets)
1 1/2 tbsp Kosher salt
8 eggs, lightly beaten
1/2 cup honey
1 1/2 cups (3 sticks) butter, melted
7 1/2 cups unbleached flour

Mix the yeast, salt, eggs, honey and melted butter with the water in a 5-quart bowl, or a lidded (not airtight) food container.

Mix in the flour without kneading, using a spoon, a 14-cup capacity food processor (with the dough attachment), or a heavy-duty stand mixer (with the dough hook). If you’re not using a machine, you may need to wet hands to incorporate the last bit of flour. The dough will be loose but will firm up when chilled; don’t try to work with it before chilling. (You may notice lumps in the dough but they will disappear in the finished products.)

Loosely cover the dough and let rest at room temperature for a couple of hours or until the dough rises and falls. Stick dough into the refrigerator to chill and firm.

You can use the dough once it is chilled to the point of being firm enough to handle comfortably. I tend to put it in overnight – the first time I made it I under-chilled it; really bad idea, seriously messy and sticky.

From here the dough can go a few different places. To make the spinach rolls, I took about a third of the half-batch I did, rolled it out to about 1/8″ thick, and sprinkled with garlic powder, cayenne, grated cheddar cheese, turkey sandwich meat slices, spinach, and more cheese. It will be a bit annoying to roll together, but I rolled and sliced them and put them into muffin pan cavities. I have never been one for pulling cinnamon rolls out of a pan – too sticky/messy and they tend to look less than perfect once they are out of the pan. With the spinach rolls, it just makes more sense to do singles anyway. Also, if you notice that the dough is a bit hard to handle (warmed, that is), you can chill it before attempting to slice it.

Once the rolls are cut and roll-ish, loosely cover and let rise for an hour if chilled, 40 mins if you were brave and let the dough warm up before rolling out. Preheat the oven to 350°F, and bake for ~40 minutes or until yummy-looking.


Sadly, I took the rolls downstairs to the office before getting a picture of them – and of course they have been devoured. Why do I do this every time and expect to miraculously get different results? Because I am crazy.

Perhaps I will have the opportunity to share pictures of the caramel rolls Mikal will make. (hint)