Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Mini Cheesecakes

Did you guys think that my only contribution to my dad's 60th birthday would be cupcakes?! Well if you did, you were WRONG! I actually made these cheesecakes once before, for Sean's birthday party around Christmas time. They were amazing, and a huge hit! I think they may have been the best cheesecake I've ever made before, and they're incredibly simple. So when the opportunity came up for me to make them again, with enough time to take some photos and then post them, I grabbed it!

Once again, these were a big hit at my dad's surprise birthday gathering. What I really like about them is the versatility; you can really top them off with whatever you'd like. My mother had made blueberry, blackberry and raspberry sauces, and I had leftover cherry filling and vanilla bean caramel sauce. I personally like fruit toppings because it lightens the cheesecake up, but I know quite a few people were hittin up the caramel sauce big time. Additionally, I really like the size of the cheesecakes, they're the perfect 2-4 bites. Don't get me wrong, I'm a fan of cheesecake just like most people, but often a normal slice is just too much. You don't have that problem with these... actually, I think the problem is not grabbing a second... or third!

If you want to get nice smooth edges on your cheesecakes, and not use liners of some sort, you can get the pans that I use here.

Yield: 24 mini cheesecakes
1 cup graham cracker crumbs
1 tablespoon sugar
2 tablespoons butter, melted
1 ¼ lb. cream cheese,  room temperature
¾ cup sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
¼ cup sour cream
2 eggs, room temperature
3 tablespoons all-purpose flour

Preheat the oven to 350°. Spray cheesecake pan lightly with cooking spray.

For the crust, combine graham cracker crumbs, 1 tablespoon sugar, and melted butter in medium bowl. Combine with a fork, until all crumbs have been thoroughly coated with butter, and crumbs begin to clump together. Divide crumb mixture between each well, approximately a heaping tablespoon for each. Press the crumbs down firmly in the pan; I used a small glass that fit into the wells (much easier than using your fingers!).  

Back the crusts for 10 minutes in preheated oven; remove and set on wire racks to cool completely before filling.

For the filling, in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat the softened cream cheese on medium-high speed until fluffy, about 3 minutes. Scrape sides occasionally to ensure no clumps survive. Reduce the speed to low and gradually add the sugar; beat until smooth. Add the vanilla and sour cream and beat until combined, scraping the sides of the bowl as needed. Add the eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition. Add the flour and beat until combined.

Divide the filling among the cooled, crust-filled wells. Fill each about 3/4 full or slightly more (keeping in mind that cheesecake will not rise). Bake until the cheesecakes are just set in the center, about 15-16 minutes. Transfer the pan to a wire rack and let the cheesecakes cool completely, before refrigerating for 2 hours minimum. Remove cheesecakes from pan by pushing the bottoms up; if cheesecakes become stuck, run a knife around the edge to loosen them.

Keep in mind that cheesecake becomes better with time, so a minimum of 4 hours refrigerated before serving is optimal, and up to 24 hours is fine. Spoon desired topping onto cheesecake when ready to serve.

Source: cheesecakes adapted from Annie's Eats, who adapted from Williams Sonoma.

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Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Black Forest Cupcakes

I haven't had Black Forest Cake in a reallly long time, and the perfect opportunity presented itself just this past weekend. Last week was my father's 60th birthday (Holy moley, 60!!), and I like to quickly add that my dad does not look like he's 60. Sure he's got a head full of more white and grey hairs than black, but that's been going on since I was born, so no big difference there. He could whip my butt both mentally and physically- he completed his Doctorate degree in 2009 while working full-time, and attending a school that required a trip to Chicago nearly every other weekend. He's sharp as can be, and definitely someone that I frequently consult in relation to school, work and life issues. Not to mention he's in way better shape than me! I wouldn't stand a chance against him in pretty much all physically-related competitions.

So this weekend, we planned a surprise party for him on Sunday. The whole family (his side) showed up at the same time, and the afternoon was filled with games, good eats and fun times. Something that you may not know about me is that I'm 100% German, besides the fact that I was born in Canada. Both sides of my family are German, and my father and his family moved to Canada when he was about 6 years old I believe. So Black Forest Cake was really the best choice, as it's a traditional German cake and one that the family loves!

This cake was easy peasy, despite the multiple components, and it came out perfectly. The cake was nice and light, filled with a not too sweet cherry filling, and topped with beautifully fluffy whipped cream, shaved chocolate and a fresh cherry. One thing that I'm not a fan of is really heavy cakes, that you can only have a small piece of without feeling sick to your stomach afterwards, and this cupcake is the complete opposite of that. You really can't go wrong.

There are a couple things to note from this recipe: 1) I found that the original made wayyy too much of the filling, which was OK because I had made mini cheesecakes and it could be used as a topping (to come in a later post), but not OK otherwise. I've reflected my changes below. 2) These instructions ask you to melt the butter and sugar together before beating, which is a method I'm not overly familiar with. Because I liked the recipe so much I used it again today for a different cupcake (again, to come in a later post), and I found that using the melting method vs. the traditional beating room temperature butter and sugar together made no difference. The cupcakes came out the same; the only real difference was that the melted batter was much more viscous than the non-melted batter. Is viscous the right word there? I think so. 3) The original recipe wouldn't have made nearly enough whipped cream for my taste, so if you're like me and like a good amount on top, double the amounts.

Yield: 22 cupcakes
For the cupcakes:
½ cup unsweetened Dutch-process cocoa powder (I finally found this ingredient at Costco!)
½ cup hot water
2 cups all-purpose flour
¾ teaspoon baking soda
¾ teaspoon baking powder
¾ teaspoon coarse salt
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter (either at room temperature or not, depending on the method you use)
1½ cups sugar
3 large eggs, at room temperature
2½ teaspoon vanilla extract
2/3 cup sour cream, at room temperature

For the cherry filling:
8oz. frozen cherries, thawed and chopped*
2-3tablespoons sugar
1½ tablespoons cornstarch
½ teaspoon lemon juice
1 tablespoon kirsch (optional)

For the frosting (double if you're a big fan of frosting): **
1½ cups heavy cream, chilled
6 tablespoon confectioners' sugar, sifted
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

For garnish:
Fresh (or maraschino) cherries
Chocolate shavings

*Note: You can use either tart or sweet cherries for this filling depending on your personal tastes and what is available to you. Feel free to adjust the sugar as needed to achieve your desired level of sweetness or tartness in the filling. 
**Note: I have found that whipped cream can break down over time, as it doesn't have a stabilizer naturally. The confectioners' sugar helps, but if I know the whipped cream will be sitting for awhile, I add in an additional stabilizer from Dr. Oetker called Whip It, which really helps. If you haven't heard of it, you can check it out here.
Preheat oven to 350˚ F and line standard cupcake pans with paper liners. In a small bowl, whisk together the cocoa powder and hot water until smooth. In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, baking soda, baking powder, and salt; set aside.

In a medium saucepan, combine the butter and the sugar over medium heat. Heat, stirring occasionally to combine, until the butter is melted. Remove the mixture from the heat and transfer to the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with a paddle attachment. Beat on medium-low speed, 4-5 minutes, until the mixture is cooled. Alternatively, you can beat together room temperature butter with the sugar until light and fluffy. Both methods yield the same result. Mix in the eggs, one at a time, scraping down the sides of the bowl as needed and beating well after each addition. Mix in the vanilla and then the cocoa mixture and beat until incorporated. With the mixer on low speed add in the dry ingredients in two batches, alternating with the sour cream, beating just until combined.

Divide the batter between the prepared cupcake liners, filling them about ¾ of the way full. Bake 18-20 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean, rotating the pans halfway through baking. Allow the cupcakes to cool in the pan 5-10 minutes, then transfer to a wire rack to cool completely.

To make the filling, drain the thawed and chopped berries, reserving the juice in a liquid measuring cup. Add enough water so that the total liquid equals ¾ cup. Add the liquid to a medium saucepan with the sugar and cornstarch. Heat over medium-high heat, whisking occasionally, until the mixture begins to bubble and thicken. Continue whisking so no lumps form. Once it reaches a certain temperature, it will thicken very quickly. Once thickened, remove from the heat and whisk in the lemon juice and krisch, if using. Fold in the drained cherries with a spatula. Cover and chill until ready to use. To fill the cupcakes, cut a cone out of the centre of each cupcake. Remove the bottom half of the cone that you cut out, reserving the top to put back onto the cupcake once it is filled (and eat the pieces that you won't use!). Fill each with a spoonful of the cherry filling and place the top back on.

To make the whipped cream frosting, start by cooling your stand mixer bowl, either by placing it in your fridge, freezer, or outside in these winter temperatures for a few minutes. This helps to whip the cream faster. Add the heavy cream, confectioners' sugar, and vanilla to the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment. If using Dr. Oetker's Whip It, add it in as well. Beat on medium-low speed for 30 seconds before increasing the speed to medium-high. Whip the cream until stiff peaks form, but be careful not to overbeat.

Frost the filled cupcakes with the whipped cream.  Garnish as desired with cherries and chocolate shavings. Refrigerate until ready to serve.
Source: slightly adapted from Annie's Eats
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Thursday, February 14, 2013

Soft Sugar Cookies

Happy Valentine's Day everyone! I hope that everybody is taking the time to show the ones they love just how much they care :).

Whateverrrr.... frankly, I think it's kind of lame that people feel they need a *holiday* to express their love, because I'm pretty sure if you love someone you should show it everyday... but to each his own. And as I mentioned before, I'm a big fan of the copious amounts of candy and chocolate that I frequently receive on this holiday (*cough, from my Mother... whatever, don't judge), so I guess I'm OK with it. Somewhat.

Anyways, here are some nice soft sugar cookies that you can share with your significant other, family and/or friends. They're simple to make, and I like that it's a roll-out dough so you can choose whichever shape you want! Many of the recipes for soft sugar cookies I looked at are more drop-cookie style, so the fact that you can roll this one out was what drew me to it. However, I would make one slight adjustment to this recipe. Instead of using vanilla extract in the dough, I would swap it for almond. I doubled the amount of vanilla, and the cookies still came out somewhat plain. If they hadn't had the buttercream on top, they would have been too flavourless for my liking. But baking is about whatever you like, so you use whichever extract suits you!

Yield: just over 2 dozen
3 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 cup granulated sugar
2 large eggs
2 teaspoons almond OR vanilla extract
3/4 cup sour cream

For the Buttercream Frosting:
1/2 cup unsalted butter, room temperature
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2-3 cups powdered sugar
Pinch of salt
2 tablespoons heavy cream

Food coloring, optional
Sprinkles, optional

In a medium blow, whisk together the flour, baking soda, baking powder and salt; set aside.

In the bowl of a stand mixer, cream the butter and sugar together until light and fluffy. Add the eggs, one at a time, beating until just incorporated. Add the extract and sour cream and mix until just combined.

Add the dry ingredients and mix at low speed until the dough starts to form, scraping down the bowl as needed. The dough will be a little sticky; that is normal. Flatten the dough into a rectangle about 1 1/2 inches thick, then wrap in plastic wrap. Chill in the refrigerator for at least two hours, or overnight.

Preheat oven to 425 degrees F. Line baking sheets with parchment paper or Silpats; set aside.

Lightly flour the counter top and the top of the dough. Using a rolling pin, roll the dough out to about 1/4 inch thickness. Using desired cookie cutters, cut out the cookies and place on baking sheets. Bake for 7 minutes, or until cookies are just slightly golden around the edges. Immediately transfer cookies to a wire rack to cool. Cool completely before frosting.

To make the frosting, in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream together the butter and vanilla extract. Slowly beat in powdered sugar and pinch of salt. Once smooth and creamy, add in heavy cream. If you don't have heavy cream, milk or normal cream works as well. Beat in 1 tablespoon at a time until the frosting reaches your desired consistency. Then beat at medium-high speed for a minute or two until the frosting is light and fluffy. If desired, add food coloring and mix until combined.

Once cookies are completely cooled, frost and decorate as desired. Allow the frosting to set (it will form a crust), then store in an air-tight container for up to 3 days (the cookies actually last longer, I've had mine for about a week, but they start to get a bit stale and just don't taste as good. They're definitely the best in the first two days.).

Source: Two Peas and Their Pod

If you're interested in other treats for Valentine's Day, check these out:
Whoo Do You Love? Sugar Cookies 
Red Velvet Cupcakes 
Strawberry Cupcakes 
Valentine's Day Sugar Cookies 

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Sunday, February 3, 2013

Whoo do you love? Sugar Cookies

So it's that time of year! The time for corny lines, sweet gestures, 'I love you's, an overload of heart shaped candies, pink and red, and 'I HATE Valentine's Day!' for all the single people out there or haters of Hallmark created holidays. And while I am not a huge lover of Valentine's Day, and the expectation of spending money, buying cards, giving flowers, etc. (of course I know you can do sweet things for your special someone that doesn't cost money... a-hem, like massages, extra chores around the house, etc. ;) wink wink nudge nudge) I AM a huge fan of the opportunity to make SUPER CUTE OWL HEART cookies and yummy cupcakes, and in general stuff my face with gazillions of heart shaped candies... which I may have started today. Bulk barn got the best of me.

I have been DYING for the opportunity to make cookies with owls on them, and while I'm sure that I could have done so in the past few months, I'm glad that I waited because I LOVED these! I mean, how could you not love those big eyes staring at you, with little hearts floating around and messages saying 'Owl always love you'. I think my two ultimate favourites were the middle one with the owl on the swing (so sad I only made one), and the owl in the middle of the word LOVE. Too adorable.

If you'd like to see my recipe that I use for sugar cookies, check my post on Baby Shower Cookies.

For additional Valentine's Day treats, check out these:
Valentine's Day Sugar Cookies
Red Velvet Cupcakes
Strawberry Cupcakes

As a final note: I've decided to stop apologizing for the long periods between posts. I've come to accept that right now in my life, it is what it is. Doing my Masters and working at placement while also being a TA may not be as crazy busy (currently, although I'm sure it will be shortly) as I was a year ago, but I was also doing different things. I admire women that are super duper like Annie from Annie's Eats, but sadly, I'm not. I know I could be if I wanted to, but frankly, my blog is not at the top of my priority list right now. I know that I will pick it back up at some point, but for right now, there may be times that I may not post for nearly a month (or over!), and I'm ok with that. I hope you are too. And I also hope that you know that despite my lack of posting, I will always welcome any comments or questions. Pin It