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Monday, December 31, 2012

Personal cheesecakes

I was talking to a friend recently, and he mentioned that cheesecake used to be his favorite dessert.  While I know he has a sweet tooth, and loves a pastry in the morning, I've never known him to order dessert, so I filed away this little tidbit of information.  And now I can put it to good use. 

This New Year's Eve my friend and I planned a low key evening in, cooking dinner and watching the ball drop.  The perfect opportunity to bring some cheesecakes!  The only issue was that I didn't remember if he mentioned that he liked a regular graham cracker crust or a chocolate crust.  Not a problem, I mused, I'd just make personal cheesecakes and I'd make a few with each type of crust.  Added benefit?  I didn't have to go buy a new springform pan, since I own a 9" and the recipe called for a 7".  I didn't even know 7" was a standard springform size.  But I digress.

Just over a year ago I went to a "New York" themed party and needed a New York-y dessert.  The hostess wanted me to make black and white cookies, but I hadn't made them before and was hesitant to make them for a party (it was before I made them for a black-and-white themed New Year's Eve Party last year).  Rifling through my mind for other New York inspired desserts, I settled on mini cheesecakes (baked in a mini muffin tin) with their own little crusts.


Since I was making personal (aka baked in a regular cupcake tin) cheesecakes, I figured I could experiment with flavors.  Maybe add some mini chocolate chips to some, some heath bar to another, and I even stuck a mini rolo into the centers of a few...so I divided the extra cheesecake filling and added a few different mix-ins.  Just for fun.  Truth be told, they weren't as pretty as the plain cheesecakes.  And maybe I didn't add enough of the mix-ins, but I didn't think they tasted much different either.  But it didn't really matter...I packed away a few of the plain ones for New Year's Eve, and the rest for my doormen.  The not-to-pretty ones were tasted and then tossed.  I didn't need to be picking at cheesecakes....too many calories for something I don't even love that much.

Heath Bar Cheesecakes
Now, there is actually an interesting story behind this cheesecake recipe.  A while ago my parents, aunt, and sister went out for dim dum (Chinese passed dumpings and small plates) in Westchester, and were talking to another lady in line.  Somehow their conversation lead them to - of all things - cheesecake.  She and my mother exchanged email addresses, and she forwarded my mom this recipe shortly after they met.  When I was looking for a cheesecake recipe, my mom forwarded it on to me.

Shari's Cheesecake (Shari is the lady from the dim sum line)
This made just over 30 full sized cupacake cheesecakes.  I had leftover crust mixture, but I did make a full batch of each crust recipe, and that may have been too much.  My baking time was about 25-28 minutes.  As you can tell, mine didn't get golden brown, but they were cooked through (bonus points if you can find the toothpick holes in one of the cheesecakes from testing it's doneness.).


For the crust
(if you're making "mini" or "personal" cheesecakes, you will need extra crust mixture....I doubled it last time....or you can make a mixture of graham crusts and chocolate crusts, and follow the link/recipe beneath for the chocolate crust)

1 cup graham cracker crumbs
1/4 cup melted butter (I used unsalted, as I always do with baking)
1/6 cup sugar

For the filling

1 lb 14 oz cream cheese (3 and 3/4 8 oz packages of cream cheese)
7/8 cup sugar
2 Tbsp corn starch
2 eggs
1/2 cup heavy cream
3/4 tsp vanilla

Mix-ins: With the leftover cheesecake filling, I decided to experiment with some mix-ins.  I used some mini chocolate chips, and some leftover health bar pieces from those chocolate covered pretzels.


Grease a 7" springform pan (or in my case, line a regular sized (or mini) muffin tin with paper or foil liners).

Make the crust

Mix the crust ingredients together.
Press the crust into the springform pan.
Bake a 400 degrees until brown, being careful not to burn it.

Make the filling

Mix the sugar and cornstarch together.
Add the cream cheese and blend well.
Add the eggs and blend well.
Add the cream, a little at a time, and blend.
Add vanilla and blend.

* Pour the cream cheese mixture into the well greased springform plan on top of the crust.
Cover the pan with foil.
Place the pan in a water bath -- Fill a lined baking sheet with water, and place the filled springform pan on the tray.
Bake at 450 for 40-45 minutes until golden brown.

Shari's directions:  When done, open the oven about 3-4 inches so the oven cools, leaving the cake there for about 20 minutes.  It is supposed to stop the top from cracking.  (I skipped this step, and they turned out OK)

No-Bake Chocolate Crust (from Martha Stewart)


7 ounces chocolate wafer cookies
3 Tbsp sugar
6 to 8 Tbsp unsalted butter


Place cookies in a food processor and process until finely ground.
Combine cookie crumbs and sugar in a bowl.
Add 6 tablespoons butter, and mix well until crumb mixture holds together. (If needed, add remaining 2 tablespoons butter.)
Transfer cookie mixture to bottoms of lined cupcake tins, and pat out evenly to make the crust.
Place in freezer while proceeding.

Go back to the previous recipe and follow from the *

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Chubby Hubby truffles

Chocolate + pretzels + peanut butter = delish.  I thought that that went without saying.  Case in point:

See, a few days ago I went grocery shopping for the ingredients for these.  I bought a bunch of other things, but among the goodies I bought were pretzels to make these truffles.  Of course I used those pretzels to make the 4 flavors of chocolate covered pretzels and the chocolate pretzel treats before I even sat down to make these.  Luckily I had enough pretzels leftover from those two treats in order to make these truffles!

Chubby Hubby Truffles


1 1/2 cups pretzel pieces
1/2 cup creamy peanut butter
1 tablespoon unsalted butter, at room temperature
2 tablespoons light brown sugar
Pinch of salt
3 tablespoons powdered sugar
1 cup milk or semisweet chocolate chips
1 tablespoon vegetable shortening
(I chose to use CandiQuik chocolate coating instead of the chocolate chips and shortening)

Extra peanut butter and crushed pretzels for decoration


Put the pretzels into a resealable plastic bag and crush into very small bits (a rolling pin works great for this) - I found this part confusing.  I wasn't sure if it was 1.5 cups of pretzel pieces, or 1.5 cups of crushed pretzels....my filling mixture was a bit dry and I wonder if it's because I used the 1.5 cups of crushed pretzels

In a small bowl, combine the peanut butter, butter, brown sugar and salt.
Stir until all of the ingredients are completely blended and smooth.
Add the pretzel bits to the peanut butter mixture and mix thoroughly.
Add the powdered sugar and mix until completely combined.
Line a small baking sheet with wax paper.
Using a small cookie scoop, or about 2 teaspoons worth of peanut butter mixture, gently shape into a ball with your fingertips.
Place the ball on the wax paper-lined cookie sheet and repeat with the remaining peanut butter mixture.
Place the baking sheet into the refrigerator and chill for at least 30 minutes.

When ready to dip the truffles, microwave the chocolate chips and vegetable shortening together in a small bowl in 30-second increments, stirring after each, until completely melted and smooth.

Working one at a time, dip one peanut butter-pretzel ball into the melted chocolate and use a fork to roll it around, making sure that it is completely coated with chocolate.
Let any extra chocolate drip off and place back on the wax paper-lined sheet.
Repeat with all of the peanut butter-pretzel balls.

Return the baking sheet to the refrigerator and again chill for at least 30 minutes.
Garnish with a drizzle of melted peanut butter and crushed pretzels, if desired (I desired.)
Store in an airtight container in the refrigerator.

Monday, December 24, 2012

Chocolate chip cookie dough fudge

I've taken the butter out of the fridge to make this fudge a ton of times, but then time got away from me and I end up putting it back in the fridge...only to take it out another night.  But with the holidays coming up, gifts to make, and a free night, I decided I was making this fudge tonight. 

It was actually pretty easy.  And although I've only made fudge once before (this Oreo fudge), I was surprised to find that this one wasn't too sweet...and it tasted JUST like cookie dough! 

Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough Fudge


For cookie dough:

1/3 cup (5 1/3 tablespoons) butter, softened to room temperature
1/4 cup granulated sugar
1/4 cup packed light brown sugar
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/8 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons half-and-half, cream or milk
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 cup mini semi-sweet chocolate chips

For fudge base:

1/3 cup light brown sugar
1/3 cup (5 1/3 tablespoons) butter
pinch of salt
1/3 cup half-and-half, milk or cream
4-5 cups powdered sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/4 cup mini semi-sweet chocolate chips (for topping the fudge)


Line an 8×8-inch or 9X9-inch square baking pan with aluminum foil and set aside.

For the cookie dough:
In a medium bowl (or in the bowl of a stand mixer) combine the butter and sugars and beat with a handheld mixer (or use a stand mixer) on medium speed until light and fluffy.
Mix in the vanilla, salt, and half-and-half.
Add the flour and mix until just combined. Do not overmix.
Fold in 1/2 cup of the chocolate chips. Set aside.

For the fudge base:
Combine the brown sugar, butter, salt, and half-and-half in a medium saucepan.
Stir over medium-low heat until the butter is melted and the brown sugar is dissolved.
The mixture should be smooth and combined.
Remove from the heat and stir in the vanilla.
Gradually stir in the powdered sugar, 1 cup at a time, until the mixture is smooth and thick (The original recipe said it used close to the 5 cup amount, but I used 4 cups). The mixture should be very thick.
Let this mixture cool completely before proceeding!  *This is imporant.  Mine was just above room temperature, and some of the chocolate chips melted and it looks a little streaky*

Add the cookie dough to the fudge base and stir to combine.
Spread the fudge into the prepared baking pan and press into an even layer.
Sprinkle the remaining 1/4 chocolate chips on top of the fudge and lightly press them into the batter.
Chill until set, about 3-4 hours, before cutting into pieces.

The fudge can be made ahead and stored, covered, in the refrigerator for up to a week.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Chocolate pretzel treats

I've seen these little pretzel-Hershey's kiss-M&M treats floating around the Pinterest world for a while.  Hershey's kisses or hugs, different colored M&M's - I've seen them all.  They looked cute but a little tedious (imagine needing 50 Hershey's kisses for a recipe....and having to unwrap them all....).  But with leftover pretzels from two other holiday recipes, I bought a bag of kisses.  I already had some white chocolate peppermint M&M's in the kitchen, so it seemed like a good idea to use those.  Plus, they were white and red, so perfectly festive for the upcoming holidays!

They're actually pretty insanely easy to make. Line a baking sheet with some parchment paper. Place the pretzels flat and not overlapping. Place an unwrapped Hershey's kiss in the center of each pretzel. Place in the oven at low heat (250- 275F) for a few minutes, until kisses are soft but still hold their shape (mine were in for about 2 and a half minutes). Remove from the oven and press an M&M into the top of each Hershey's kiss. Place the tray in the oven until the kisses have hardened. Place them in a bowl, or wrap them to give as gifts.

Festive chocolate covered pretzels

I saw a post on Pinterest the other day about chocolate covered pretzels in different flavors.  I thought they'd make a cute gift idea.  Then the following day someone brought a tray of chocolate covered pretzels to the office as a gift.  They disappeared in about 5 minutes flat, so I - in my health care, evidence-based research mind - deduced that chocolate covered pretzels are a great gift!  I set out to make them in a few flavors, as I had a 4 section gift box that I wanted to put them in.

First up were the vanilla CandiQuik dipped pretzel snaps sprinkled with crushed candy canes.  I made those with leftovers from the Candy Cane Oreo Pops - I just dipped the pretzels partially in the CandiQuik and then sprinkled little crushed candy cane pieces on them when the coating was still wet. 

Next up were pretzels dipped in mik chocolate and sprinkled with pieces of Health Bar.  I admittedly got the idea for Heath Bar on the pretzels from the original blog, so when I was at Target buying some other baking ingredients, I grabbed up a bag of Heath Bar pieces specifically for the purpose of making these.

Next were semisweet chocolate dipped pretzels decorated with nonpareils.  I of course didn't have holiday colored nonpareils, so I went with plain white ones.

Lastly, I made some white chocolate dipped pretzels drizzled with semisweet chocolate.

Check out how pretty they look all packaged up.  What a sweet gift!

Chocolate Covered Pretzels
Check out the original recipe for her "advanced" directions, which involve melting the chocolate with butter in a double boiler.  I find you can skip that step.


Chocolate, melted - different flavors (white, milk, semisweet)
Pretzels - any shape, although I'm partial to the snaps and mini twists
Decorations - sprinkles, nonpariels, crushed candy canes, candy pieces


Melt chocolate
Dip pretzels
Place pretzels on a wax paper-lined cookie sheet
Sprinkle decorations onto wet chocolate

When cookie sheet is covered with pretzels, place in the fridge.
Let cool/harden.
Package pretzels as you'd like....or keep them all for yourself!

Candy cane Oreo pops

I don't often impulse shop, but a week or so ago I impulse bought a package of Candy Cane Oreos. 

I'm not really sure why.  I don't like Oreos.  But regardless, I bought them.  Then I got home and wondered what I was going to do with them.  Oreo pops, I mused, would be the best.  And with the holidays coming up, I decided I'd decorate them with crushed candy canes.  (Click here for the original Oreo Pops post.)

They looked so pretty before I even dipped them!

Candy Cane Oreo Pops


Candy Cane Oreos (or any type of Oreo)
CandiQuik Vanilla coating
Lollipop sticks
Candy canes, crushed (I usually use a hammer, but this time I used a can of soup and it worked wonderfully)

Cellophane lollipop bags
Baker's twine

Carrot cake

How did you spend your Saturday?  I spent it....wait for it....waiting in line.  But not just any line.  I was waiting in line for an "audition" for a reality baking show!  Holding a cake, which after 3+ hours was VERY heavy.

I was told to bring my best dessert to the trials, but what I didn't read was there there would only be two taste testers....but I brought an entire two-layer carrot cake...with homemade cream cheese icing. 

I didn't make the first cut, but I'm OK with that.  Despite the fact that I didn't want to actually end up on the show, I wanted the expeirence of having tried out.  I also learned something important -- I'm not nearly dramatic enough to be on a reality show!  But I did make a delicious cake, and I'm sharing it with you!

Triple Layer Carrot Cake (I made mine two layers this time)
Adapted from several different carrot cake recipes, and prefected (in my humble opinion) by me.


2 cups sugar
1.5 cups vegetable oil
4 large eggs
2 cups flour
2 tsp baking powder
2 tsp baking soda
1 tsp salt
2 tsp ground cinnamon
3/4 tsp ground nutmeg
3/4 tsp ground ginger
3 cups freshly grated peeled carrots (I prefer to hand grate mine, but a food processor would work, too.  Don't use bagged, pre-shredded carrots).
1/2 cup chopped walnuts
1/2 cup raisins


Preheat oven to 325°F.
Lightly grease three 9-inch-diameter cake pans with 1 1/2-inch-high sides.
Line bottom of pans with waxed paper.
Lightly grease waxed paper.

Using electric mixer, beat sugar and vegetable oil in bowl until combined.
Add eggs 1 at a time, beating well after each addition.
Sift flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, cinnamon and nutmeg into sugar and oil mixture.
Stir in carrots, chopped walnutes and raisins.
Pour batter into prepared pans, dividing equally.
Bake until toothpick inserted into center comes out clean and cakes begin to pull away from sides of pans, about 45 minutes.

Cool in pans on racks 15 minutes.
Turn out cakes onto racks and cool completely.
Can be made 1 day ahead. Wrap tightly in plastic and store at room temperature.

Cream Cheese Icing
(From epicurious, a long time ago, and committed to memory....and the original is nowhere to be found on the website now)


3 8oz packages of cream cheese, room temperature
1/2 stick butter, room temperature
3-4 cups of powdered sugar
Vanilla to taste


Blend cream cheese and butter.
Add vanilla to taste.
Add powdered sugar.  I add about 1/2 cup at a time until desired sweetness and consistency.  I usually end up with about 3 cups of powdered sugar.

Sunday, December 2, 2012

Cranberry bliss bars

Considering how much time (and money) I spend in Starbucks, you may be surprised to know that I've never tried their Cranberry Bliss Bars.  Well, maybe not, since I am not a big eater of baked goods, but still, not once.  They sell them by the piece, or you can buy a gift box.  Which brings me to the point of this post:

This is the first installment of my JulieBakes December full of edible gifts.  Why not bring dessert to your holiday meal host and hostess?  Need something for that cookie exchange, but not in the mood to make cookies?  Or just want something festive on your holiday dessert table (white chocolate + cranberries = white and red)?  These cranberry-white chocolate blondies with a cream cheese-white chocolate frosting may be just the treat that you're looking for!

Cranberry Bliss Bars
From RecipeGirl, who got hers and tweaked it from Taste of Home.


Blondie Layer:

3/4 cup (1 1/2 sticks) salted butter, cubed
1 1/2 cups packed light brown sugar
2 large eggs
3/4 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 cup dried cranberries
6 ounces white baking chocolate, coarsely chopped
1 package (8 ounces) cream cheese, softened
1 cup powdered sugar, sifted
6 ounces white baking chocolate, melted
1/2 cup dried cranberries, chopped

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.
Spray a 13x9-inch baking dish with nonstick spray.

Prepare the blondie layer:

Melt the butter in the microwave in a medium bowl .
Stir in the brown sugar
Pour into a large bowl and let it cool to room temperature.
Mix in the eggs and vanilla.
In a separate bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, salt, and cinnamon.
Gradually add the dry mixture to the butter mixture.
Stir in the cranberries and chopped chocolate (I used white chocolate chips since I didn't feel like chopping the chocolate for the blondies.  I used good quality baking white chocolate for the icing).
Spread the blondie batter into the prepared pan.
Bake for 18-21 minutes or until a toothpick inserted near the center comes out clean (do not overbake).
Cool completely on a wire rack.

Prepare the frosting:

In a large bowl, beat the cream cheese and powdered sugar with an electric mixer until well-blended.
Gradually add half of the melted white chocolate.
Beat until blended.

Frost the blondies.
Sprinkle with cranberries.
Drizzle with the remaining melted white chocolate.
Cut into bars (squares, rectangles, or triangles....I also think circles would be cute, but probably too messy).

Store in the fridge until ready to serve.

Edible gifts

December is a month of gift giving.  Christmas, Channukkah, Kwanzaa, New Years...and I'm sure several more than I'm forgetting.  So I'm going to try to make my recipes and blog posts for this month about edible gifts to make and give.  To hosts or hostesses when you're invited to a party, to friends, to make for a cookie exchange, to doormen and mail people, or to bring to a potluck.  There will be cookies, candies, snacks, and other treats.  Please stay tuned over the next month to get some great edible gift ideas.  And, if you have any thoughts, suggestions, or recipes you'd like to try, leave them in the comments section below.

Happy Holidays, whichever you celebrate, and a Happy New Year!

Rustic apple pie

We were a smaller than normal group for Thanksgiving dinner this year.  My cousin C had requested a pecan pie since his sister E was out of town.  See, E is allergic to all nuts, peanuts, and even most seeds (poppy, sesame...you get the picture...basically, the girl will never eat an everything bagel), and I have made it my practice to never serve anything with nuts when E is around. So, this Thanksgiving I made a pecan pie.  But, I digress.  See, we were 8 people.  One pie should've been enough for us.  But I called my aunt and asked her if she wanted one or two pies.  "Two," she mused, "pecan and a fruit pie."

Fruit pie.  I had some wiggle room.  I opted not to make another bluberry pie.  It was a delicious pie, but I wanted to get a new blog post out of it (I made a pumpkin pie for pre-Thanksgiving that I didn't post, since it was featured on the same original blog post as the blueberry pies).  Cherry pies I find mediocre at best, quite possibly because I've never had a fresh one.  So I chose an apple pie, which is really the best option given the fact that apples are so in season right now, and blueberries and cherries are not.  The recipe called for a double crust, but not being a fan of crust itself, I decided to make it a one-crust pie.  The result was a ugly not-so-pretty rustic looking pie with amazing flavor.  Yeah, "rustic."  I'll go with that.

"Rustic" Apple Pie


Pie Crust:

1 1/3 cups all-purpose flour, plus extra for dusting
1/2 cup (1 stick) cold unsalted butter, lard, or vegetable shortening, cut into small pieces (or a combination of butter and shortening equal to 1/2 cup)
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup iced water, plus more as needed

If you'd like to make a double-crust pie, follow the link here and use the double-crust recipe.

6 to 7 medium apples, peeled, cored, and thinly sliced (about 7 cups total)
2 tablespoons lemon juice
3/4 cup packed light brown sugar
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
3/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon ground ginger
3 tablespoons unsalted butter, diced
Egg wash (1 large egg whisked with 2 tablespoons milk or water), for brushing


Make pie crust:

Stir together the flour, butter, and salt to blend.
Using a pastry blender or 2 forks, cut the butter into the flour.
For pies with liquid fillings (like custard or cooked-fruit fillings that are thickened with cornstarch or tapioca), the bits of fat should be evenly small, and the mixture should resemble a coarse meal. This will result in a mealy piecrust, which is less likely to become soggy as the pie bakes. For pies to be filled with fruit or another non-liquid filling, leave some larger bits of fat, about the size of small walnut pieces, for a crisp and flaky texture in the baked crust.

Make a well in the middle of the flour mixture and add the water all at once.
Gently toss the mixture together until just blended and the flour is moistened (the mixture will look shaggy and loose).

Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured work surface and gently knead it together, combining parts of the mixture that are wetter with those that are drier.
If preparing a double-crust recipe, divide the dough in half.
Shape the dough into a 1-inch-thick disc, wrap in plastic wrap, and chill until firm, about 20 minutes.
NOTE: At this point, the dough is ready to be used. It can be stored, tightly wrapped, in the refrigerator for up to 3 days or in the freezer for up to 2 months.

Working with one disk at a time, unwrap the dough, place it on a lightly floured work surface, and scatter a little flour over it.
Alternatively, place the dough between sheets of parchment or waxed paper.
Roll out the dough for the bottom crust of a pie into an even round, about 13 inches in diameter (for a 9-inch pie pan). It should be about 1/8 inch thick.

Fold the dough in half or roll it loosely around the rolling pin, and gently lift and position it over the pan.
Unfold or unroll the dough and ease it into the pan without stretching, making sure that the pan sides and the rim are evenly covered.
Press the dough gently against the sides and bottom.
Trim the overhang to 1 inch.

For a single-crust pie, tuck the dough overhang under itself and flute the edges. Fill and bake the pie according to the recipe directions.
For a double-crust pie, roll out the second piece of dough into an 11-inch round (for a 9-inch pie pan), and then cut vents in it. Fill and finish the pie according to the recipe directions.

Make filling and assemble:

Preheat the oven to 350°F. Roll out the pie dough and use one round to line a 9-inch pie pan.
Keep the dough-lined pan and the other round chilled while you prepare the filling.  (Skip this step if you are making a "rustic" one-crust pie.)

In a large bowl, combine the apples, lemon juice, brown sugar, flour, cinnamon, nutmeg, and ginger; toss to combine.
Mound the apples in the dough-lined pan, making the center higher than the sides. I had some extras, which made for a tasty snack
Dot the top evenly with the pieces of butter. I ended up needing less than the recipe called for.
Brush the rim of the pie shell with egg wash.
Cover the pie with foil (if making a one-crust pie)
If making a 2-crust pie: Cut vents in the other dough round and place the round over the filling. Press the top and bottom edges together to seal, trim the excess dough so that the edges of the dough are almost even with the edges of the pan, and then crimp or flute the edges. Brush the top lightly with egg wash.

Place the pie on a baking sheet and bake until the apples feel tender, mine took about 40 minutes.  After that, I removed the foil and let it bake a little longer.
Remove the pie from the oven and cool on a wire rack.
Let the pie rest for 20 minutes before slicing.
Serve warm or at room temperature.
If you are making a two-crust pie:  Place the pie on a baking sheet until the top crust is golden brown and the apples feel tender when pierced through the steam vents with a knife, about 1 hour. Remove the pie from the oven and cool on a wire rack. Let the pie rest for 20 minutes before slicing. Serve warm or at room temperature.

Funfetti cake with funfetti icing

One of my sisters is going on a trip.  A looooong trip.  And she actually made a baking request before she leaves.  I say "actually" because my sisters generally don't like sweets (I know, they're not normal), and with the exception of Oreos, I don't think my sister has ever asked me for dessert.  So when her request came in for a funfetti cake (...correction, a funfetti cake WITH funfetti icing), I know I had to oblige.  Of course, besides sprinkles in the cake, I don't know what makes a cake "funfetti."  From my limited knowledge of boxed cake mixes, it appears to be a vanilla yellow cake with....colorful sprinkles.  So that's what I set out to make.  I used my regular yellow cake, upped the vanilla a little bit, and threw in a giant handful TON of colorful sprinkles.

Funfetti icing proved to be a little more difficult.  Simply because she wanted vanilla funfetti icing (which I guess makes sense, right?), and I don't have a go-to vanilla icing.  Ultimately, I decided on a vanilla buttercream with....yup....a giant handful TON of rainbow sprinkles!

Funfetti Cake
Based on a recipe for yellow cake from one of my favorite cooking blogs ever, Smitten Kitchen.
This recipe gave me two very nice 9 round layers PLUS 11 mini cupcakes.  I usually half the recipe when making cupcakes or mini cupcakes because this makes a lot of batter.


4 cups plus 2 Tablespoons cake flour (not self-rising)
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon table salt
2 sticks unsalted butter, softened
2 cups sugar
1 Tablespoon pure vanilla extract (I upped the vanilla from the original recipe)
4 large eggs, at room temperature
2 cups buttermilk, well-shaken
1/2 cup rainbow sprinkles, plus another small handful for good measure


Preheat oven to 350°F.
Butter two 9-inch round cake pans and line with circles of parchment paper, then butter parchment. (Alternately, you can use a cooking spray, either with just butter or butter and flour to speed this process up -- I used Pam for baking....it's wonderful, and my cakes popped out of the pan perfectly!)

Sift together flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt in a medium bowl.
In a large mixing bowl, beat butter and sugar in a large bowl with an electric mixer at medium speed until pale and fluffy, then beat in vanilla.
Add eggs 1 at a time, beating well and scraping down the bowl after each addition.
At low speed, beat in buttermilk until just combined (mixture will look curdled).
Add flour mixture in three batches, mixing until each addition is just incorporated.
Add sprinkles.

Spread batter evenly in cake pan, then rap pan on counter several times to eliminate air bubbles.
Bake until golden and a wooden pick inserted in center of cake comes out clean, 35 to 40 minutes.
Cool in pan on a rack 10 minutes, then run a knife around edge of pan.
Invert onto rack and discard parchment, then cool completely, about 1 hour.

Funfetti Icing


6 egg whites
1 1/2 cups granulated sugar
1 pound unsalted butter, cubed and at room temperature
vanilla extract, to taste, I used about 2 tsp
colored sprinkles


Whisk the egg whites and sugar together in the bowl of an electric mixer.
Place over a double boiler and whist constantly until the mixture is hot to the touch and all of the sugar has dissolved
Whip on high with the whisk attachement of an electric mixer until thick, fluffy, and cool to the touch.
Add vanilla.
Switch to paddle attachment.
Begin adding the butter, a few tablestooms at a time, until completely incorporated.
Add sprinkles, a little at a time, until desired amount of sprinkles have been added.

Friday, November 23, 2012

Pecan pie

I made a pecan pie for Thanksgiving dinner.  I made it for the first time and brought it with me to Thanksgiving dinner without having ever made the pie before.  And I couldn't sample it beforehand (not that it would've mattered....I've never had more than a bite of pecan pie, and I wouldn't know a good pecan pie if it hit me in the face).  So un-Julie, right?

I was a little nervous about the pie because it had one of those ingredients that I dislike.  And it didn't really seem to go with the other ingredients.  Butter and brown sugar?  Makes sense.  Add some vanilla, a little salt, and some corn syrup?  Yup, still makes sense.  Add some.....orange zest?  I was perplexed.  But, having never baked - or really tasted - a pecan pie before, I didn't want to leave it out and ruin the pie, so I added some orange zest.  Less than the recipe called for, but I did add some.  The result was pretty amazing, if you ask the 7 other people at the table that raved about the pie.  I took two bites, thought it was good for a pecan pie, and went back to eating the apple pie (which I also made, and the post will be up soon).  That may not sound like a ringing endorsement, but I really don't like pecan pie, so it actually is quite the compliment to this recipe

Old-Fashioned Pecan Pie



1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 stick cold unsalted butter, cut into 1/2-inch pieces
1/4 teaspoon salt
3 to 5 tablespoons ice water


3/4 stick unsalted butter
1 1/4 cups packed light brown sugar
3/4 cup light corn syrup
2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon grated orange zest (I used just a little).
1/4 teaspoon salt
3 large eggs
2 cups pecan halves (1/2 pound)


Make the crust.

Blend together flour, butter, and salt in a bowl with your fingertips or a pastry blender (or pulse in a food processor) just until mixture resembles coarse meal with some roughly pea-size butter lumps.
Drizzle 3 tablespoons ice water evenly over mixture and gently stir with a fork (or pulse in processor) until incorporated.
Squeeze a small handful: If it doesn’t hold together, add more ice water, 1/2 tablespoon at a time, stirring (or pulsing) until incorporated, then test again.
Do not overwork dough or pastry will be tough.

Turn out dough onto a lightly floured surface and divide into 4 portions.
With heel of your hand, smear each portion once or twice in a forward motion to help distribute fat. Gather dough together, with a pastry scraper if you have one, and press into a 5-inch disk.
Chill, wrapped in plastic wrap, until firm, at least 1 hour.

Preheat oven to 350°F with a baking sheet on middle rack.

Roll out dough on a lightly floured surface with a lightly floured rolling pin into a 12-inch round and fit into a 9-inch pie plate.
Trim edge, leaving a 1/2-inch overhang.
Fold overhang under and lightly press against rim of pie plate, then crimp decoratively.
Lightly prick bottom all over with a fork. Chill until firm, at least 30 minutes (or freeze 10 minutes).

Meanwhile, melt butter in a small heavy saucepan over medium heat.
Add brown sugar, whisking until smooth.
Remove from heat and whisk in corn syrup, vanilla, zest, and salt.
Lightly beat eggs in a medium bowl, then whisk in corn syrup mixture.

Put pecans in pie shell and pour corn syrup mixture evenly over them.
Bake on hot baking sheet until filling is set, 50 minutes to 1 hour (Mine took 35-40 minutes). Cool completely.
Serve with whipped cream and/or vanilla ice cream.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Spiced pumpkin cupcakes with spiced buttercream

The weekend between my family's "pre-Thanksgiving" dinner and actual Thanksgiving was a busy one.  I had plans Friday night, Saturday night was a party with friends out on Long Island, and Sunday night we went out for dinner to celebrate my sister passing the New York State Bar Exam (she has also since found out that she passed the New Jersey one as well!!).

The party on Long Island was the second annual version of a party that we deemed "Sloshapalooza" or "Sloshfest" for short.  It's a combination of good food, good friends, a drink mixing competition, a funny T-shirt contest, and usually ends with some Wii dancing game.  This year, since it fell less than a week before Thanksgiving, when I offered to make dessert, the suggestion was for something Thanksgiving-y.

Besides looking for something holiday-themed, I also needed something that transports well.  Cupcakes seemed like a good option, but this time I did something uncharacteristically Julie.  I made full sized cucpakes, not minis!

I started out with the spiced pumpkin cake recipe that I used last year for the fall-themed
cakelets, upping the spices from the original recipe because I didn't think it originally tasted that spiced.  Then, I went with an improperly-named cinnamon buttercream to top them off.  Why do I call it an "improperly-named" cinnamon buttercream?  Because it isn't simply a cinnamon buttercream, it's a cinnamon-nutmeg-ginger-cardamom buttercream.  And it's delicious (a strong word coming from me, since you have all probably heard my rant animated discussion opinion on "pumpkin pie" spices and my dislike of almost all spices pumpkin pie-related (cinnamon, ginger, and occasionally nutmeg are, however, OK in my book)).

The cupcakes were a great success....and I even heard that they made for a delicious breakfast the following day!

Spiced Pumpkin Cupcakes
Recipe originally from this Pumpkin Spice Layer Cake with Caramel and Cream Cheese Frosting, which I have made before and strongly recommend trying that frosting, too!
I got 29 full-sized cupcakes from this recipe.


3 cups all purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking soda
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon cinnamon (I used 2 tsp)
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger (I used 1 tsp)
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
1/4 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon ground allspice
1/4 teaspoon ground cardamom
I also add a shake of pumpkin pie spice to up the spice factor a little more
1 15-ounce can pure pumpkin
1 1/2 cups sugar
1 1/4 cups vegetable oil
4 large eggs
2 teaspoons finely grated orange peel (I used less.  I can't say how much less, but I don't love orange zest in things, so I limited it a little.  A small amount of orange zest brings out the flavor of the pumpkin, I think)
Preheat oven to 350°F.
Butter and flour two 9-inch cake pans with 1 1/2-inch-high sides, tapping out any excess flour. Or line cupcake tins with pretty liners (I used brown liners with gold lines on them)
Whisk first 9 ingredients in large bowl.
Using electric mixer, beat pumpkin, sugar, and oil in another large bowl.
Add eggs 1 at a time, beating to incorporate between additions.
Mix in orange peel.
Add flour mixture; beat on low speed just to blend.
Divide batter between cupcake tins.
Spiced Buttercream Icing
Adapted from this "Cinnamon" Buttercream recipe I found on Pinterest
I doubled the recipe and had enough icing for 28 of the 29 cupcakes
3/4 tsp ground cardamom
1 1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp ground ginger
1/8 tsp ground cloves
1/8 tsp ground nutmeg
2 sticks unsalted butter
1 tsp vanilla
2 cups powdered sugar
1 Tbsp cold milk, if needed to thin icing
In a stand mixer, beat the butter until it is creamy.
On low, mix in the vanilla and the spices.
Carefully beat in the powdered sugar about ½ cup at a time.
If the buttercream is too thick add 1-2 tbsps of cold milk until the desired consistency is reached (I didn't use the milk)
Pipe onto cooled cupcakes with your favorite frosting tip.
Decorate with fun, festive sprinkles if you'd like.  I used autumn leaves.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Key lime pie

I did it again.  I baked a pie to test it out before I serve it to others.  The problem with pies (and cakes) is that in order to sample them, you have to cut into them....and then they're missing a slice.  And really, it's not very polite to show up at someone's home with 88% of a pie!

This year, my family is having a "pre-Thanksgiving" dinner in addition to our regular Thanksgiving dinner.  One of my sisters is leaving the country before Thanksgiving, and will be away for a few months, and one of her requests was to have a "pre-Thanksgiving" Thanksgiving dinner before she left.  Last year we had a non-traditional meal, and so it was decided that we would repeat that meal for "pre-Thanksgiving" and we'd have our turkey dinner on actual Thanksgiving.

The request for this year's pies came before we even finished clearing the dessert table last Thanksgiving.  Key Lime Pie was my cousin's request.  My other cousin decided that there needed to be a pumpkin pie at Thanksgiving dinner (which later turned into the fact that there needed to be a pumpkin pie at pre-Thanksgiving dinner since she, too, would not be at actual Thanksgiving).  So I set out to make the two pies for pre-Thanksgiving dinner.

This key lime pie was a HUGE hit!  Every one loved it, and we were serving such tiny slivers to the 20 (yes, 20!!) guests to guarantee that everyone got at least a taste!

Key Lime Pie


For the crust:

1 1/4 cups graham cracker crumbs from 9 (2 1/4-inch by 4 3/4-inch) crackers
2 tablespoons sugar
5 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted

For filling:

1 (14-ounce) can sweetened condensed milk
4 large egg yolks
1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons fresh or bottled Key lime juice (if using bottled, they say "preferably Manhattan brand") (I found key limes two weeks before I made the pie, but when I went back to the grocery store to make the pies, they had no key limes....so this is actually a lime pie)
Some freshly grated lime zest

For topping:

3/4 cup chilled heavy cream


Make crust:

Preheat oven to 350°F.
Stir together graham cracker crumbs, sugar, and butter in a bowl with a fork until combined well, then press mixture evenly onto bottom and up side of a 9-inch (4-cup) glass pie plate.
Bake crust in middle of oven 10 minutes and cool in pie plate on a rack.
 Leave oven on.

Make filling and bake pie:

Whisk together condensed milk and yolks in a bowl until combined well.
Add juice and whisk until combined well (mixture will thicken slightly).
Add lime zest.

Pour filling into crust and bake in middle of oven 15 minutes.
Cool pie completely on rack (filling will set as it cools), then chill, covered, at least 8 hours.

Make topping (I made whipped cream, with a little vanilla and sugar, instead of just whipping the cream as the recipe suggests):

Just before serving, beat cream in a bowl with an electric mixer until it just holds stiff peaks. Serve pie topped with cream.  I added piped whipped cream with a sprinkling of lime zest - my original thought was to add small wedges of key limes, but they were drippy with lime juice and I didnt want them to ruin the whipped cream.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Cake balls

My friend L was supposed to run the New York City marathon last weekend, but it was canceled post-Hurricane Sandy.  The night before the marathon, L was hosting a pasta dinner, and after the marathon was canceled, she decided to host it anyway (by the way, she was amazing and made HOMEMADE pasta for 15 people!!).  Of course, at the first mention of a dinner party, I offered to make dessert.  I asked L what she might want, and "cake balls" was her instantaneous response. 

I've posted cake balls and cake pops before, but I figured I'd post a picture of the cake balls from this past weekend in honor of L and her dedication and all the time she spent training for the marathon!

Chocolate, olive oil, and sea salt cupcakes

Chocolate.  Sea salt.  Olive Oil.  Together, in one (mini) cupcake!

I saw this recipe and immediately thought that I had to make it.  Sea salt and chocolate?  Sign me up!  Plus, years ago I had an amazing olive oil gelato, so I figured olive oil in dessert couldn't be that bad.  My only qualm about the cupcakes was the orange zest in the cupcakes (I'm not a huge fan of zest, especially orange zest).  Sadly, I thought that the cupcakes were a little too orangy, and then next time I make them, I'll probably skip the zest altogether.


Chocolate, Olive Oil, & Sea Salt Cupcakes


For the cupcakes:

2 large eggs
1 large egg yolk
1/2 cup sugar
1 packed tsp finely grated orange zest (I would leave this out next time)
1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil
2/3 cup cake flour (not self-rising)
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp baking powder

For the chocolate ganache:
7oz good quality dark chocolate, finely chopped
2/3 cup heavy whipping
Optional: 1/2 cup confectioner's sugar, sifted (I left this part out - I might add the sugar and whip it next time)

Sea salt, to sprinkle on top


Preheat oven to about 325°F.
Place 8-10 paper liners in a cupcake tray (I used 27 mini cupcake liners).
Whisk eggs, yolk, granulated sugar and orange zest in a medium bowl until foamy.
Add oil in a slow, steady stream, whisking constantly until combined.
Whisk flour, salt, and baking powder in a small bowl.
Fold into egg mixture in 3 additions.
Fill cupcake papers, about 2/3 full, and bake until light gold and testers inserted into centers come out clean, about 15 minutes.
Let cool in pans for 10 minutes, then turn out and cool completely on a wire rack.

Prepare the ganache; place chocolate in a medium heatproof bowl.
Gently heat cream in a small saucepan until it just comes to the boil.
Pour over the top of chocolate and set aside for 5 minutes to allow the chocolate to melt.
Use a whisk to stir the mixture together until smooth.
Chill until it reaches room temperature and thickens.
At this point you can spread the ganache over the top of your cupcakes (what I did last time), or if you prefer you can add the confectioner's sugar and beat the mixture using an electric mixer to make it fluffy (beating the mixture increases the risk that it will split, so be careful not to overmix - I may try this next time).
Spoon or pipe over the top of cupcakes and sprinkle a pinch of sea salt on top.
Serve immediately, or store in the fridge in an airtight container for up to 3 days.