No Problem, Honey

One of Tartlet 1’s favorite jokes is: When is a chef cruel?
A: When she beats the eggs and whips the cream!

My Christmas baking still hasn’t progressed very far as we’ve been wrapping up school work and we’ve had a lot of things on our ‘to-do lists’. So this didn’t involve beating any eggs, just whipping a bit of cream!

Tuesday, as we were anticipating the arrival of The In-Laws the next day, The Husband called to ask if I could provide a dessert for a party on Thursday he had forgotten about. Although my initial sarcastic response was ‘Sure, honey, I’m not really doing anything this week’, I started thinking of something easy I could make that would still not let him down. The In-Laws weren’t able to arrive after all, but I still went with something simple — a repeat Turtle Truffle Tart. But this is a dessert that stands repeating, and I don’t think I’ve made one for this group before. It looks far more complicated than it is. The base is my standard Shortbread Crust, topped with pecans and caramel and a layer of chocolate melted with heavy cream, all staple ingredients in my kitchen and easy to whip up. *evil laugh*


Mint Chocolate Cheesecake

Historically I have not been a huge fan of cheesecake.  Even now it’s not my first choice in desserts, so I really don’t understand what has gotten into me in the last couple of years: Chocolate Chip Cheesecake with Raspberries, Marbled Cheesecake, and, ever since the fabulousness of the Chocolate Ganache covered Turtle Cheesecake, I’ve been fixated with on covering them with chocolate, such as The Husband’s Peanut Butter Chocolate Cheesecake, and now this one. Adding chocolate is always good, but maybe it’s just self-preservation — make a dessert you are not totally in love with and then you won’t be tempted to nibble and taste until it’s disappeared! 😛

I actually made this about a month ago and just haven’t gotten around to posting it until now. I made this for our church Thanksgiving Dinner, where there is always a wonderful array of desserts, and why I sliced it in such small pieces — it makes it easier to justify tasting several desserts if none are terribly large! 😉 I didn’t actually get to try this one as it was gone by the time I reached the dessert table, but I have been assured by a couple of tasters that it was quite good. It’s a lovely twist on the mint flavors of the holiday season.

Mint Chocolate Cheesecake

1 1/2 c. graham cracker crumbs
1/4 c. sugar
2 Tbsp. cocoa
1/4 c. melted butter

Mix together all ingredients and press into the bottom of a 10-inch springform pan. Bake at 350 F for 15 minutes or until browned.

4 – 8 oz pkg cream cheese, softened
1 1/2 c. granulated sugar
5 eggs
3 Tbsp. cocoa
1 c. Andes Candies baking bits

Beat cream cheese until absolutely smooth, scraping sides and bottom of the bowl frequently to get out all lumps. Add sugar and stir until mixed. Add eggs one at a time, beating after each addition until well incorporated; scrape bowl frequently. Add cocoa and beat well. Fold in candy pieces.

Pour into prepared springform pan. Bake with a water bath at 325 F for 1 hr or until center is set. Remove from oven and cool. Slip a knife around the edge before releasing the pan.

Chocolate Coating:
1/4 c. heavy cream
3/4 c. semi-sweet chocolate
1/2 c. Andes Candies bits
more Andes Candies for sprinkling on top & decorating

In a heavy saucepan, heat cream until simmering. Remove from heat and stir in chocolate and mint candies. Stir until melted and smooth. Spread over the top of the cheesecake. Sprinkle with remaining candy bits.

Toffee Bars

The remainder of the Thanksgiving leftovers have been consumed, frozen, or made into soup and now the Christmas baking and party season begins!  The next couple of weeks I plan to highlight some of my favorite recipes for cookies and party fare.  Some foods really do take a long time to prepare to have a good looking presentation and excellent flavor.  These bars do not.  These bars are a hostess’ friend.  They are made of ingredients that are staples in my kitchen, probably yours too.

Toffee Bars

1 c. flour
1/2 c. brown sugar
1/2 c. butter, melted

1 1/2 c. chocolate chips
1/2 c. chopped pecans

Stir together flour, sugar, and butter. Press into the bottom of an 8 x 8-inch pan. Bake at 350 F for 15 minutes or until golden.

Immediately sprinkle chocolate chips over the top and allow to melt. If there are some that don’t melt, put the pan back in the oven for a minute. Spread the chocolate evenly over the top. Sprinkle with pecans. Cool completely before serving.

Recipe Makeover

One of my favorite Pillsbury Bake Off recipes is this one from 1974, a $25,000 winner, although in the printed version I have it calls for two eggs, not three. When I use a cake mix, I typically make it with some variations. Although a mix can be very convenient and I am not completely opposed to using them, I like a cake made from scratch, not with all the preservatives of a mix. So I came up with this variation of a much simpler recipe. When I make it in a Bundt pan, I prefer to cover it with cherry pie filling, but when I make it in a 9×13-inch pan I typically use the fudgy chocolate frosting. I don’t always make this the same way, but this was today’s version.

Chocolate Covered Cherry Cake (adapted from Francis Jerzak’s Pillsbury Bake Off recipe)

2 1/3 c. flour
1 1/3 c. sugar
1/2 c. cocoa
1 Tbsp. baking powder
3/4 t. sea salt

1/3 c. expeller pressed canola oil
1 21 oz can cherry pie filling (regular or ‘lite’)
2 eggs
1 t. almond extract

1/2 c. mini chocolate chips

Preheat oven to 350 F. Either grease and flour a pan or spray with nonstick spray; set aside.

Stir dry ingredients together in a large bowl. In a medium bowl, stir together oil, pie filling, eggs, and extract. Add the wet ingredients to the dry, gently stirring until moistened. Fold in chocolate chips. Spread the batter into prepared pan. Bake 30 minutes, or until wooden pick inserted in the center comes out clean. Remove from oven and cool on wire rack.

Either frost with fudgy chocolate frosting while still warm or cool completely and cover with with another can of cherry pie filling or sprinkle with powdered sugar.

Fudgy Chocolate Frosting

3/4 c. sugar
1/3 c. milk
5 Tbsp. butter

1 1/2 c. chocolate chips

Bring sugar, milk, and butter to a boil, stirring constantly, until sugar is dissolved. Remove from heat and stir in chocolate chips until completely melted. Spread over cake while warm.

Sign of the Season

Monday, I was helping a friend who had the misfortune to be found by a ravenous army of ants in search of cinnamon buns (they had good taste!).  When she said ‘at least it’s not mice’, I chuckled and heartily agreed.  Then I came home and baked more cinnamon muffins and this chocolate cake for our evening guests. Tuesday morning, you guessed it, I found the unmistakable evidence of rodents in my kitchen. *sigh*

Every year, spring and fall, we have a few that come in the crawl space, shimmy up the gas line to the back of the stove (this, in spite of the steel wool we filled the space with), and think they have found the mother lode of winter food storage right in my kitchen. Mind you, we have traps set in the garage as usual, which has been enough to keep them out of the kitchen the last couple of years, and we have The Cat, which you might think could be a deterrent . . . or that maybe he would actually catch the offending beasts. But, no.  No.  I dub thee ‘Useless, Lazy Cat’.  Meow. (Which, when translated, means, “whatever.  Are you filling the dish with ‘veal and gravy’ and cleaning the litter box or not?”)

So, there has been no baking since Monday.  I cleaned and disinfected, and, so far, three mice have met their demise, to the dismay of our sweet animal lover, Tartlet 2.   She blinks at me with tears, “But how would you like to be killed? He’s just looking for food! He’s just innocent!”  Well, that’s where you are wrong, dear. If he had looked for food outside, where mice are supposed to live, he would have been fine. But he entered MY territory and I will pardon no rodent. I’m cold and heartless that way.

Well, if my mentioning rodents in my kitchen didn’t completely turn you off food, there’s some ‘chocolate pound cake’ to be had.  I bought some milk chocolate chips for something a couple of months ago and had the remainder of the bag in the cabinet (and rodent-free, I will add) and the recipe on the back of the bag for a milk chocolate pound cake sounded intriguing.  Since I had already used part of the bag and didn’t want to buy another, I melted the milk chocolate for the cake and, in place of the other half of the bag to be added whole to the cake, I used a cup of mini semi-sweet chips.  Also, I had some almonds that needed to be used so I used them in place of the pecans and I have to tell you that I think the cake would have been much better with pecans. I thought about using a dark chocolate glaze but didn’t want to overpower the mild chocolate flavor so opted for caramel sauce, instead. That was a good move.

While it is a reasonably good cake, I would much prefer a dark, dense chocolate cake. Still, if you like chocolate, but aren’t enamored with dark chocolate, this cake may be just what you are looking for. I think a little whipped cream would have helped draw out the chocolate flavor too.  I’m giving you the original recipe below.

Milk Chocolate Chip Pecan Pound Cake (from Hershey’s Milk Chocolate Chip bag)

2 c. Hershey’s milk chocolate chips, divided
1 c. butter, softened
1 1/4 c. granulated sugar
3 eggs

2 1/4 c. flour
1/4 c. Hershey’s cocoa
1/4 t. baking soda
dash salt

1 c. buttermilk or sour milk

3/4 c. Hershey’s syrup
2 t. vanilla extract

1 c. chopped pecans

powdered sugar (optional)

Heat oven to 350 F. Grease and flour 12-cup fluted tube pan. Place 1 c. milk chocolate chips in medium microwave-safe bowl. Microwave at medium (50%) 1 minute; stir. If necessary, microwave an additional 15 seconds at a time, stirring after each heating, until chips are melted when stirred.

Beat butter in large bowl until creamy; gradually add granulated sugar, beating on medium speed of mixer until well blended. Add eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition. Add melted chocolate; beat until blended.

Stir together flour, cocoa, baking soda and salt; add to chocolate mixture alternately with buttermilk, beating until blended. Add syrup and vanilla; beat until blended. Stir in remaining milk chocolate chips and pecans. Spoon batter into prepared pan.

Bake 1 hour and 15 minutes or until wooden pick inserted in center of cake comes out clean. Cool 10 minutes; remove from pan to wire rack. Cool completely. Sprinkle with powdered sugar, if desired.

Marriage of Flavors

Today The Husband and I celebrate 16 years of marriage.  I decided to make some cupcakes, thinking I would put together his favorite fruit, strawberries, with my favorite food, chocolate.  It’s tasty, but doesn’t have the strong strawberry flavor I was hoping for. Sometimes a recipe, especially one I make from my own imagination, doesn’t turn out according to expectations.  But sometimes you still end up with something tasty.  I’m not going to make any correlations to marriage from that.  😉

We’re going to celebrate tonight by going to my favorite restaurant.  Happy Anniversary, Husband!

Strawberry Chocolate Cupcakes

1/2 c. sugar
1 1/2 c. chopped strawberries

1 c. sugar
1/2 c. butter, softened
1 t. vanilla
2 eggs

2 1/4 c. flour
2 t. baking powder
1 t. baking soda
1/2 t. salt

1 c. sour cream

1 c. mini chocolate chips

Stir strawberries with sugar and allow to sit for 15 minutes. Drain off 3-4 Tbsp. of syrup and reserve for frosting.

In a large mixing bowl, beat together sugar and butter until creamy. Add vanilla and eggs and beat until smooth, scraping the sides as needed.

In a medium bowl, mix together dry ingredients. Stir sour cream into strawberry/sugar mixture. Alternately add the dry and wet ingredients, mixing well after each addition, beginning and ending with dry ingredients. Fold in chocolate chips.

Strawberry Frosting
4 oz. cream cheese
2 1/2 c. powdered sugar
reserved strawberry syrup

Beat cream cheese until smooth. Add sugar & strawberry syrup and beat until smooth. Add milk as needed to adjust consistency.

Daring Bakers Puff With Pierre

It’s that time again!  After missing two challenges this summer, I wasn’t about to pass up this.  This month’s hosts Meeta and Tony selected a recipe from Pierre Herme and a cookbook which is going to be on my Christmas wish list, I think.  In the past when I’ve made both plain and chocolate cream puffs, the recipes I have followed called only for water, no milk. Pierre’s recipe is different and I have to say that I’m not sure I’ll ever go back. The milk makes a much softer texture and gives a much richer flavor. Of course, chocolate, chocolate, and more chocolate adds a lot too!  😉

I found piping the dough awkward, because I had difficulty loading my bag and had pastry dough all over my hands. I used a disposable bag with the tip cut a little larger than I would for a regular decorating tip but with no tip in the bag.  Most of them I was able to pipe out smoothly but the ends would make a curly tail that I smoothed with my finger.  I piped mine about 3-3/12 inches long, shorter than the recipe calls for, but it made a nice size dessert.  I’d like to try this again and play with it a little. I would love to make these with a raspberry cream filling and the chocolate glaze on top. While this recipe won’t exactly break the bank like a few other fancy schmancy desserts, it may cause the dishwasher to go on strike!

Thank you, Meeta and Tony for a great challenge and for some fun in the kitchen!  If you’d like to see the other bazillion eclairs made this month, head over to the Daring Baker Blogroll and click away!

Recipe after the jump.

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