Month: October 2011

Pumpkin Cheesecake with Pepita Croquant

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Sure it's cracked, but it still tastes good!

Here’s that pumpkin cheesecake that I was talking about in my Lavender Pepita Croquant post.  It’s nothing all that fancy, but still it’s pretty much a classic dessert for this time of year.  If you’re looking for an alternative to a pumpkin pie, this could be it!  I tried to make this a marbled cheesecake, but I made too much of the chocolate batter and it just ended up like a chocolate layer on the top.  Which, in and of itself, is not a bad thing, just not the effect I wanted.  It didn’t really matter since I was topping this with a nice whipped topping.  This will make a 10-in cake.  Here’s what you need.

For the crust:

  • 3/4 c. graham cracker crumbs
  • 3/4 c. ginger snaps
  • 1/4 c. sugar
  • 1/2 stick of butter, melted, plus more for the pan

1.  Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.  Butter the bottom and sides of your springform up about 1 inch.  Set aside.

2.  In a medium-sized bowl, combine the dry ingredients and mix.  Pour the melted butter over the top.  Mix well to combine.

3.  Press the mixture into the bottom of the pan and up the sides about 1 inch.  Bake in the oven for about 10 minutes.

For the filling:

  • 4 8-oz. packages cream cheese
  • 1 1/4 c. sugar
  • 1 c. canned pumpkin puree (or fresh if you’ve got it!)
  • 1 T. pumpkin pie spice
  • 1/2 t. cinnamon
  • 2 t. vanilla
  • 1/2 t. salt
  • 4 eggs
  • 1/4 c. flour

1.  Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.  In the bowl of a stand mixer and on low-speed, cream together the cream cheese and the sugar until smooth.  Add the pumpkin, spices, vanilla, and salt.  Mix well, being sure to scrape down the sides.

You can't even see the cracks anymore!

2.  Add the eggs one at a time, again scraping down the sides of the mixing bowl after each addition.  Sift to flour over the top and mix until just combined.

3.  Pour the filling into the prepared crust and, smooth the top.  Bake in the middle of the oven for about 45 minutes to an hour.  Allow to cool before wrapping in plastic while still in the pan.  Refrigerate for at least 4 hours.

4.  Cover the top with some fresh whipped cream or whipped topping.  Sprinkle the top with some of the Pepita Croquant.  And it’s ready to serve!

Notes — I mistakenly used a 9-in springform for this and it should have been a 10-in.  So I had to keep the cake in the oven longer than it should have, so some stuff was a little bit “crispier” than it should have been.  Just a reminder to use proper equipment!. . . If you just have a 9-in pan, just use 3 packages of cream cheese, omit one egg and 1/4 c. sugar. . . You’ll notice that there is some cracking on the cheesecake.  If this happens to you, an easy fix is to just cover it with something like some whipped topping (which I had leftover from the pumpkin trifle from a little bit ago). . . Crust ingredients can vary, specifically the butter.  You need to have enough moisture so that the dough can crumbs can hold together.  Take a handful of the crust mixture in your hand and squeeze.  If it holds together, it’s good; if it falls apart, you’ll need more butter.

Lavender Pepita Croquant

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One of the things that adds a nice touch to desserts is some croquant.  Croquant is very similar to brittle candies (like peanut brittle, for example), but the recipe is a lot simpler.  There’s no butter, or cream, or baking soda, or anything like that.  Just sugar, water, and your “feature ingredient”, which is usually sliced almonds for some reason.  But it’s fall, so I thought this would be great to try with some pepitas / pumpkin seeds.  I also wanted to add some lavender for that added twist.

When I first started considering making something like this, I thought it would be extremely difficult and laborious, but it’s really quite simple.  I realize now that I was mistakenly associating this with pulling taffy.  And if you’ve ever seen or done that, you know what I mean about laborious.  This recipe is great on its own as a candy, but it’s also nice to garnish, I don’t know, something like a Pumpkin Cheesecake (hint, hint — that’s my next post!).  Of course, this recipe does make more than enough to use as a garnish, so luckily it tastes good in its own right.  Here’s what you need:

  • 4 c. sugar
  • 1 c. water
  • 1 1/2 c. pepitas
  • 1 T. lavender

1.  Line a half sheet pan with a silpat or spray with cooking spray.  Set aside.

2.  In a medium-sized, heavy saucepan combine the sugar and water.  Over medium-high heat, stir until the sugar dissolves.  Do not stir after this point; only swirl the pan.  If a film forms on the sides of the pan, brush the insides of the pan with a pastry brush dipped in water.

3.  Cook for about 10 or 15 minutes until it is a light golden amber color.  Remove it from the heat and gently stir in the pepitas and the lavender.

4.  Pour onto the prepared sheet pan and spread it out quickly.  Allow to cool completely.  You can break it into pieces or before it has cooled 100% you can score it or slice it into desired shapes.  If you keep it in a dry space, this could keep for several months, but probably could last a week or so.

Notes — This batch does seem a little cloudy because I wasn’t paying attention and stirred it a little bit too much.  When you do that, crystals start to form which isn’t what you want.  I didn’t mind too much since I was breaking the croquant into very small pieces to serve as a garnish.  If you are trying to make larger sheets, take more care than I did in this batch.  A quick trick to help prevent this is to add a little corn syrup.  Without getting into too much detail chemistry-wise, corn syrup is a different type of sugar.  So when those two different sugars mix, it makes it difficult for molecules to organize and form crystals.

Pumpkin Tres Leches Cake fail = Pumpkin Trifle Success!

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So here’s a story of trying to turn a negative into a positive.  I had this brilliant idea of making a pumpkin tres leches cake.  Turns out not so brilliant.  I found this recipe for a tres leches cake in one of my books and I wanted to autumnize it by adding some pumpkin.  Now after looking the recipe over, I had my reservations about the recipe since it called for reducing the soaking milk mixture by half.  I thought that would be extremely thick and would not get absorbed by the cake.

But let me backtrack a little bit for some folks that might be confused.  For those who aren’t familiar with a pastel de tres leches, it is the “Three Milks Cake”.  The cake used is a very dense sponge cake which is then soaked in a sweet mixture made of three milks.  The three milks used would include:  evaporated milk, sweetened condensed milk (I could eat this crap right out of the can!), and whole milk / heavy cream.  Its origins can probably be traced to Latin America, either Nicaragua or Mexico.  From what I can tell, the recipe was part of a promotional campaign by a canning company to help drive sales of their milk products.  Clever marketing!

Fast forward now to a few days ago. . . The cake itself was perfect — very dense, the flavor was great, it should have done well maintaining its structural integrity despite the soaking liquid.  As I feared, the soaking liquid turned very thick, almost like a béchamel or a gravy.  But I soldiered on, thinking maybe it would work.  Letting something soak overnight could work. . . maybe. . . right?. . . It didn’t.  What I got was very dense, dry cake topped with a very wet frosting.  So, what to do, what to do?  Into the freezer it goes!  If I can’t figure out how to use it, I can at least turn it into cake crumbs which I can use to decorate cakes (I should do a quick post on how to make that)

What about a trifle?  It’s a nice way use up some cake that might not have turned out the way you wanted.  Now here’s a recent post from a fellow blogger with her very tasty version of a Pumpkin Trifle.  It sounds like this is the way to go.  I did have a lot of higher aspirations involving fresh cinnamon whipped cream and pumpkin butter and candied pepitas, but as the day wore on and errands started piling up, I took the easy way out and Sandra Lee’ed it.  I am so ashamed of myself, since I always seem to be on the “made-from-scratch-high-horse”.  Hopefully I don’t start turning to Rachel Ray for culinary advice.  Unless you like those two, then they’re lovely.  But to make up for it, I made some lavender pepita croquant to garnish a marbled pumpkin cheesecake.

Again, this is not a specific recipe since this is just cobbled together.  If you happen to have a spare cake lying around the kitchen, great!  If not, just pick one up at the store.  Here’s what you need:

  • 2 9″-in. round pumpkin cakes
  • 2 3.4-oz. packages pumpkin spice pudding, prepared
  • 2 c. pepitas, raw and unsalted
  • 1 16-oz. container whipped topping
  • spiced rum, to taste

1.  Cut the cake into about 1″ cubes.  Toss the cubes with just enough rum to moisten the cake.  You could omit this if you like.

2.  Spread out a layer of the cake cubes.  Top with a layer of the whipped topping, followed with a sprinkling of pepitas.

3.  Now spread out another layer of cake cubes.  Top with a layer of the pudding, and again sprinkle with the pepitas.

4.  Alternate steps two and three until you get to the top of the dish.  Garnish with a dollop of whipped topping and sprinkling of pepitas.  You can serve immediately or refrigerate until ready to serve.

Notes — I don’t have a dedicated trifle dish so I had to use my cake dish / punch bowl.  When I do make trifles, I usually make individual ones so I have no need for a large dish.  I think it did a sufficient job, but it was a little bit too wide. . . Since the cakes that I had used were dry, it was helpful in my case to let everything sit for a bit rather than serving immediately.

Stuffed Squash Blossoms

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I do apologize; I don’t have a picture of the final product — everything was eaten so fast!  At least I have a couple of pics of some things that took place beforehand.  Now there was no real intention to make these; I just saw them at the market and thought to myself, “Waterlily, you could do something nice with these!”

This was part of a welcome meal for my parents and my brother when they drove up to visit over Labor Day.  It was just something nice and a little bit special that I could have waiting for them once they got here.  It’s not everyday that you can have some fresh squash blossoms. . . well, at least in my house.  These can be somewhat tricky to work with, mostly because they can be pretty delicate.  But on the other hand, don’t be too afraid to peel back the petals and stuff them with the filling.  They can be pretty resilient.

Alright, it's not the prettiest picture I have ever taken, but it shows how simple the stuffing is.

As for the filling, it again shows some of the versatility of the Garlic Confit and the Pesto that I posted a little bit ago.  This time I combine the two with just a little bit of some cream cheese.  Of course, I did panic and make a double batch of the stuffing.  Trust me, a single one is more than enough; the good thing is that it makes a very nice spread on some bread, or a bagel, or maybe a cucumber sandwich or something along those lines.  You could probably thin out the stuffing with a little yogurt or sour cream and make a nice vegetable dip.  Or how about taking a couple of tablespoons of the filling and adding it to a pasta sauce and making a nice pesto cream sauce.  Just take the filling and some pasta water (that’s the water in which you are currently boiling the pasta, in case you didn’t know) and you have an instant sauce!  Or using it to fill some crab rangoons (which I have been craving since I’ve been sick and bedridden).  See, that’s like 20 ideas right there.  Hopefully my rambling will help everybody see how you can take portions from recipes and use them in different applications.  Here’s what you need:

  • about 12 -15 squash blossoms
  • 1 8-oz. package of cream cheese
  • 3 -4 cloves from the garlic confit
  • 1/2 c. confit pesto
  • 1 c. seasoned flour
  • 1 egg
  • canola oil for frying

1.  Carefully wash and dry the squash blossoms.  I just had them drip dry in a colander that was lined with a few sheets of paper towel.  Set aside.

2.  In a medium-sized bowl, combine the cream cheese, pesto, and confit.  Mix until smooth.  Gently open the blossoms without tearing them and fill each one with about one tablespoon (or a little bit more, if you like) of the cream cheese mixture.  Carefully twist the blossoms closed.

3.  Scramble the egg in a shallow dish.  Now dredge the blossoms in the flour, then coat with the egg, and then dredge in the flour again.

4.  Fill a frying pan about an inch deep with the canola oil.  Over medium or medium-high heat, bring the oil to about 350 degrees F.  In small batches, fry the flowers until golden, turning them once.

5.  Drain them on a cooling rack lined with some paper towel.  Serve while still hot.

Notes — You could secure the blossoms with a toothpick if that is your preference, just remember to remove them before eating!. . . One trick that I learned from Alton Brown is that you can drain these (or anything else that you’re frying) in an unorthodox way.  Normally you would drain them on a plate or rack with some paper towel on it.  You should turn all that upside down!  It should look like this, solid surface (kitchen counter), then your paper towel, and finally an upsidedown cooling rack.  The rack acts as a wick which draws out the excess oil, but also acts as a physical barrier that prevents the food item from sitting in a pool of grease. . .

Versatile Blogger Award

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I admit that I had been putting off writing about this award for a couple of weeks, mainly because I was trying to figure out how to best fulfill the requirements of what this award entails.  Plus I really have not been feeling well, not that that’s a good excuse.  Now I’m not sure I can list “award-winning chef and author” on my resume, but anything helps in this current job market.  And I send a sincere thanks to Blue Jellybeans for passing the award on to me.

The rules of the award are as follows:  1)  list seven things about yourself; and 2)  pass the award on to 15 others.  So let’s begin.  Seven things about myself. . .

  1. I am a stickler for correct grammar, punctuation, and spelling.  I’m sure that is difficult to see given all the weird vernacular and idioms that I use constantly, ya reckon?
  2. I am a firm believer in “retail therapy”.  Sometimes you really can buy yourself a little happy. . . sometimes
  3. Along those lines, I am a sucker for anything that is a “gift with purchase”.  You mean that all I have to do is spend $50 to get your $2 tote bag?  I am on it!
  4. I am willing to try anything once.  Except maybe seal eye balls and lutefisk (really?  fish soaked in poison?)
  5. When I am sick, one of the things I tend to do is clean.  Like a get-down-on-your-hands-and-knees-and-scrub-with-a-toothbrush kind of clean.  Of course, if I am too sick, I usually just lie down on various surfaces in the house and just moan.  Maybe that’s how I figure out what needs a good cleaning!
  6. I have a background in music.
  7. There are certain movies that I will watch without fail if I find that they are on TV.  These include:  Notting Hill, 50 First Dates, While You Were Sleeping, any of the “good” Star Treks, and any of the Lord of the Rings movies.
  8. I am a Gator, Seminole, and a Spartan (in that order, although I did go to Florida State first), and I’m begrudgingly considering becoming a Wolverine (ugh!).  But really, I love any obscure college team (Go Fighting Okra!)

I guess I did an extra one there.  Lo que sea.  And now to pass the award on!  These are some of the blogs that I read on a regular basis (and these are in alphabetical order), but I know of several that have been nominated already.  If I know that they’ve been nominated, I decided to try to pass this on to someone new.  Some of these folks I’ve been following for some time now.  Some I just started following, and then I realized, I read a lot of their stuff anyway, so why not subscribe?  Here are my 15+1 nominees:

  1. Aubergine & Butterbean
  2. Cakealogue
  3. Clever Muffin
  4. Cooking is Life!
  5. Frugal Feeding
  6. Passioneats
  7. Rufus’ Food and Spirits Guide
  8. Savory Simple
  9. Sensible Lessons
  10. Simply Breakfast
  11. Syrup and Biscuits
  12. Tart to Heart
  13. The Answer is Always Pork
  14. The Hungry Artist
  15. The Little Loaf
  16. The Wholesome RD

Happy Blogging everyone!

I’m in shape. . . “round” is a shape, right?

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I think the "October" plate adds a nice touch of class.

I am sick.  And when I am sick, several things can happen.  These may include:  1)  my social filter switching to “off”; 2)  impulse control going out the window; and 3)  delirium.  So I’m thinking all three played some role in my thinking that posting this would be a good idea.

Anyhoo, I have found my new favorite recipe.  It’s so simple and easy to do.  Now I don’t recommend this for everyone, but if you’re feeling like I do right now, this might be just the thing for you.  Here’s what you need:

1.  Place handful of Cheez-its in mouth.

2.  Add rum.

3.  Enjoy!  Repeat as necessary.

Notes — This is just like that old staple of wine and cheese — except that there’s no wine and no cheese. . . I wouldn’t recommend a spiced rum for this.  I don’t think the flavor profiles would work well with the Cheez-its.  And it would be best if the rum had some age to it, but don’t go wasting some 30-year-old stuff on this recipe. . . Pretzels might work in a pinch, but I like the more diverse tastes you get from the Cheez-its

Lemon Poppy Seed Bundt Cake

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Freshly dusted.

Nothing says it’s autumn like a Lemon Poppy Seed Cake!  Alright, so that’s a stretch, but I had some poppy seeds that were just begging to be used that were in my baking basket (That’s where I keep some of my “special ingredients”.  Things like lavender, sanding sugars, crystallized ginger, cacao nibs, dragées, stuff like that).  I have no idea why I had them; it’s not like I’m making kolaches every week (that might be an interesting thing to try making).  But I noticed that I haven’t done anything about a cake for a while, and when I think of poppy seeds, I automatically think of lemon poppy seed baked goods.

Just a word of caution — if you eat this, you could test positive for opiates for a couple of days.  Poppy seeds are harvested from the opium poppy and contain the same chemicals that you can find in the things like heroin and morphine.  So if drug tests are in your near future, you might want to adjust your diet accordingly so that you don’t generate a false positive.  Don’t believe me, just ask the Mythbusters!  But I digress. . .  I used the Fiesta Bundt cake pan for this recipe and I adapted a recipe from Rose Levy Beranbaum.  Here’s what you need:

It's a fortress of cake!

For the cake:

  • 3 large eggs
  • 3/4 c. sour cream, divided
  • 1 t. vanilla
  • 2 c. all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 c. cornstarch
  • 1 1/4 c. sugar
  • 1 1/2 t. baking powder
  • 1/2 t. baking soda
  • 1/2 t. salt
  • the zest of 2 lemons
  • 1/2 c. poppy seeds
  • 2 sticks of butter at room temperature

1.  Place a rack in the lower third of the oven.  Preheat at 350 degrees F.  Spray the cake pan with cooking spray.  I used the one with flour as an extra precaution.

2.  In a medium bowl, whisk together the eggs, 1/4 c. of the sour cream, and the vanilla.

3.  In the bowl of a stand mixer, mix together the flour, cornstarch, sugar, baking soda, baking powder, salt, zest, and poppy seeds for a couple of minutes to evenly combine.  Add in the butter and remaining sour cream.  Mix on low to incorporate, then raise the speed to medium and mix for  1 1/2 minutes.  Scrape down the sides of the bowl as you go along.

4.  Spoon the batter into the prepared pan.  Bake for 45 -55 minutes, or until a cake tester comes out clean.  About 10 minutes before baking is done, begin work on the lemon syrup.

For the syrup:

  • the juice of 2 lemons
  • 1/2 c. sugar

Combine the ingredients in a small saucepan.  Stir over low heat, being careful not to boil.  After the sugar has dissolved, remove from the heat and set aside.

Glaze the cake:

1.  After removing the cake from the oven, transfer to a wire rack and poke the cake repeatedly with a skewer (this helps the cake absorb the syrup).  Brush on about 1/3 of the syrup.  Let stand for about 10 minutes.

2.  After the ten minutes are done, unmold the cake onto a serving plate and brush with the remaining syrup.  Cool completely before serving.  Dust with confectioners sugar if you like.  The cake will actually taste better the next day, after the syrup gets a chance to permeate the cake.

Notes — I used a microplane and a handheld zester for the lemon zest.  I like the different textures that they both provide.  Using the microplane really gets the zest to infuse into the batter, and the handheld gets those coarse flakes and strips that I like to see in the finished cake.  Personal preference, so use what you like. . . I made this on a cold day so my room temperature butter was around 60 degrees F.  So my batter started out with a very mealy, more shortbready texture (it’s a technical term.  look it up.).  The cake did turn out very tender and crumbly so I’m curious as to the differences in using actual room temp butter (which I think is 75 degrees F).  With all the baking that I’ve done, I probably should know the end result by know, but it never hurts to do a check.  Plus, what’s wrong with having another cake in the house?