Cheesing it Up

This year, for his birthday dessert, my husband requested cheesecake. If you know my husband, then you know how much of a triumph this moment is for me. Starting off as a picky eater when we both were wed, his tastes have broadened slightly, making me a very, very happy girl.

I have been making this cheesecake for years now, and it’s my absolute favorite. A pecan crust, creamy center, and ease of preparation make this dessert worthwhile.

Vanilla Bean Cheesecake
Recipe courtesy of Ganache

For the crust:
2 cups Graham cracker crumbs
1/2 cup chopped pecans
4 tbsp melted butter
2 tbsp sugar

For the cheesecake:
4 8 oz blocks of cream cheese, at room temperature
1 cup sour cream
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 vanilla bean, split, seeds removed
1 tbsp flour
4 eggs
1 cup sugar

Line the outside of a 9 inch springform pan with tin foil, crimping it around the pan to make a waterproof barrier.

Preheat your oven to 350.

Mix crust ingredients together in a bowl and press into the bottom and up the sides of a 9 inch springform pan. The bottom of a measuring cup or large glass works great in pressing the crust up the sides and packing in all the crumbs for you!

Bake for 10 minutes, at 325, until crust is set and slightly brown. Remove and let cool slightly. Crank your oven up to 450.

Meanwhile, in the bowl of a food processor or with a stand mixer, combine cream cheese and sugar until well blended and slightly fluffy. Add eggs, one at a time, blending well after each use. Add remaining ingredients and blend well. Pour into cooled crust.

Place unbaked cheesecake into a larger baking pan where the springform pan can sit flat. Pour in recently boiled water in the larger pan to create a hot water bath, being careful not to splash into the cheesecake.

Bake at 450 for 10 minutes, reduce the oven to 250, and not opening the oven, bake for one hour. Remove the cheesecake from the oven and the water and allow to cool at room temperature. Remove the foil and cool the cheesecake in the fridge overnight to set properly. Next day, slice and serve.


Sugar, Spice, and Everything Nice
April 15, 2011, 12:09 am
Filed under: Dessert, Food and Recipes | Tags: , ,

They say that girls are made of sugar, spice, and everything nice, but so are these cinnamon twists.

We are huge fans of anything cinnamon sugar around here. Toss in a little cardamom, and you’ve got me hooked. Cardamom is one of my favorite spices. Used a good bit in Indian cooking, it’s subtle flavor wins me over every time. I’ve used it a good bit in other desserts: sugar cookies, biscotti, and now in these cinnamon twists.

These are perfect with coffee, with a slight nuttiness and chew from the sesame seeds. You might consider making a double batch…

Cardamom and Cinnamon Sugar Twists
Slightly adapted from Giada de Laurentiis

1 tablespoon ground cinnamon
1 tablespoon sesame seeds
1/2 teaspoon ground cardamom
2 tablespoons light brown sugar
1 (9 by 10-inch) sheet frozen puff pastry, thawed and cut into 20 (1 by 4-inch) pieces
1 egg, beaten

1. Preheat your oven to 400 degrees. Line your baking sheet with a piece of parchment paper, set aside.

2. In a bowl, mix together your cinnamon, sugar, cardamom, and sesame seeds. Take 2 pieces of dough, and twist together to form a rope shape, pinching the ends to seal together. Brush each rope of dough with the beaten egg, then dip in your spice mixture, pressing lightly to get a good thick coating. Place spice side up on your baking sheet. Bake for 10-12 minutes until puffed and golden brown.

3. Cool on a wire rack, brew a pot of coffee, and serve.

Dinner for Friends, Part 2

This cake was the finishing piece of the dinner for friends. It was so delicious, I thought it deserved a post all to itself.

Again, to remind you, this meal will make you look like a rock star, promise.

Back to the cake: more apple than batter, when this cake bakes, it becomes almost like an apple pudding. Think of the texture of bread pudding, replace the bread with apples, and that will almost get you to this cake. I kept being overly paranoid about it not being done in the center, but once it cooled to room temperature and settled, it was absolutely perfect.

I made this cake the morning of the dinner party, to cut down on things to cook later in the day, and to allow the cake to fully cool to room temperature. It would be perfect dolloped with a bit of creme fraiche, sour cream, or whipped cream and served alongside a steaming hot cup of coffee or tea. The only thing I’d suggest is to line the bottom of your springform pan with a piece of parchment cut to fit. The cake is so sticky, this would help you move it to a cake stand for presentation later.

Marie-Helene’s Apple Cake
Recipe Courtesy of Dorie Greenspan’s Around my French Table

3/4 cup all purpose flour
3/4 tsp baking powder
pinch of salt
4 large apples (choose different kinds, I used 2 granny smith and 2 honeycrisp)
2 large eggs
3/4 cup sugar
3 tbsp dark rum (could substitute a little rum extract)
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
8 tbsp (1 stick) unsalted butter, melted and cooled

1. Preheat your oven to 350 degrees, with an oven rack set to the center of your oven. Take a 9 inch springform pan, line bottom with a 9 inch round of parchment paper and butter everything well.

2. Whisk flour, baking powder, and salt together in a small bowl. Peel your apples, cut them in half, remove the cores. Cut the apples into 1 to 2 inch chunks.

3. In a seperate bowl, beat the eggs until foamy. Pour in sugar and whisk until blended, about a minute. Whisk in rum and vanilla. At this point, add half the flour mixture, whisk until just combined. Add half the butter, stir to incorporate. Follow this with the remaining flour mixture, whisking to combine, and then add remaining butter. Mix gently after each addition to achieve a smooth batter.

4. Using a rubber spatula, stir batter and all chopped apples together, ensuring that each apple is coated with a bit of batter. Scrape the mixture into your springform pan, using the spatula to smooth out the surface and make sure the cake is even.

5. Bake for 50 to 60 minutes, until the top is browned and a knife inserted into the center comes out mostly clean. Transfer to a wire cooling rack, cool for five minutes. Using a butter knife, run the knife around the edges of the cake, seperating the cake and pan. Remove the side of the springform pan slowly to make sure nothing is stuck. After this, allow to cool completely to room temperature. After it has cooled, you may transfer to a cake plate. Serve.

Snowed In
February 9, 2010, 1:28 am
Filed under: Dessert, Food and Recipes | Tags: , ,

This morning we awoke to these sights:

Our House

Our Neighborhood

Our Backyard

As most people were exclaiming for joy for not being able to attend school or work, my husband and I groaned, as we remembered last weekend when we trudged, slid, and drove through a mess that appeared just this serene on the outside. The dogs, however, relished in the pillowy white flakes. We were blindsided by this weather. Even as we checked the forecast before turning in for bed the night before, nothing prepared us for this sight when we woke. I was glad that I had been grocery shopping the day before so I could spend the day in pj’s.

Last night was the superbowl. My husband and I tuned in, watched as the Saints fought their way to victory, and stuffed ourselves full of good food: homemade pizza, bruschetta, and tiramisu.

Tiramisu, along with pecan pie, rank as two of my all time favorite desserts. However, I believe tiramisu slightly nudges pecan pie for the ultimate top spot. The ingredients grab me right away: coffee, cream cheese (or marscapone as a more traditional approach), and chocolate. What could be better? And, what could be better for a day spent snowed in? Add a cup of coffee or espresso, and I do say nothing.

This version is courtesy of Cooking Light, once again. Their recipes never seem to fail, and they deliver my favorites with lower calories. Even better. Hope you enjoy!

Tiramisu Anacapri
Courtesy Cooking Light, December 2000

1 cup cold water
1 (14 oz) can fat-free sweetened condensed milk
1 (1.4 oz) pkg sugar free vanilla instant pudding mix
1 (8 oz) block of 1/3 less fat cream cheese, softened
1 (8 oz) tub frozen reduced calorie whipped topping, thawed
1 cup hot water
1 tbsp instant espresso, or 2 tbsp instant coffee granules
1/2 cup kahlua (you could leave this out if making this for your family)
24 cakelike ladyfingers (2, 3 oz pkg)
3 tbsp unsweetened cocoa, divided

1. Combine first three ingredients in a large bowl; stir well with a whisk. Cover surface with plastic wrap and chill 30 minutes until firm.

2. Remove the plastic wrap and add cream cheese. Beat with a mixer at medium speed until well blended. Gently fold in whipped topping.

3. Combine hot water, kahlua (if using), and espresso. Split ladyfingers (some already come pre-split) in half lengthwise (skip step if yours are pre-split; you’ll know because they’ll have one flat side and one curved top). Arrange 16 ladyfinger haves, flat side down, in a trifle bowl or large dish. Drizzle with 1/2 cup of coffee mixture (if not using kahlua, only drizzle with 1/3 cup coffee mixture). Spread one third of pudding mixture evenly over ladyfingers; sprinkle with 1 tbsp cocoa. Repeat layers two more times, ending with the cocoa. Cover and chill at least 8 hours, or overnight (overnight is even better).

Crostata Therapy

I apologize for my aforementioned bad mood. I’ve solved the problem, and I’ve given myself a therapy session. It involved a homemade pastry crust, beautifully pink honeycrisp apples, and cinnamon. Not to mention lots of warm tea and coffee in a coffee mug that my husband bought for me while we were dating (I’m sentimental like that), cooking magazines, and cooking shows.

A crostata is an Italian free-form dessert tart. So you’ll forgive the uneveness of the crust; it’s rustic, okay? In this case, I made the pastry dough, chilled it in the fridge. Then, I sliced some apples, rolled out the dough (as I muttered under my breath because I forgot to flour the parchment paper and was rolling it out over a dishwasher that was drying at the moment), proceeded to scrape the dough from the parchment paper over the apples, and then baked to golden deliciousness (if that’s a word). Afterwards, I doused it in a good bit of heated apricot jam to give it the golden sheen that you will note, and barely let it cool before I ripped in and cut me off a piece, then did the hot potato dance as I tasted it.

You see, the therapy in the crostata is this: it is irresistable. It is sitting on my kitchen counter and is calling my name each time I walk past. The smell is still lingering in the air from it’s beautification in the oven. Each time I walk past it, I admire it, and promptly slice me another bite. Since 8 pm last night, half the crostata has disappeared, and I’ve been the only one eating it. Don’t judge. You wouldn’t be able to resist its temptations either.

The other end of the therapy is that I made some royal mistakes with the crostata along the way. Yet, somehow, it turned out perfect. Which, by default, makes this dessert pretty foolproof. You don’t even have to peel apples. It’s just a quick blitz in the food processor, a chill, a slice, a roll, a fold, and a bake. That’s it. You can’t even mess up the assembly. Heck, because I forgot to flour the parchment paper I rolled on, and because I rolled next to a heat source, I had to use a knife to scrape the dough up over the apples, and it was still perfect. That’s saying a good deal.

It’s also beautiful enough to serve to guests, which makes an easy, foolproof dessert even sweeter…and did I mention how delicious it tastes?

Apple Crostata
Adapted from Giada De Laurentiis



1 1/2 cups all purpose flour
2 tablespoons sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
10 tablespoons unsalted butter (1 1/4 sticks, chilled, cut into 1/2 inch cubes)
3 tablespoons ice water

3 small honeycrisp apples (or good in-season cooking apple of your choice), cored, cut into approximately 1/8 inch thick slices
1/4 cup sugar
1 teaspoon lemon juice
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
1 large egg white beaten with 1 tablespoon of butter
1/2 cup apricot jam

1. Make the crust: Mix the flour, sugar, and salt in a food processor. Give a few pulses to combine. Then add the butter. Pulse until the mixture resembles a coarse meal, and the butter is pea sized. Then, add the ice water and pulse until the dough clumps together. Dump the dough onto a piece of plastic wrap, form into a ball, and press into a disc. Wrap the disc in the plastic wrap and stash in your refrigerator for about 1 hour.


2. Position an oven rack to the center of the oven and preheat to 400 degrees.

3. Prepare the filling: Core your apple and cut into approximate 1/8 inch thick slices. Place in a bowl and toss with lemon juice, 1/4 cup sugar, cinnamon, and nutmeg. Set aside.


4. Prepare the crust: Remove your crust from the fridge. On a floured piece of parchment paper, roll your dough out into an 11-inch round. Transfer parchment with dough to a large baking sheet.

5. Prepare the crostata: Spoon your apple mixture over the dough, leaving a 2 inch border of the dough around the apples. Fold the dough border over the filling to form an 8-inch round, leaving the apples exposed in the center. Pleat loosely and pinch the dough to seal any cracks. Brush the crust and apples with the egg wash mixture.

6. Bake at 400 degrees for about 40 minutes, until apples are tender and the crust is golden. In a bowl, heat your apricot jam in the microwave until melted. Then, dab and liberally coat the top and all exposed areas of the crostata with the melted jam. This keeps the crostata moist and adds the characteristic glaze. Flavors of the crostata are best at room temperature (if you can resist that long).


Crostatas are Italian, but Gallettes are French. They are one in the same. If you are looking for a lighter version of this dessert, and you don’t feel like making your pastry crust or you don’t have a food processor, you can go here.

Tiny Pockets of Joy
September 28, 2009, 8:52 pm
Filed under: Dessert, Food and Recipes | Tags: , ,

My husband’s family visited this past week; total head count: 8 people, 5 dogs. It was a whirlwind. We had been planning the visit so long (the cooking, the restaurant visits, the sleeping/bathroom arrangements), that it’s hard to believe it’s over. My two bedroom, two bath house in Memphis now seems strangely empty.

Earlier in this blog, I shared a recipe with you for 88-calorie brownies. Now that I’ve shared that, I think it’s only fair that I share 88-calorie chocolate chip cookies with you. I made these for my husband’s family when they visited, and they seemed to be a big hit. The cookies turn out crispy and chewy at the same time, make a large batch, and keep for a week in an airtight container. Of course, they won’t last a week, so that will hardly be an issue. You can also make extra to freeze, which I think is a pretty cool idea for anytime you have visitors or need your chocolate fix.

Whether by family visits, chocolate chip cookies, or both, you too can have tiny pockets of joy in your life.

88 Calorie Chocolate Chip Cookies
Courtesy Cooking Light, June 2007



2 1/2 cups all purpose flour
1 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp salt
1 cup packed brown sugar
3/4 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup butter, softened
1 tsp vanilla extract
2 large egg whites
3/4 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips

1. Preheat oven to 350.

2. Lightly spoon flour into dry measuring cups, leveling with a knife. Combine flour, baking soda, and salt. Stir with a whisk until combined and lumps are removed.

3. Combine sugars and butter in a large bowl; beat with a mixer at medium speed until well blended. Add vanilla and egg whites; beat 1 minute until light and fluffy. Add flour mixture and chips; beat until blended.

4. Drop dough by level tablespoons 2 inches apart onto baking sheets lined with parchment paper. Bake at 350 for 10 minutes or until lightly browned (hint: when you remove the cookies, they will appear slightly underbaked, but this is okay. They will firm up after they cool on the pan and be the perfect texture). Cool on the pan 2 minutes. Remove from pans, cool on wire racks. Yields 4 dozen cookies.


First of Autumn
September 8, 2009, 7:41 pm
Filed under: Dessert, Food and Recipes | Tags: , , ,

Since I shared a recipe that reminded me of the Summer months in the last post, I supposed that it would be good to share a recipe with you that reminded me of the Autumn months – something warm and comforting, rich, and gooey. There could be none other than brownie pudding. It whips up in a flash and will have all your friends “oohing” and “ahing” at your delectible creation. Ring in the coming months with this dish, and welcome autumn into your home.


Brownie Pudding
Courtesy Barefoot Contessa, Back to Basics Cookbook

The trick here is NOT to overbake the pudding. You want the center to be warm and gooey, like a molten chocolate cake. You want a consistency between a brownie and a pudding, thus: brownie pudding.

1/2 pound (2 sticks) unsalted butter, plus extra for buttering the dish
4 extra-large eggs, at room temperature
2 cups sugar
3/4 cup good cocoa powder (I used Ghirardelli Dutch Processed Cocoa Powder)
1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 tsp good vanilla extract

1. Preheat the oven to 325 degrees. Lightly butter a 2 quart (9 x 12 x 2 inch) oval baking dish. Melt your two sticks of butter and set aside to cool.


2. In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat the eggs and sugar on medium-high speed for 5 to 10 minutes, until very thick and light yellow. Meanwhile, sift the cocoa powder and flour together and set aside (I did not sift, I just used a shortcut method and used a whisk to blend together the dry ingredients).



3. When the egg and sugar mixture is ready, lower the speed to low and add the vanilla and the cocoa powder and flour mixture. Mix only until combined. With the mixer still on low, slowly pour in the cooled butter and mix again just until combined.


4. Pour the brownie mixture into the prepared dish and place it in a larger baking pan. Add enough of the hottest tap water to the pan to come halfway up the side of the dish and bake for exactly one hour. A cake tester or toothpick inserted 2 inches from the side will come out three quarters clean. The center will appear very under-baked.

5. Allow to cool and serve with vanilla ice cream, if desired.