Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Jennie's Creamy Peanut Butter Pie for Mikey

This pie is to remind me to pause and cherish the simple things. Smile. Hug everyone. Remember God in times of happiness and sorrow.

I am in awe from all the support for Jennie - and admiring all those creamy pies too. Reading their warm and thoughtful words touched my heart, and I hope the hundreds of food writers and their delicious dedications bring some comfort to her too.

I used 3 tablespoons melted peanut butter instead of butter for the crust and I used Oreo cookies. Next time I would omit the powdered sugar or at least reduce it by half because the pie was high on the sweet-o-meter. I still loved it, because one slice satisfies you... til tomorrow. I would also consider freezing the pie for 30-60 minutes before serving so it sets up alittle more. I melted a tablespoon of chocolate chips and peanut butter for the drizzle on top.

Creamy Peanut Butter Pie
Serves 10 to 12
8 ounces chocolate cookies
4 tablespoons butter, melted
4 ounces finely chopped chocolate or semi-sweet chocolate chips
1/4 cup chopped peanuts
1 cup heavy cream
8 ounces cream cheese
1 cup creamy-style peanut butter
1 cup confectioner's sugar (same as powdered sugar)
1 (14 ounce) can sweetened condensed milk
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 teaspoon freshly squeezed lemon juice

Add the cookies to the bowl of a food processor and pulse into fine crumbs.  Combine melted butter and cookie crumbs in a small bowl, and stir with a fork to mix well.  Press mixture into the bottom and 1-inch up the sides of a 9-inch springform pan.

Melt the chocolate in a double boiler or in the microwave.  Pour over bottom of cookie crust and spread to the edges using an off-set spatula.  Sprinkle chopped peanuts over the melted chocolate. Place pan in the refrigerator while you prepare the filling.

Pour the heavy cream into a bowl and beat using a stand mixer or hand mixer until stiff peaks form.  Transfer to a small bowl and store in refrigerator until ready to use.  Place the cream cheese and peanut butter in a deep bowl.  Beat on medium speed until light and fluffy.  Reduce speed to low and gradually beat in the confectioner's sugar.  Add the sweetened condensed milk, vanilla extract and lemon juice. Increase speed to medium and beat until all the ingredients are combined and filling is smooth.

Beat in 1/3 of the whipped cream into the filling mixture (helps lighten the batter, making it easier to fold in the remaining whipped cream).  Fold in the remaining whipped cream.  Pour the filling into the prepared springform pan.  Refrigerate for three hours or overnight before serving.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Hershey's "Perfectly Chocolate" Cake

"Perfectly chocolately" is exactly right. The chocolate flavor is perfect and the texture is moist and dense. I don't like how airy boxed cakes are. And I'm surprised this cake wasn't dry in the least bit because it uses cocoa powder - and no chocolate chips either. I guess the oil and milk help out, and maybe something to do with that boiling water too. I don't like the "perfectly chocolate" frosting however. Powdered sugar frostings never taste right to me. Make this chocolate peanut butter ganache instead - much tastier, and decadent. And if it's one of those indulgent nights- top with peanut butter fudge ice cream and garnish with chopped nuts.

Hershey's "Perfectly Chocolate" Cake
Adapted from: Hershey's Kitchens

2 cups sugar
1-3/4 cups all-purpose flour
3/4 cup HERSHEY'S Cocoa
1-1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1-1/2 teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
2 eggs
1 cup milk
1/2 cup vegetable oil
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 cup boiling water

Heat oven to 350°F. Grease and flour two 9-inch round baking pans.

Stir together sugar, flour, cocoa, baking powder, baking soda and salt in large bowl. Add eggs, milk, oil and vanilla; beat on medium speed of mixer 2 minutes. Stir in boiling water (batter will be thin). Pour batter into prepared pans.

Bake 30 to 35 minutes or until wooden pick inserted in center comes out clean. Cool 10 minutes; remove from pans to wire racks. Cool completely.

Chocolate Peanut Butter Ganache

8 ounces semisweet chocolate chips
3 tablespoons smooth peanut butter
2 tablespoons light corn syrup
1/2 cup heavy cream

Combine all ingredients in a heat proof bowl and set over a small pot of simmering water (double broiler method). When the chocolate appears melted, stir until the mixture is smooth and combined. Do not let the chocolate bubble or boil. Remove from the heat and use while still warm or allow to cool to room temperature.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Nora's Mini Raspberry Swirled Cheesecakes

Fixed it! Sweetened condensed milk! I had problems with slight dryness last time but this should add the richness I'm looking for.

Also, instead of using fresh berries, which have water (enemy to cheesecakes), I used my trusty raspberry sauce recipe instead. You cook it over the stove and get rid of all that water, and its SO MUCH EASIER to strain all those raspberry seeds.

A couple of other changes, like adding more raspberry sauce to the middle of each cake, using a knife rather than a toothpick to swirl the batter, and letting the cakes cool in the oven, all made for tastier and more beautiful results. If I wasn't lazy, I would have drizzled them with melted white chocolate.

Good thing UTHSC had an iftar or I probably wouldn't have tried this out. I get distracted easily.

Nora's Mini Raspberry Swirled Cheesecakes
Yield: 30 mini cupcakes

Raspberry Sauce
6 oz. bag of frozen raspberries
1/4 cup sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 teaspoons cornstarch mixed in 1 teaspoon cold water

In a small saucepan over medium heat, bring frozen berries to a slight simmer, DO NOT MIX (keep the fruit together as much as possible). Strain out seeds with a fine mesh sieve. Return sauce back to stove and add sugar and vanilla, simmer for a minute until dissolved. Add cornstarch mixture, simmer for one minute until thickened. Remove from heat and allow to cool. 

3/4 cup graham cracker crumbs
3 tbsp. unsalted butter, melted

Combine the graham cracker crumbs and melted butter in a small bowl. Stir together with a fork until well blended and all the dry ingredients are moistened. Press 1 teaspoon of the mixture into the bottom of each mini cupcake, done easily with one thumb. Set aside.

16 oz. cream cheese, at room temperature
1 (14 oz.) can sweetened condensed milk
1 tsp. vanilla extract
2 large eggs, at room temperature

Preheat the oven to 300˚ F. Be sure you have made the raspberry sauce first in order for it to cool.

To make the cheesecake, put the cream cheese in the bowl of an electric mixer and beat on low speed, gradually adding the sweetened condensed milk with the mixer on, scraping down the bowl half way through. Beat in the vanilla and eggs one at a time, mixing well after each addition.

To assemble, spoon one level tablespoon of the cheesecake batter over each crust. Dot each cheesecake with 1/2 teaspoon raspberry sauce. Add about a teaspoon of cheesecake batter to cover. Dot a ½ teaspoon of the raspberry sauce in a few dots over the cheesecake filling. Use a thin knife (steak knife) to lightly swirl and create a marbled effect.

Bake until the filling is set, about 17-18 minutes. They should look puffed initially but will return to normal after cooling. Turn off the heat and open the oven door. Let cool for 20-30 minutes. This allows the cakes to cool at a steady pace, so they won't crack. Remove from oven and allow to cool to room temperature. Take a thin butter knife and go around the edge of each cheesecake to loosen. Flip the pan over onto a plate to release all cakes. Transfer to the refrigerator and let chill before serving. Garnish with fresh raspberries.

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Mini Raspberry Swirled Cheesecakes

These are adapted from one of my favorite blogs to drool over lately. They came out good, but mine were a tad bit dry, maybe I overbaked them.

I thought making them mini sized would be an excellent idea because fruit burns easily. I've tried making regular sized cheesecakes with swirled fruit and you have to be really careful because the fruit on top tends to burn before the cheesecake is ready to come out of the oven.

Happily, the fruit didn't burn, but they could still use some more richness. I think I know what to do. Check my next post for an updated version!

UPDATE: Better version here.

Mini Raspberry Swirled Cheesecakes
Yield: 24 mini cupcakes

For the crust:
½ cup graham cracker crumbs
2 tbsp. unsalted butter, melted

For the topping:
3 oz. fresh raspberries (one more oz. if you want a garnish)
1 tbsp. sugar

For the filling:
16 oz. cream cheese, at room temperature
3/4 cup sugar
1 tsp. vanilla extract
2 large eggs, at room temperature

Combine the graham cracker crumbs and melted butter in a small bowl. Stir together with a fork until well blended and all the dry ingredients are moistened. Press 1 teaspoon of the mixture into the bottom of each mini cupcake, done easily with one thumb. Set aside.

Preheat the oven to 300˚ F.

To make the raspberry puree, combine 3 oz. raspberries and sugar in a blender or food processor. Process until smooth, then pour through a fine mesh sieve to remove the seeds. Easier said than done.

To make the cheesecake, beat the cream cheese and sugar on medium speed in the bowl of an electric mixer until fluffy. Beat in the vanilla and eggs one at a time, mixing well after each addition.

To assemble, spoon one heaping tablespoon of the cheesecake batter over each crust. Dot a ½ teaspoon of the raspberry puree in a few dots over the cheesecake filling. Use a toothpick to lightly swirl and create a marbled effect.

Bake until the filling is set, about 18-20 minutes. They should look puffed initially but will return to normal after cooling. Let cool to room temperature. Take a thin butter knife and go around the edge of each cheesecake to loosen. Flip the pan over onto a plate to release all cakes. Transfer to the refrigerator and let chill before serving. Garnish with fresh raspberries.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Junior's Strawberry Shortcake Cheesecake

This is my FOURTH and final attempt at making strawberry cheesecake... for now anyway. It stumps me. The past few months I've experimented, and this recipe turned out the best- but I wouldn't serve it to anyone. The flavor is awesome, like fresh berries and cream. The texture is all wrong. Its pastey and gummy, which I think has to do with the cornstarch.

Frozen Strawberries: First I took Junior's recipe for strawberry puree (uses frozen berries) and combined it with my favorite cheesecake recipe, but unfortunately it turned out lumpy, and squishy - I think from the water that the berries give off. That extra water interferes with the creamy texture that a cheesecake is supposed to have.

Strawberry Pie Filling: Then, inspired from this recipe, I tried combining canned strawberry pie filling with the cheesecake batter. It was seemingly perfect where there were no lumps of fruit. The bites you would take with the actual strawberries, would have a squishy texture again. But it was creamy where the cake was flavored with only the sauce. So, I made it again with canned pie filling. This time, taking out every bit of real fruit and flavored it with only that gel-like high fructose strawberry sauce. I don't know what went wrong because it was squishy again.

Finally, I considered Junior's Cheesecake recipe because it's dry. And I'm having problems with a watery cheesecake. So I tried it - from my Junior's Cheesecake cookbook using the Strawberry Shortcake Cheesecake recipe below, without making the spongecake crust. Like I said, it came out the best but I still don't like that pastey texture. Maybe too much cornstarch? Try flour instead?

I could always settle for strawberry swirled cheesecake. That comes out just fine. But I was looking forward to that fresh strawberry wonderfulness baked all through out. 

Junior’s Strawberry Shortcake Cheesecake

For the cheesecake layer:
10 oz (1 cup) frozen whole strawberries, thawed and drained well
1/3 cup plus 1 tsp cornstarch
3 (8 oz) packages of cream cheese at room temperature
1 1/3 cups sugar
1 tbsp pure vanilla extract
2 extra large eggs
2/3 cup heavy or whipping cream
3 to 4 drops red food coloring (optional)

For the sponge cake (2 layers):
2/3 cup sifted cake flour
1 ½ tsp baking powder
½ tsp salt
5 extra large eggs, separated and at room temperature
2/3 cup sugar
1 ½ tsp pure vanilla extract
¼ tsp pure lemon extract
¼ cup (1/2 stick) unsalted butter, melted
½ tsp cream of tartar

To assemble and frost:

2 quarts fresh strawberries
1 tbsp unflavored granulated gelatin
3 tbsp cold water
1 quart heavy or whipping cream
1/3 cup sugar
1 tbsp pure vanilla extract

Makes one 9-inch three layer cake, about 5 inches high

1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Generously butter the bottom and sides of one 9-inch springform pan and two 9 inch round layer cake pans. Wrap the outside of the springform (but not the cake pans) with aluminum foil, covering the bottom and extending all the way up the sides. Very important: line the bottom of all three pans with parchment or waxed paper (do not let the paper come up the sides).

2. Pulse the thawed strawberries in your food processor until smooth (you need ¾ cup of puree). Stir in the 1 tsp of cornstarch and set aside. It will thicken slightly as it stands.

3. Put one package of the cream cheese, 1/3 cup of the sugar, and the cornstarch in a large bowl. Beat with an electric mixer on low until creamy, about 3 minutes, scraping down the bowl a few times. Beat in the remaining cream cheese, one package at a time, scraping down the bowl after each. Increase the mixer speed to medium and beat in the remaining 1 cup sugar, then the vanilla. Blend in the eggs, one at a time, beating well after adding each. Beat in the cream just until it’s completely blended. Be careful not to overmix! Fold in the strawberry puree, plus the food coloring, if you wish (use just enough to tint the batter light pink).

4. Gently spoon the batter into the springform, then place it in a large shallow pan containing hot water that comes 1 inch up the sides of the springform. Bake the cake until the edges are light golden brown and the top is set, about 1 ¼ hours. Remove the cake from the water bath, transfer the tin to a wire rack, and let cool in the pan for 2 hours, then cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate until completely cold, about 4 hours. Then freeze overnight until ready to assemble the cake.

5. While the cheesecake is cooling, make the sponge cake layers. Check that the oven is preheated to 350 degrees and that the water bath has been removed. In a small bowl, sift the flour, baking powder, and salt together. Beat the egg yolks in a large bowl with an electric mixer on high for 3 minutes. While the mixer is still running, slowly add 1/3 cup of the sugar and continue beating until thick, light yellow ribbons form in the bowl, about 5 minutes more. Beat in the extracts. Sift the flour mixture over the batter and stir it in by hand, just until no white flecks are visible. Blend in the melted butter.

6. Put the egg whites and cream of tartar in a clean medium size bowl and, using clean, dry beaters, beat the mixer on high until frothy. Gradually add the remaining 1/3 cup sugar and continue beating until stiff peaks form. (the whites will stand up and look glossy, not dry). Fold about 1/3 of the whites into the batter, then add the remaining whites. Don’t worry if you still see a few white specks-they’ll disappear during baking. Divide the batter evenly between the two layer cake pans and bake until golden (not wet or sticky) and the center springs back when lightly pressed, about 12 minutes. Let the cakes cool in the pan on a wire rack for 15 minutes, then turn them out onto the rack and gently peel off the paper liners. Let cool completely, then cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate overnight or until ready to assemble the cake.

7. on the day you plan to assemble the cake, hull 1 quart of the strawberries, then cut them into ½ inch pieces (you need 2 cups). Reserve the remaining berries for decorating the cake.

8. Make the frosting. Place the gelatin in a heatproof measuring cup, stir in the cold water, and let stand until it swells and thickens. Cook in the microwave on high for about 30 seconds or over a pan of simmering water for about 1 minute, until clear and completely melted. In a medium size bowl, whip the cream with an electric mixer on high until it thickens and soft peaks just begin to form. With the mixer still running, add the sugar and beat just until the cream stands up in peaks (don’t overmix or the cream will curdle). Beat in the vanilla. Add the melted gelatin all at once and beat until thoroughly incorporated. Refrigerate the cream for at least 30 minutes (preferably no longer than 1 hour) in two bowls: 2 cups in a small bowl for piping decorations on the top of the cake and the remainder in a second larger bowl for frosting the cake. Meanwhile, remove the frozen strawberry cheesecake from the freezer and let stand at room temperature for 10 minutes.

9. Place one layer of the sponge cake, top side down, on a cake plate. Spread evenly with a thin layer of whipped cream frosting from the large bowl and half of the strawberry pieces. Release and remove the ring of the springform, then remove the frozen cheesecake from the bottom of the pan. Peel away the paper liner and place top side down on top of the frosted bottom layer. Press the cheesecake down gently, just enough so the two layers stick together but not enough for the filling to come out the sides. Top the cheesecake layer with some more whipped cream from the large bowl, and sprinkle evenly with the remaining strawberry pieces. Top with the second cake layer of sponge cake, top side up. Frost the top and sides of the cake with the rest of the whipped cream in the large bowl.

10. To decorate, hull the remaining quart of berries and halve them, from top to tip. Place a ring of berries around the bottom edge of the cake, tip ends up. Using 5 or 6 berry halves, make a star in the center of the cake, pointing the tips of the berries away from the center. Fit a pastry bag with a medium closed star tip or medium open star tip and fill the cream from the small bowl. Pipe shells or rosettes around the top edge of the cake and make a large rosette on top of the strawberry pieces.

11. Refrigerate the cake until serving time (it takes at least 2 hours to allow the cheesecake to thaw enough to slice easily. Use a sharp straight edge knife, not a serrated one. Cover and leftover cake and refrigerate. Do not freeze this cake.

Monday, August 1, 2011

Medjoul Date Balls

Ramadan Mubarak!

Even if you don't like dates or if you think they aren't sweet enough, you should try these. Traditionally you cook the dates with flour over the stove when making these. Cooking the dates causes the natural sugars to caramelize and change flavor. Surprisingly though, this no cook recipe still tastes authentic and is so much easier. Add contrasting spices like cinnamon and cardamom, brings out the date's true sweetness. Don't worry about leaving the skin on either, it still comes out really smooth.

Medjoul Date Balls

20-25 small/medium-size Medjoul dates, pitted (could be less or more depending on what you have)
1/2 cup melted butter
2 TBSP powdered sugar
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp ground cardamom
1/2 cup walnuts (chopped or halves)
Coconut, about 1/3 cup, for rolling

In a food processor, blend the dates in 2 separate batches until it forms a ball with a paste-like consistency. After melting the butter in the microwave, stir the powdered sugar, cinnamon, and cardamom into the butter. Add both batches of date paste back into food processor and turn on, slowly adding the melted butter mixture. Add the walnuts and give it one more whirl until the nuts are finely chopped and fully combined.

Place the date mixture into a bowl. Form into 1/2 TBSP-sized date balls. Roll some of the date balls in the coconut.

Makes about 40 date balls.
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