Category Archives: cakes

Salted Caramel Chocolate Trifle

The first face to poke through the door of my classroom was that of an older woman. She was followed by one of my 7th grade students, who was followed by a white haired man. “Come in! Find a seat anywhere!” I called as I made last minute adjustments to the position of the projector.

Soon people were pouring into my room. They had arrived for Grandfriends Day, where Woodlawn students invited their grandparents (or grandpeople they’d “adopted”) to eat lunch with them and participate in their classes.

I’m going to go ahead and publicly admit that I was terrified of Grandfriends Day. What activity could I plan that both a 60-year-old and a 12-year-old might enjoy? We usually read novels or tackle projects that take weeks to complete. What concept could I introduce and cover in a meaningful way in 30 minutes?

Thankfully, I learned a trick at the beginning of my teaching career that always serves me well in these types of circumstances: when you’re scared of a new thing, get enthusiastic and give it an honest, earnest try. (This also works with baking, writing, and life in general.) So as the students and their grandfriends filtered into my room, I pasted on a smile.

Once they were all somewhat assembled, I took a deep breath and did something a little ridiculous. I turned on the projector and pressed play on this video (no, really, go watch it). Confusion turned into giggles as Maru the cat repeatedly attempted to gain access to a huge cardboard box. Young and old alike cheered when he finally sprang into its depths. I surveyed the classroom as they watched, concluding that funny YouTube clips were, indeed, a language that spanned the generations.

When the video ended, I posed a question: “What was Maru’s goal?”

“To get in the box!” the class cried in unison.

“Did he accomplish his goal the first time he tried?”

“No!”

“How about the second?”

“No!”

“Did he eventually get in the box?”

“Yes!”

Their enthusiasm was cute. They were still riding the wave of cheer that Maru’s antics had created. I distributed sheets of notebook paper as I issued their assignment: “Write about a time when you, like Maru, had a goal you couldn’t accomplish right away.”

Some dove at their paper with ardor while others thoughtfully drummed fingers or pencils on the desk. A short ten minutes later, though, everyone sat staring at their finished anecdote. I asked for volunteers to share, wholly unsure about the quality of work I was about to receive. I needn’t have been concerned, though. I have great students and, it turns out, they have amazing grandfriends.

One man told of learning to drive a car with a manual transmission and repeatedly killing the engine before finally getting the hang of it. Another told of being determined to get his garden planted despite the rain that threatened to prevent it. A third detailed how he and his construction crew had created a machine that could drive 16 nails a second to accomplish their goals more efficiently.

Two women discussed taking a pottery class and working for months before they produced the bowl or vase they’d envisioned. My students relayed sports goals they’d attempted to accomplish: a back set in volleyball, a backflip in gymnastics. Finally, one of my students raised his hand and asked to read his grandfather’s composition.

His grandfather had worked with a veterinarian as a young man and decided to enter into that profession himself. His application to NC State’s veterinary program, however, was denied. Undeterred, he entered the college for agriculture instead, and — my student articulated the following with great pride — became the first person in his family to graduate from college.

We were all quiet for a minute before one clap — and then another, and then another — began a round of applause for this man’s accomplishment. It was one of those moments (you teachers out there will know just what I mean) when I thought, “Oh, this is why I teach.”

Some folks that day had reached their goal by pushing through the obstacles. Others had used trial and error, learning from their mistakes and adjusting their actions. Still others had created a tool to help them accomplish their objective. That man, though, had courage and flexibility I sometimes lack. Instead of getting discouraged, he changed his goal. He created a path for himself that wasn’t what he’d originally envisioned. The pride his whole family felt at his accomplishment was a testimony to his success.

I wish I’d had that much grace this week when making this Salted Caramel Chocolate Cake. Yes, I said cake, because that’s what this dessert was supposed to be.

My goal was to create a towering chocolate cake drenched in gooey salted caramel and frosted with a smooth, fudgy icing. I saw that goal crumble before my eyes, however, when I opened my refrigerator and found all 6 layers sliiiiiiding down like they were preparing to do the limbo. The skewers I’d added for support were leaning right along with the cake.

I could pretend I handled it well, because this is the internet. For all you know I’m a supermodel who, apart from saving puppies and keeping a perfect house, never loses her temper. In the spirit of honesty, however, let’s just say that there was a solid 30 minutes of angst in my kitchen Wednesday night.

Then somehow I flipped a switch. I stopped trying to restack the layers, grabbed a spoon and my trifle dish (thanks for my trifle dish, Joyce!), and started building this bucket o’ cake. As I worked, my mood improved drastically.

Not only was my trifle pretty, less fuss to frost, and easier to transport, but it was also going to taste every bit as delicious as the cake I’d envisioned. The satisfied faces of my family around the Thanksgiving table the next day confirmed that it was a success.

Your turn: tell me about a time when you had a goal you couldn’t accomplish right away.

Salted Caramel Chocolate Trifle



Recipe by: Adapted from Martha Stewart
Yield: About a billion servings. Or at least 10-15.

This is actually a recipe for a 6-layer salted caramel chocolate cake. Feel free to attempt the cake and keep the trifle as a backup plan in case it doesn’t work — or just make the trifle from the beginning! Either way, the dessert you end up with will be rich, moist, and covered in the most delicious salted caramel and fudgy frosting. By the way, if you’re scared of making caramel, don’t be — just make sure you use a candy thermometer, which takes the guesswork out of the process.

Cake Ingredients:
3 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for pans
3 cups granulated sugar
1 1/2 cups unsweetened Dutch-process cocoa powder
1 tablepoon baking soda
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1 1/2 teaspoons coarse salt
4 large eggs
1 1/2 cups low-fat buttermilk
1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons safflower oil
1 1/2 cups warm water
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract

Caramel Ingredients:
4 cups granulated sugar
1/4 cup light corn syrup
1/4 cup water
2 cups heavy cream
1 teaspoon coarse salt
2 sticks cold unsalted butter

Frosting Ingredients:
1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons Dutch-process cocoa powder
1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons warm water
2 sticks unsalted butter, room temperature
1/2 cup confectioners’ sugar
Coarse salt
1 pound semisweet chocolate chips, melted and cooled
flaked sea salt, such as Maldon

Directions:
Note on scheduling: You can make the cake layers a few days in advance. Just wrap them and refrigerate them, and take them out and freeze them the day you’ll be cutting and assembling them (which will make them easier to work with). You can make the caramel up to three days in advance and keep it in the fridge — just let it come to room temperature for a couple of hours before using it. The entire cake can be assembled a day in advance and refrigerated, allowing its flavors to meld.

Make the cake: Cut 3 circles of parchment paper and use cooking spray as “glue” to adhere them to 3 9-inch round cake pans. Then grease the pans and the paper (I use Wilton’s Cake Release, but you could also use butter and flour). Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.

Sift the flour, sugar, cocoa, baking soda, baking powder, and coarse salt together in a mixing bowl. Beat the dry ingredients on low until combined before increasing the speed to medium and adding eggs, buttermilk, warm water, oil, and vanilla. Beat about 3 minutes until the mixture is smooth. Divide it among the three pans.

Place the pans in the oven and bake until a toothpick inserted in the middle comes out with just a few moist crumbs, about 30-35 minutes. Rotate the pans about halfway through so they’ll bake evenly. Let them cool on a wire rack for about 10 minutes before turning them out onto sheets of wax paper and leaving them to cool completely. Stick them in the freezer if you’re going to make a cake; if you’re going for a trifle, just leave them out.

Make the caramel: Slice your butter into tablespoon chunks and set it back in the fridge for later. In a large saucepan, gently combine the sugar, corn syrup, and water. Once you put it on the heat, you won’t stir it anymore to ensure that the sugar will not crystallize and give you grainy caramel. Put a candy thermometer on the pan and heat it over high heat (no stirring!). Once the mixture starts turning amber around 320 degrees, you can gently swirl it every now and then (not stirring!) to ensure the sugar caramelizes evenly. Heat it until the mixture is dark amber (350 degrees on your thermometer), about 14 minutes. Remove it from the heat.

VERY CAREFULLY and slowly, pour in the cream. The mixture will bubble up and spatter so just be prepared and stand back — flaming sugar is no joke! Once you add the cream, whisk the mixture until it’s smooth before returning it to the heat and cooking until it reaches exactly 238 degrees (I know it sounds weird, but apparently this is crucial for the texture), about 2 minutes. Pour the caramel into a medium bowl and add the salt. Let it cool for about 15 minutes before whisking in the butter 1 tablespoon at a time (you’re definitely going to want to enlist another set of hands here; otherwise your arm will fall off).

Make the frosting: In a small bowl, whisk together the cocoa and warm water. In a separate bowl, beat together butter, confectioners’ sugar, and a generous pinch of coarse salt until pale and fluffy. Gradually beat in the melted chocolate and the cocoa mixture. Let this sit for about 30 minutes before you use it.

Assemble the cake (or trifle): If you’re making a trifle, simply tear up the cake and alternate layers of cake and 3/4 cup of caramel in your bowl, using a spoon or offset spatula sprayed with cooking spray to help spread the caramel. Do a layer of frosting in the middle of the dish and another layer on top before drizzling with caramel and sprinkling with sea salt.

Alternatively, if you want to try the cake, freeze your cake layers until they’re firmer (this makes them much easier to work with). Use a long serrated knife to level their tops and cut each layer in half. Place one layer on a serving platter and spoon 3/4 cup of caramel on top, using a spoon or offset spatula sprayed with cooking spray to help spread the caramel. Place another cake layer on top and repeat the process, alternating layers of cake and caramel, leaving the top cake layer uncovered. For goodness’ sake, place dowels through your cake (I’d say at least 4), mark them at the height of the cake, remove them, and cut them down to size. Then replace them in the cake. I’d also wrap the entire cake tightly in plastic wrap before chilling it to prevent sliding. Refrigerate it until it’s set (about an hour) before frosting the top and sides of the cake and sprinkling with sea salt.

Serve the trifle or cake: I think this dessert is delicious no matter what, but it’s absolutely out-of-this-world if you heat a serving of it for about 30 seconds before spooning a big hunk o’ vanilla ice cream on top. I didn’t try this with a cake slice, so I don’t know that it’d hold together — another benefit of a messy trifle.

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A Dozen Pumpkin Recipes from Willow Bird Baking

My pumpkin craze is far from over, y’all. Just a fair warning.

The pumpkin shortage over the past two seasons must have really scarred me, because it seems like every time I pass a display I pick up a couple more cans. I don’t mind; my pumpkin stash has come in handy plenty o’ times. Here are a few of my favorite pumpkin recipes, hand-picked to be perfect for your Thanksgiving meal. Enjoy!

1. Jack O’ Lantern Whoopie Pies
2. Pumpkin Spice Pull Apart Bread with Butter Rum Glaze
3. One-Skillet Gooey Pumpkin Cookie Cake

4. Mini Pumpkin Pies
5. Pumpkin Cheesecake Stuffed Snickerdoodles
6. Pumpkin Streusel Swirled Cream Cheese Pound Cake

7. Pumpkin Cheesecake Bread Pudding
8. Vegan Pumpkin Nut Bread
9. Easy Sopapilla Pumpkin Cheesecake Bars

10. Chocolate Pumpkin Truffles
11. Pumpkin Pecan Streusel Breakfast Braid
12. Browned Butter Pumpkin Croquemcake with White Chocolate Chai Mousse

…and you guys know there’s more where that came from. Pumpkin and I are BFFs.

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Pumpkin Streusel Swirled Cream Cheese Pound Cake

I recently attended the Foodbuzz Blogger Festival in San Francisco, California, 2,700 miles away from my home. Traveling alone is always a meaningful, reflective experience for me, and over the next couple of weeks, I’ll be sharing vignettes that I hope are meaningful to you, as well.

. . .

I’ve started to write this story countless times. Sometimes you get so tangled up in words that they suddenly seem more like a net than a lubricant, more like a shroud than a lamp.

It’s when the ideas are most important that the words get the stickiest. Personally, I find that I have to scrap those sticky words entirely — sometimes repeatedly — to set myself free and finally get the tale told. So. Here’s another try…

“Proposition?”

It was the first word the man next to me on the bus (the correct bus, thankfully) had uttered, and I didn’t understand what he meant. I looked at him quizzically. He repeated himself, pronouncing the word slightly wrong: “Proposition?”

I noticed he was pointing to something and looked down at the book in his lap. His finger was settled on — what else? — the word “proposition.” I finally put the pieces together. “Oh! Yes, that’s ‘proposition,'” I answered, pronouncing the word correctly. He thanked me and went back to his book with a satisfied nod.

I forget how the conversation started up again, but eventually we were chatting. He introduced himself as Vincent. I told him I was a food blogger and teacher from Charlotte. He revealed that he had family in Winston-Salem but had lived in California for years. Finally, the pleasant conversation ambled back to his book. “What are you reading?” I asked. It seemed like a totally innocent question.

Rather than answering aloud, he turned his book over so I could see the cover. It was 12 Steps and 12 Traditions, an Alcoholics Anonymous book.  I immediately stuck my foot in my mouth wondering if I’d embarrassed him, but he seemed unfazed by the interaction.  I was touched — both that he was diligently reading this book on the bus and that he was willing to share it with me.

But I was also a little self-conscious. How should I respond to the information he’d just shared with his simple gesture? Wouldn’t anything I had to say sound patronizing? After all, while he seemed to have had plenty of hard knocks, I was giving off the air of an easy life. I was wearing a blue Parisian scarf and a camel trench coat, holding a huge camera case, and I’d just flown across the country for a vacation of sorts.

He couldn’t know that the scarf was a gift, the coat a hand-me-down, and the plane ticket a contest prize. Nor did it really matter. I just looked floofy. Floofy in that wealthy lapdog sort of way. And compared to the sort of obstacles he was facing, my life was pretty floofy.

Floofy or not, I decided there was nothing to do except respond sincerely. Quietly, I said, “That’s awesome, Vincent. I really admire that you’re doing that.” He flashed a big smile and I inwardly sighed with relief.

Up until now our chat had been lighthearted, but we’d just turned a corner into SeriousLand (a little known suburb of San Francisco, apparently). Before long we were talking about his recovery (he was on his way to see his sponsor at that moment), his life in San Francisco, and about Jesus. You know, the usual.

I was nervous about missing my stop, but Vincent was getting off at the corner of Lombard too. “The view of the bay is beautiful here,” he said as we alighted from the bus. “You should try to walk around if you get a chance.” He took a moment to direct me toward my next bus stop before shaking my hand and rounding the corner toward his sponsor.

I met a lot of people over the course of my San Francisco trip — even some pretty fancy bloggers! — and I enjoyed them all for different reasons. I did some schmoozing, some eating, some shopping (Dear H&M, please come to Charlotte. Thanks.) But as I sit here in Charlotte with little Byrd snarfling into her supper bowl beside me, Vincent is the one who comes to mind. In a weekend full of people with their game faces on — me included — Vincent was the one who was sacrificially genuine. With a stranger, at that.

I gave him a Willow Bird Baking card. I hope he gets a chance to happen by sometime, and I hope he recognizes himself through the pseudonym I’ve given him. Vincent, if you ever read this: Thank you for a conversation I’ll have tucked in my heart for the rest of my days. Godspeed.

. . .

In honor of a special guy, here’s a special pound cake.

But listen, THIS AIN’T YOUR GRANDMAMA’S POUND CAKE.

Okay, it kind of is, actually. It’s Southern Living’s Cream Cheese Pound Cake and it’s been a staple in many family recipe boxes for decades. But first off, GRANDMAMA DON’T PLAY. She knows exactly what she’s doing in the kitchen, thankyouverymuch.

Second off, this pound cake has a new twist; namely, pumpkin-cinnamon-pecan-streusel-awesomeness swirled throughout the cake. Add the maple brown sugar glaze and some toasted nuts on top and you have the perfect autumn dessert. It’s a handsome one, at that, so consider this recipe for your holiday table.

Have you one of these unexpected, significant conversations?

Pumpkin Streusel Swirled Cream Cheese Pound Cake



Recipe by: Willow Bird Baking, inspired by Southern Living
Yield: 12 servings

This dessert was made for autumn! A ribbon of pumpkin custard and cinnamon pecan streusel winds through this luxurious, rich cream cheese pound cake. It’s topped with maple brown sugar glaze, toasted pecans, and a dusting of cinnamon. The finished product is pretty as can be — and so delicious!

Cream Cheese Pound Cake Ingredients:
1 1/2 cups butter, softened
8 ounces cream cheese, softened
3 cups sugar
6 large eggs
1 1/2 teaspoon vanilla
3 cups flour
1/8 teaspoon salt

Pumpkin Pie Filling Ingredients:*
6 ounces cream cheese, softened
1/8 cup sugar
1/2 cup pumpkin puree
1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 egg
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon ginger
1/8 teaspoon allspice
*This makes a little more filling than you need, but I used most of it and baked the small amount I had leftover in a greased ramekin for 15-20 minutes — instant pumpkin custard!)

Pecan Streusel Ingredients:
1/4 cup firmly packed light brown sugar
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon cinnamon
2 tablespoon cold butter
1 cup chopped pecans
1/2 cup cinnamon chips (optional — you can find these seasonally at some grocery stores or online from King Arthur’s Flour)

Maple Brown Sugar Glaze Ingredients:
2 tablespoon butter
4 tablespoons milk
1/2 cup brown sugar
2 tablespoons real maple syrup
pinch salt
1 1/2 – 2 cup powdered sugar (I ended up using just 1 1/2)
cinnamon for sprinkling

Directions:
Toast pecans: Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Spread pecans out on a baking sheet, and bake for 4-6 minutes or until fragrant, stirring and flipping nuts once in the middle. Spread the nuts out on a plate to cool. Leave the oven on for the cake.

Make the creamy pumpkin pie filling: In your electric mixer, or with a hand mixer, beat the cream cheese until smooth. Add the sugar and beat until fluffy and smooth. Add the pumpkin, egg, and vanilla extract, cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger, and allspice and mix until combined. Set in fridge while you make your cake.

Make the streusel: Combine the flour and brown sugar in a medium bowl and using two knives or a pastry cutter, cut in the butter until you have crumbly streusel. Mix in the cinnamon chips (if you’re using them) and 1/2 cup of the cooled toasted pecans (if they haven’t completely cooled, stick ’em in the fridge for a bit first — you don’t want to mix warm nuts into this and melt your butter, since it should stay cold). Save the rest of your nuts for decorating the finished cake. Set the streusel aside.

Make the pound cake: Beat the butter and cream cheese on medium speed for about 2 minutes or until it’s creamy. Gradually add sugar and beat 5-7 minutes until light and fluffy. Add the eggs one at a time, beating only until yellow disappears after each one. Stir in the vanilla.

Whisk the flour and salt together in a bowl and add to creamed mixture gradually, beating on low speed after each addition and scraping down the sides of the bowl as needed. Pour/dollop 1/3 of the batter into greased and floured 10-inch tube pan and use a spatula to smooth it right up against the sides of the pan and level it.

Dump your streusel into your pumpkin pie mixture and fold it together a few times to loosely mix — you’re not trying to combine them completely. Dollop big spoonfuls of this pumpkin mixture on the batter in your tube pan and swirl with a wooden skewer or table knife. Top this layer with another third of the batter and add another pumpkin layer (swirling again). Top with the final third of the batter. Fill a 2-cup ovenproof measuring cup with water and place in oven with cake (this keeps it moist!).

Bake the cake at 350 degrees for 1 hour 30 minutes to 1 hour 55 minutes (the original recipe said 1 hour and 10 minutes, but this was way too short for me. Nevertheless, you should start checking early and often just in case. This is a good practice, also, because you may have to cover the top with foil if it’s getting too brown). To test for doneness, insert a wooden skewer in a few different areas of the cake and pull it out. You want it to come out with just a few moist crumbs (no liquid batter, but not completely clean either).

Let the cake cool on wire rack for 10 minutes before running a knife around the edge of the pan. Remove the cake from the pan by topping the pan with a plate and carefully inverting it. Then invert the cake again onto another plate so that it’s right-side up. Let cool completely (at least 1 hour).

Make the Maple Brown Sugar Glaze: Combine the butter and milk in a small saucepan over medium heat. When the butter melts, whisk in the brown sugar, syrup, and salt, whisking until the brown sugar melts. Remove the pan from the heat and whisk in the powdered sugar, starting with 1 cup and adding more to thicken per your preference (taste as you go to ensure you don’t oversweeten). Drizzle the glaze over the top of your cooled cake. Sprinkle the cake with toasted pecans immediately (the glaze sets quickly) and dust with cinnamon. Serve immediately. Refrigerate leftovers in an airtight container and microwave for about 20 seconds to serve.

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One-Skillet Gooey Pumpkin Cookie Cake

Pale strands of my hair tangled into the mess of dusky flowers in my lap. Mike’s car sliced quietly through the lukewarm air of the countryside until a gravel drive slid into view. We turned into it with a crunch, parked, and began the arduous process of shuttling picnic supplies down a rocky path.

Some time later we sat alone by a still pond, the flowers now perched on a stack of books beside us. We’d just finished eating an elaborate lunch on my childhood patchwork quilt. The ground was hard and uneven — it always seemed so soft in movies — but at one point I lay down, the silk of my slip dress cool in the autumn breeze, and watched the highest leaves fluttering against the sky. Then I looked back to Mike’s ruddy, bespectacled face and smiled.

Sometimes you only realize how special a moment is once it’s passed, but every now and then, you get the gift of realizing in the moment itself. This was one of those times.

I’d never been on a legitimate blanket-on-the-ground picnic before, and living in different cities, Mike and I rarely got to just sit and enjoy each other’s company. Now here we were, grinning at each other, stuffed like turkeys in the middle of the woods and post-lunch euphoria. The streamer of hearts I’d hung from the trees around us whispered in the wind. The whole afternoon spread out before us.

That was last fall. In the dark days that followed, I remembered that picnic as a bright bit of joy to hold onto.

I love those unexpected moments that settle into your heart as significant — the ones that nestle like bookmarks into the very best folds of time. I remember so many of them:

Sitting by a fire in Gatlinburg with Mike, drinking hot chocolate in mugs we’d just bought from a Walgreens around the corner.

Dancing with a stranger on the sidewalk one night in San Francisco.

Pausing with Mike on the stairwell of my apartment building to watch the sunset.

Looking down at the fluffy mop in my lap while driving home from Carolina Poodle Rescue and realizing that Byrd was truly mine.

Embracing my new friend, 7-year-old Zoe, when she ran up to hug me after we’d been baptized together one Sunday morning.

Walking alone across the Georgia Tech campus one summer night in the middle of my teacher training, the golden skyline glowing above me.

Getting the phone call where my dad revealed that after years of dangerous treatments, he was cancer-free.

Running barefoot through the grass in La Jolla one warm night with my sister, Sarah, for no reason at all.

Sitting in traffic on i-85 to Raleigh with the sun illuminating the gorgeous fall leaves and little Byrd poking her nose out the open window.

And, most recently, sitting with Mike and eating gooey pumpkin cookie cake straight out of my cast iron skillet. I’d just pulled the cake from the oven and taken dozens of photos, and with my camera still propped up beside me, we dug in. No plates needed — just forks and some ice cream. There’s just nothing like the casual, sweet act of devouring forkfuls of a shared dessert without even an ounce of fuss.

And this cake! I made it twice to fiddle with proportions a bit. The first version (pictured throughout this post) was great, but the second version (see pictures below) was insane: a moist, gooey, comforting cake boasting surprise bites of caramel and toasted pecans.

Not only that, but you can make this cake in about half an hour with one skillet! Even if you choose to toast up some pecans and make some streusel to go with it (which I recommend!), you’ll have minimal dishes to wash. Especially if you skip the plates.


A slice of the final cake.

You have to make this thing as soon as possible. Make it tonight! Throw it together and eat it on the couch with someone sweet. Or take it to your Halloween parties. Or eat the entire thing alone while watching old episodes of Hoarders. No judgments. It’ll be amazing no matter what.

And in the meantime, share a beautiful moment that stands out in your memory.

One-Skillet Gooey Pumpkin Cookie Cake



Recipe by: Willow Bird Baking, inspired by Sophistimom and Food Network
Yield: about 8 servings

This melt-in-your-mouth pumpkin spice cake is warm, moist, and delicious. Gooey caramel and toasted pecans amp up the “mmm” factor. And to say it’s easy is an understatement — you can make it in one skillet in about 35 minutes! This is the perfect recipe to whip up on a whim and eat in your PJs on the couch. Devour it straight from the skillet with a pile of ice cream. (P.S. If you don’t care about the number of pots and pans and want to go a little crazy, cut down the sugar a little and try the cake with this amazing caramel sauce.)

Ingredients:
3/4 cup (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter
1/4 cup vegetable oil
3/4 cup granulated sugar
1/4 cup firmly packed light brown sugar
1 cup pureed pumpkin
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 eggs
2 1/8 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon ginger
1/4 teaspoon allspice
some dulce de leche or 10-15 caramels
1/2 cup toasted pecans (optional, see note in directions)

Directions:
Note: The first time I made this cookie cake, I mixed in 1/2 cup of chopped pecans that I’d toasted (on a sheet pan at 350 degrees F for about 6 minutes or until fragrant, stirring a couple of times). The second time I made it, I mixed in this toasted pecan streusel — heavenly! These extra mix-ins will add a bowl and a sheet pan to your prep, but I highly recommend them.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. In a 10- or 12-inch cast iron skillet over medium heat, melt the butter. Stir in the vegetable oil, sugars, and vanilla and remove from heat. Let this mixture cool until the pan is no longer hot (about 5 minutes) so you won’t scramble your eggs.

Add both eggs to the butter mixture, whisking them well to combine. Whisk in the pumpkin. In a separate bowl, whisk together the flour, salt, baking soda, baking powder, cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger, allspice (Note: it’s kind of lame to use another bowl for this, and according to Sophistimom, you should be able to just dump all your dry ingredients on top and whisk them in well, but I was too chicken to try. So I guess this is technically “One-Skillet, One-Bowl” cake if you do it my way. If you just dump them in, please let me know how it goes!)

Stir in the toasted pecans or streusel if you’re using them. Place dollops of dulce de leche or caramel candies around the surface of the batter. Bake your skillet cookie for 15-25* minutes, or until the edges are getting golden and the center is still soft (a toothpick inserted into the center should come out with some moist crumbs, but no liquid batter). Eat immediately (preferably straight out of the skillet!) with heaps of vanilla ice cream (or a fun caramel flavor).

*Depending on your skillet, this cooking time can really vary. I’d start checking at 15 minutes and then check every couple of minutes after that with toothpicks. Make sure to look for moist crumbs, not a clean toothpick. If you overbake, it might be dry!


Recipe before and after tweaking to warm, gooey perfection.

Need a closer look at the final product?


Gooey, caramelly, streuselly, pumpkiny, amazing.

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Strawberry Cheesecake Stuffed Amaretto Cake Pops (on Pretzel Sticks!)

Dear Rebecca Black,

For the record, I think you’re adorable and I want you to be in my 7th grade class. We talked about you a little bit when we were all having fun fun fun fun with your song, and about how mean some folks on the interwebz can be.

My students realized that you were their age (just 13!), and we all felt like if it’d been one of them taking the brunt of jokes and criticism, we’d be sad. So we want you to know that we’re sorry about the meanies, and we hope you’re enjoying all the good-spirited parodies of your song as much as we are.

Oh, but my 7th grade students told me about the “censored” parody of your song — don’t enjoy that one. Don’t even watch it. Cover your ears, young lady! I’ll redirect you to the Sunday school parody instead.

Anyway, your song has brightened up lots of my weekends! Sometimes I blast it at the beginning of class on Fridays and it never fails to produce smiles. And yeah, we break it down — everyone needs a 5 minute dance party now and then.

And you know what? I get it, girl. You so excited about Friday that you’re dropping verbs and everything else, and I want you to know that I understand.

In fact, I’m a little obsessed with your song right now. It just describes so perfectly how I feel about so many things. I’m going out to eat? I-I-I so excited! It’s only 4 weeks until summer vacation? I-I-I so excited! I’m making flippin’ Strawberry Cheesecake Stuffed Amaretto Cake Pops on flippin’ pretzel sticks?! I SO EXCITED!

These cake pops started as a bright spark of inspiration from CakeSpy: pops on a pretzel stick! Using an edible, salty vehicle for a sweet treat struck me as absolutely bee’s-knees brilliant. I had to try it immediately.

Then there was this other idea I’d been toying with, too: mixing up no-bake cheesecake filling, freezing it into little pearls, and hiding the pearls in the center of each cake ball. A cheesecake-stuffed cake ball on a pretzel stick? It couldn’t get any better — unless you used an amaretto-spiked version of the best pound cake in the world for your cake!

This cake pop endeavor turned out so easy and so fantastic. I made a video tutorial (located at the bottom of this post) so that you can follow along with the steps as you make them; it’ll show you how to pipe your cheesecake centers, form the cake balls around them, insert the pretzel sticks, and dip and decorate the pops.

But the cake pop tutorial isn’t the only video I made.

What can I say, Rebecca? These cake pops just made me wanna sing! So here’s my tone-deaf tribute to plucky middle schoolers, cake pops, and YOU. Thanks for the fun!

P.S. I have a newfound respect for you after trying to sing this song a billion times and realizing I was basically the worst singer on the planet.

Strawberry Cheesecake Stuffed Amaretto Cake Pops (on Pretzel Sticks!)



Recipe by: Willow Bird Baking
Yields: about 40 cake pops
Print this Recipe

Cream Cheese Pound Cake Ingredients:
3/4 cups butter, softened
4 ounces cream cheese, softened
1.5 cups sugar
3 large eggs
3/4 tsp vanilla
1/4 cup amaretto
1.5 cups flour
pinch salt

Strawberry “Cheesecake” Ingredients:
1 8-oz. package cream cheese, softened
2 tablespoons sugar
1/2 cup diced strawberries

Cream Cheese Frosting Ingredients:
4 oz. cream cheese, softened
1/4 cup (1/2 stick) of butter, softened
1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 cup confectioners’ sugar, sifted

Other Ingredients:
2 pounds candy melts (I chose light pink)
about 40 pretzel sticks (I used Snyder’s because they were longer and sturdier than others)
white chocolate or candy melts for drizzling

Directions:
*NOTE: See the cake pop video tutorial below to see many of these steps being completed!

Make the pound cake: Preheat oven to 300 degrees F. Butter and flour a loaf pan. Beat butter and cream cheese at medium speed of an electric mixer 2 minutes or until creamy. Gradually add sugar and beat 5-7 minutes until light and fluffy. Add eggs, one at a time and beat only until yellow disappears. Stir in vanilla and amaretto.

Combine flour and salt and add to creamed mixture beating on low speed of electric mixture just until blended after each addition. Fill a 2-cup ovenproof dish with water and place in oven with cake (keeps it moist!). Bake at 300 degrees for about 1 hour and 20 minutes, or until a knife inserted into the middle comes out clean (check in several areas of the cake to be sure it’s completely done). You may need to cover cake with foil the last 20-30 minutes of baking if it looks like it’s getting too brown on top. Let cool on wire rack for 10 minutes then remove from the pan by inverting it into a bowl. Once cool enough to handle, crumble the cake in the bowl, removing any hard outer crust portions. Let cool completely.

Make the strawberry cheesecake middles: While the cake is baking, mix all the cheesecake ingredients together well. Fill a gallon sized plastic zip bag with the mixture and cut off the corner (big enough so that the diced strawberries won’t get stuck). Pipe the cheesecake mixture into small swirls on a silicone mat or wax paper (see video tutorial below to see this step). Freeze these until firm.

Make frosting: Mix all frosting ingredients together on medium-high speed until combined. When cake is cooled and crumbled, mix frosting into it until you reach a dough-like consistency. I used most of my frosting but not quite all of it.

Make cake balls: Once your cake mixture is ready and your cheesecake middles are frozen firm, you’re ready to assemble your cake balls! Take a frozen cheesecake middle and pack some cake around it. Roll it into a ball and place it on a silicone mat or wax paper. Continue until all cake balls are rolled. Chill these in the refrigerator overnight. I don’t freeze mine like some sites suggest, because I find chilling them in the fridge instead reduces cracking after I dip them.

Mount and dip cake balls: After cake balls have chilled overnight, melt your candy melts according to the package directions. I keep my bowl of candy melts situated in a bigger bowl of hot water to keep them warm and fluid, but be careful no water gets into the melts! To mount each cake ball, take a pretzel stick and dip the end in candy melts. Gently but firmly push the end of the pretzel stick into the cake ball. Put these back on their silicone mat or wax paper to chill. Repeat until all cake balls are mounted and chill for about 30 minutes.

After chilling, you’re ready to dip! Dip each cake ball into the candy melts, using a spoon to help coat them. After dipping, hold your cake ball over the bowl and gently bounce to drain the excess off. Turn the pop as you drain. When well-drained, gently place the pop in a foam block to continue drying. I placed mine in the fridge to reduce drying time.

Decorate dried pops: Once your pops are dry, melt some white chocolate according to package directions. Let it cool slightly before spooning it into a small plastic zip bag with the tiniest bit of the corner cut off. With the pops standing in their foam block, quickly and confidently pipe a zigzag design over each one. Let these dry. Serve immediately or store in an airtight container in the refrigerator.

VARIATIONS:
-You can leave the cheesecake middles out of this recipe and roll the cake into a solid ball if you want traditional cake pops.
-You can use any flavor of cake (or even a cake mix) for your cake, but this one is absolutely the best I’ve ever had!
-You can leave the strawberries out of your no-bake cheesecake mixture or even add in other berries, chocolate, etc., to produce different flavors of cheesecake in the center.
-You can use lollipop sticks instead of pretzel sticks, or leave the sticks out altogether and make regular cake balls instead of cake pops.
-You can decorate with sprinkles instead of zigzags.

And just for my lovely Willow Bird Bakers, here’s a tutorial for how to make cheesecake stuffed cake pops. This video would also be useful for making regular cake pops. WBB is all about inspiring kitchen confidence in home cooks by encouraging them to tackle challenges — so if you’ve never made cake pops before, this is your double-triple-dog dare! Get in the kitchen and try it out! Don’t forget to snap some photos of your finished product for us to see!

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Rich Ice Cream and Coffee Cheesecake

I don’t love coffee. If I wanted something scalding, bitter, and hard to swallow, I’d google the Carolina Panthers’ season record. Ha ha.

Yeah, that’s one of those jokes that’s kind of more sad than funny. Oh well.

My mother (yes, of cross stitching birthday party fame) used to feel certain that I would acquire an affinity for coffee as I got older. Periodically she would test this hypothesis, urging me to take a sip from her cup or buying me something frothy and caramely at Starbucks, only to find that things weren’t unfolding as she anticipated.

What can I say? Coffee is gross.

I could load it up with sugar and cream (and donuts — can you do that?) and probably choke it down, but if I’m going to ingest that many calories, I’d rather just have some dessert.

Paradoxically, despite my antipathy towards coffee in its beverage form, I’ve always loved coffee-flavored confections. Coffee ice cream was my absolute favorite treat as a little girl, for instance. Coffee also plays an Oscar-worthy supporting role in Coffee Cookie Dough Fudge Cheesecake, one of my current faves. I adore the coffee-brownie combination in my Ice Cream Cupcakes. You get the idea.

And besides all those things, I’m in love with this cheesecake. IN LOVE. Like, buy it a ring, get down on one knee, drag it to the altar kind of love. It might be one of the best cheesecakes I’ve ever made. Basically: swoon.

For one thing, it has the perfect ratio of rich coffee cheesecake to cold ice cream (oh, and did I mention the layer of fudgy ganache in there as well?). For another thing, the ice cream flavor I chose rocked the Casbah.

I considered coffee or chocolate ice cream, but decided that might be too rich. I also knew I wanted brownie chunks. Ben & Jerry’s makes a Cheesecake Brownie ice cream that fit the bill (how perfect is that, seriously?)

Apart from inspiring a matrimonial sort of adoration in me, this cheesecake is one of the easiest I’ve ever put together. It’s as simple as baking and cooling your cheesecake, softening up your favorite ice cream, and spreading it on top. Freeze the whole thing until it’s firm, cut it with a hot knife, and then call up the preacher. That’s about how it goes.

What ice cream flavor would you like to spread all over your coffee cheesecake?

Rich Ice Cream and Coffee Cheesecake



Recipe by: Willow Bird Baking
Yields: 15 servings

Crust Ingredients:
37 chocolate sandwich cookies, finely processed into crumbs
6 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted and cooled
Small pinch of salt

Ganache Ingredients:
3/4 cups heavy cream
10 oz. bittersweet or semisweet chocolate, finely chopped (I combined both)

Filling Ingredients:
3 (8 oz.) packages cream cheese, at room temperature
1 cup sugar
1½ tablespoons all-purpose flour
1 tablespoons instant coffee granules
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1½ teaspoons mild-flavored (light) molasses
3 large eggs

Topping:
Ice cream of your choice (I used Ben & Jerry’s Cheesecake Brownie ice cream)
dark chocolate candies of your choice for decorating (I used Ferrero Rondnoir)

Directions:
To make the crust, butter a 9-inch springform pan. Combine the chocolate cookie crumbs, melted butter and salt in a small bowl. Toss with a fork to moisten all of the crumbs. Press into a thin layer covering the bottom and sides of the springform pan (at least 3 inches up the sides). I did this using a smooth glass to press crumbs into place.

Bring the cream to a simmer in a medium saucepan. Place the chocolate in a medium bowl. Once the cream reaches a simmer, pour the cream over the chocolate and let stand 1-2 minutes. Whisk in small circles until a smooth ganache has formed. Pour 1.5-2 cups of the ganache over the bottom of the crust (if you have leftover, save it for eating or decorating with later). Freeze until the ganache layer is firm, about 30 minutes.

Preheat the oven to 350˚ F and position a rack in the middle of the oven. In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat the cream cheese and sugar on medium-high speed until well blended. Beat in the flour. In a small bowl, combine the coffee granules, vanilla and molasses, stirring until the coffee dissolves. Add to the cream cheese mixture and beat until well incorporated, scraping down the sides of the bowl as needed. Beat in the eggs one at a time, scraping down the bowl between each addition.

Pour the filling over the cold ganache in the crust. Enclose the bottom of the springform pan in tightly wrapped foil and place it in a baking dish. Fill the baking dish with hot water about halfway up the cheesecake pan, careful not to let the moisture touch the cheesecake. Bake until the top is lightly browned, puffed and cracked at the edges, and the center moves only very slightly when the pan is lightly shaken, about 1 hour. Transfer to a wire cooling rack. Let cool at room temperature for at least 30 minutes. Transfer to the refrigerator and let cool at least 3 hours, until completely chilled and set.

Soften ice cream of your choice (I used Ben & Jerry’s Cheesecake Brownie ice cream) for 10-15 minutes or until soft enough to spread. Scoop out a few big scoops onto the top of your cheesecake and spread with an offset spatula or the back of a spoon. Add more ice cream until it’s flush with the top of your crust. Freeze cake until solid (overnight is best). Decorate with dark chocolate candies of your choice (I used Ferrero Rondnoir). Slice with a knife held under hot water to serve. Keep in freezer when not serving — it melts quickly.

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Birthday Cake Cheesecake

At 26-going-on-27, I’ve grown to love birthdays that feel like deep crow-footed, cheek-hurting smiles, that sound like clanging dishes and brassy laughter.

On birthdays, I need my family. We need a table to sit around to hold our leaning elbows. We need food, we need each other, but that’s all.

For children, though, birthdays have to involve some sort of event. Kids want to scarf down plasticky pizza, be mildly terrorized by an oversized animatronic mouse playing a banjo, and wallow in a germy ball pit. Or they want to light tiki torches, drink pineapple punch, and marco polo around a swimming pool until their fingers are wrinkly.

When I was little, my mom convinced me that I wanted to throw a cross-stitching birthday party.

Naturally, the most direct avenue to popularity among your elementary school friends is to invite them to something called a “party” and proceed to introduce them to the pastime of 70-year-old ladies everywhere.

When my birthday rolled around, my unsuspecting friends gathered around the coffee table and listened intently to the plan. Our goal was to pick a pattern and each cross-stitch a bookmark before cake and gifts. We dutifully chose the our favorite design, fussed with threading our needles, and got to work.

Well, turns out cross-stitching requires quite a bit of time. And, like, patience and stuff. Things that are in short supply for kids at birthday parties.

My friends faded fast. Soon we were stuffing our faces with cake, our half-finished bookmarks languishing in the needle-and-thread strewn living room.

Oh well. As long as there’s cake, right?

In that spirit, boy do I have a cake for you. This particular cake is an explosion of birthdayness. A “Funfetti” cheesecake on a vanilla wafer crust is topped with a layer of Funfetti cake, a layer of cake batter cookie dough, chocolate sauce, whipped cream, and a cherry. Every layer contributes a little bit of birthday joy. The final product is scrumptious and outrageously festive.

I have more ridiculous birthday stories from when I was a child, because apparently it was impossible for me to have a normal, uneventful birthday party. But I’ll spread the love and save those for later. In the meantime, have some cake.

Describe one of your favorite (or least favorite) childhood birthday memories.

Birthday Cake Cheesecake



Recipe by: Willow Bird Baking, with chocolate sauce adapted from Bakers Royale
Yield: 24 mini cheesecakes or 1 full-sized cheesecake

Crust Ingredients:
45 vanilla wafers, finely processed into crumbs
5 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted and cooled
Small pinch of salt

Cheesecake Ingredients:
2 (8 oz.) packages cream cheese, at room temperature
2/3 cup sugar
1 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon cake mix
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
2 large eggs
1 tablespoon sprinkles
1 Funfetti cake mix (or homemade yellow cake with sprinkles mixed in), prepared and baked in thin layers
melted chocolate (for topping)
whipped cream (for topping)
maraschino cherries (for topping)

Cake Batter Cookie Dough Ingredients:
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
2/3 cup yellow cake mix
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup unsalted butter, room temperature
1/2 cup granulated white sugar
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
2 tablespoons sprinkles
4-8 tablespoons water

Chocolate Pouring Sauce:
2/3 cups dark chocolate
2 tablespoons heavy cream
4 tablespoons powdered sugar, sifted
4-5 tablespoons water, warm

Directions:
Note on Scheduling: This is a great recipe to make over the course of a few days. You can make the Funfetti cake one day and freeze it, make the cookie dough disc another day and freeze it, make the cheesecake one day and refrigerate it, and then make your chocolate pouring sauce and assemble on the day you’ll serve the dessert.

Prepare your Funfetti cake: Mix and bake in 9-inch round cake pans according to box instructions and set aside to cool. Make one of these a pretty thin layer of cake — this will be the one you use on your cheesecake (be careful; a thinner layer will bake for less time). The other layer is extra; I tore mine up and froze it for future cake balls. After cooling, freeze your cake layer — it’s easier to work with when frozen.

Prepare your cheesecake: To make the cheesecake crust, preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Butter two mini or one full-sized cheesecake pan. Combine the cookie crumbs, melted butter and salt in a small bowl. Toss with a fork to moisten all of the crumbs. Press into a thin layer covering the bottom of your cheesecake pan(s).

In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat the cream cheese and sugar on medium-high speed until well blended. Beat in the flour. Add in the vanilla and beat until well incorporated, scraping down the sides of the bowl as needed. Beat in the eggs one at a time, scraping down the bowl between each addition. Pour the filling into your cheesecake pan(s), leaving room for a cake and cookie dough layer on top of your cheesecake.

Bake until the top is lightly browned, puffed and cracked at the edges, and the center moves only very slightly when the pan is lightly shaken (about 40 minutes for a full-sized cheesecake or 12-15 minutes for mini cheesecakes). Transfer to a wire cooling rack. Cool at room temperature for at least 30 minutes. Transfer to the refrigerator and let cool at least 1 hour, until completely chilled and set.

Make the cookie dough: In a medium bowl, cream together butter and sugar for 2-3 minutes until light, fluffy, and pale yellow. Mix in salt, flour, cake mix, sprinkles, and vanilla. Add water one tablespoon at a time, mixing after each, until you reach cookie dough consistency. If making a full-sized cheesecake, line a 9-inch cake pan with plastic wrap and spread cookie dough in a disc in the pan. Freeze it until firm, about 15 minutes. If making mini cheesecakes, just chill the cookie dough until you’re ready to assemble your cakes.

Make the chocolate pouring sauce: Heat chocolate and cream together in a bowl set over simmering water. Let them sit for a few minutes before whisking them together to combine. Whisk in powdered sugar and then add 1 tablespoon of water at a time, mixing after each until you reach pouring consistency. Set the sauce aside and let it cool to warm.

Assemble the cheesecakes: If you’re making mini cheesecakes, use a round cookie cutter or a serrated knife to cut circles of Funfetti cake to fit on each mini cheesecake. Spread a little chocolate sauce on the top of each mini cheesecake before placing a cake round on each and gently pressing them down snugly. If you’re making a full-sized cheesecake, spread chocolate sauce over your cheesecake and just place full frozen cake layer on top and gently press down.

If making mini cheesecakes, spread cookie dough into the top of each well with the back of a spoon. If making a full-sized cheesecake, spread another thin layer of chocolate sauce on top of the cake layer to act as glue, and then take your frozen cookie dough disc and place it on top. Chill cheesecake(s) for about 30 minutes before gently unmolding them. Drizzle with melted chocolate and top with a dollop of whipped cream, sprinkles, and a maraschino cherry.

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