Category Archives: cakes

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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