Category Archives: cakes

Your Flippin’ Awesome Cheesecakes!

OH MY GOODNESS, am I one proud blogger! One month ago, I issued a Cheesecake Challenge in which I encouraged you to choose a WBB cheesecake recipe and tackle it in the kitchen. Was I ever impressed at the splendid results! Y’all are courageous, inspiring, and sweeter than fresh-picked strawberries. I kinda like ya.

Know what else I like? Even though you were all making some of the same recipes, your kitchen experiences were diverse: Some of you baked at the last minute. Some of you baked your cheesecake before the challenge even officially began. Some of you are experienced bakers. Some of you baked your first cheesecake ever for this challenge.

My students even jumped in to participate. Alexander in the 7th grade made two different cheesecakes, and Ava in 6th grade chose to make a red velvet cheesecake. Speaking of young’uns, there may have even been a toddler involved in the production of one of these cheesecakes.

Despite your very different circumstances and skill levels, you all succeeded. There were obstacles and “creative” presentations (Nathan’s brownies didn’t set up in the circular pan, so they ate them as pudding). There were hours of work. But you made it — and accomplished something lovely for your family and friends. Congratulations on gorgeous work, and thank you for making this such a rewarding experience for me.


Priscilla the Powerful

Priscilla Made: Coffee Cookie Dough Fudge Cheesecake
Comments:“This is only the second homemade cheesecake that I have ever done! It was fun and exciting to be doing something like this with so many different layers of yummy goodness!”



Mollie the Magnificent

Mollie Made: Coffee Cookie Dough Fudge Cheesecake (go see her blog post)
Comments: “Oh man. Seriously. Best thing ever. There are a lot of components, but it really doesn’t seem like too much when you’re eating it. The cheesecake itself is the best cheesecake I’ve made (I think thanks to the water-bath cooking process). And the ganache and cookie dough. I mean, yes.”



Janet the Jumpstarter

Janet Made: Coffee Cookie Dough Fudge Cheesecake (without cookie dough layer)
Comments: “This cake was the most delicious dessert I ever made! It was so yummy, and pretty too. I made it for a dinner and everyone thought I had bought the cake somewhere.”



Gio the Genius

Gio Made: A cross between Chocolate Cheesecake-Stuffed Cupcakes and Red Velvet Cheesecake! (go see his blog post)
Comments: “The cake was soft, moist and the hint of chocolate was there. The slightly tart cream cheese topping really set well and complemented the cake. The streusel was just as I imagined it to be – sweet, slightly crunchy and not overpowering at all. It was, all in all, the perfect topping. I was glad I joined the Cheesecake Challenge since I think I really kicked —“ (I’ll leave that to your imagination – ha!)




Allyson the Awesome

Allyson Made: Chocolate Cheesecake-Stuffed Cupcakes (go see her blog post)
Comments: Allyson added coconut oil to her batch of Chocolate Cheesecake Stuffed Cupcakes, and a layer of strawberry jam for good measure!



Lauren the Laudable

Lauren Made: Lemon Blackberry Cheesecake Squares (go see her blog post)
Comments: “I made your lemon blueberry cheesecake bars and they turned out delicious! […] My husband is a happy man:-)”



Ava the Adventurous

Ava Made: Red Velvet Cheesecake
Comments: “Dear Miss Ruble, The cheesecake was amazing! I’m really glad I tried your recipe.”



Alexander the Able

Alexander Made: Coffee Cookie Dough Fudge Cheesecake and Chocolate Peanut Butter Bliss Cheesecake
Comments: “Imagine! A 7th grade boy, with little to no help, executing a gorgeous cheesecake. No one ever informed him that this was a daunting task, and after watching your video, he was confident that he could pull it off–and wanted to!” — Alexander’s Mom




Muppy the Magical

Muppy Made: Pumpkin Cheesecake Bread Pudding (go see her blog post)
Comments: “It was amazing, I cannot believe how good it tasted, I thought the spices and the pumpkin went so well with the cream cheese. The brioche perfectly matched the cheesecake custard. I thought it tasted its best straight out of the fridge the day after making it.” Muppy made her own homemade brioche for this recipe!



Dee the Delightful

Dee Made: Red Velvet Cheesecake (go see her website)
Comments: “It was so much fun being part of your cheesecake challenge. The red velvet tasted divine and my husband and all our friends just loved it. The fresh smell out of the oven was so incredible. Our puppy, Monty, kept whiffing the air; it was hilarious. I used plain graham cracker crust instead of oreo just so that the chocolate ganache layer could be seen underneath. […] Thank you from the heart for a wonderful time and opportunity.” Dee chose to have a “Cheesecake Sunday” party and made several more cheesecakes to serve alongside this one!



Cassie the Conqueror

Cassie Made: Chocolate Peanut Butter Bliss Cheesecake (go see her blog)
Comments: “First off, let me just say what a delicious recipe this was. I’m a cheesecake freak, and I’m always in search of great cheesecake recipes with rich thickness. This was exactly it. It took me a couple of days to prepare because of my hectic schedule, but i’m glad I did it. My friends and family are too!”



Jade the Joyful

Jade Made: Chocolate Peanut Butter Bliss Cheesecake (go see her blog post)
Comments: “In my daughter’s words: ‘Mmm, tasty!'” Jade made this dessert vegetarian and provides a list of tasks her toddler was able to perform!



Nathan the Nimble

Nathan Made: Marbled Chocolate Cheesecake Brownies
Comments: “We celebrated a friend’s birthday yesterday, and he really liked them. Since they did not set up properly, and given my online nickname (GooeyChewie – actually a double reference to Star Wars and Star Trek), we called them ‘gooey chewie brownies.’ Later we played a few rounds of that Tribbles game in the background, and I think part of the reason I won was because two of my opponents had eaten gobs of the brownies and could probably have fallen to a sugar-induced coma at any moment.”



Pam the Perfect

Pam Made: Red Velvet Cheesecake
Comments: Pam overcame lots of obstacles to make her cheesecake — I love her story: “I decided to make this for my dad’s birthday this year, because it looked delicious and challenging. It wasn’t until I put all the ingredients out in front of me and realized: Crap. I’ve never made a cake from scratch. I’ve never made a cheesecake. I’ve never made ganache. I ended up grabbing the wrong measuring cup for the flour for the cake, and had to use my amateur baking instincts to add the right amount of buttermilk to make it work. Oh, and I didn’t have nearly enough red food dye to make it red, so I guess it was more of a mauve velvet cake! I also realized I misread the ingredient list when I picked up cream cheese, because I was short an entire 8 oz. Once again, I fixed some things with the cheesecake, and it came out a little dark, but still wonderful. The ganache was easy, and I had a hard time not eating spoonfuls of it as I was decorating. My final hurdle was the frosting, which came out terribly, so I ended up throwing it out and covering the cake in ganache and white chocolate. I did not hear anyone complaining about that little detail 😉

I got a call from my Dad and his girlfriend after they had taken it home to tell me it was one of the best cakes they’d had in their life! They said it was rich and sweet, and could only handle a little bit at a time, but found themselves coming back for more even when they didn’t think they could handle it.

I’m sure you hear these stories all the time, but this challenge has inspired me to take more risks in the kitchen, which is something I’ve never done. I’ve never made cheesecake before because I was always overwhelmed by the idea of it, and now I can’t wait to start experimenting with all kinds of cheesecake. Thank you so much for your blog and your creations, I look forward to taking on more of your challenges, testing more of your recipes, and being inspired to make my own. I already have a plan for a cake like this one…but cookies and cream.”



Becca the Bold

Becca Made: Red Velvet Cheesecake (go see her blog post)
Comments: “Even though I was slightly overwhelmed and maybe a little frustrated with the process (since I had NO IDEA), I am really glad I did this! I actually got a little surge of triumph thinking about it reminiscent to my days in AP classes when I aced a test. Thanks Julie for the challenge! I may actually try to challenge myself a little more in the kitchen. (Just a little)”



Maranda the Masterful

Maranda Made: Coffee Cookie Dough Fudge Cheesecake (go see her blog post)
Comments: “I chose to make her most famous cheesecake of all. Coffee Cookie Dough Cheesecake. Doesn’t that sound utterly delicious?? Well I’m here to tell you…it is! […] Now, I’m not a cheesecake person. The only other cheesecake I’ve ever loved and continued to fantasize about is this goat cheese cheesecake with pineapple vanilla compote. Believe me when I tell you that this cheesecake is well worth the effort and time to make!” Maranda also weighed this cheesecake and found it weighed a whopping 7 pounds!



Katie the Courageous

Katie Made: Chocolate Cheesecake-Stuffed Cupcakes
Comments: “I […] wanted to tell you how much you’ve inspired me in the kitchen. I really enjoy baking, but until reading your blog I was pretty nervous about making things ‘from scratch’ out of fear of ruining someone’s birthday/wedding shower/happy occasion (…or my midnight craving for chocolate), especially without my Mom on hand to help me fix my mistakes. Your writing and encouragement makes me think ‘YES! I CAN make cupcakes myself that are from scratch, taste delicious, and don’t look like they were made by a three year old with poor motor skills!’ Ok I’m still working on the ‘not-embarrassing-looking’ part, but…there’s progress :)” I don’t think they’re embarrassing looking at all, Katie!



Andrea the Amazing

Andrea Made: Coffee Cookie Dough Fudge Cheesecake (go see her blog post)
Comments:“It was an awesome challenge to make this cake today, as I have never made a cheesecake using the water bath to keep the cake from cracking. Never had to create a ganache to for a cake and decorate with it before. (Just used ganache for truffles.) And never have made an egg-less cookie dough crust before! YUM! So, if you have an event that calls for a high end cake or you just want to indulge, like me, I encourage you to try it!”



Erin the Energetic

Erin Made: Coffee Cookie Dough Fudge Cheesecake (go see her blog)
Comments: “It’s amazing! A VERY big hit! Thanks so much for the recipe!”


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Celebrating Cheesecake — and a challenge for you!

Taylor from Taylor Takes a Taste tweeted me yesterday with a very, very important message: Today is National Cheesecake Day! Well, okay, it’s actually National White Chocolate Cheesecake Day, but I’ve never made a white chocolate cheesecake, so just ignore that part. I’ll add it to my to-do list.

In order to celebrate, I thought I’d compile Willow Bird Baking’s many cheesecake recipes and issue a challenge for you!

My goal is to inspire kitchen confidence in home cooks by encouraging them to tackle fun, challenging new recipes. So I’m challenging you this month! Here’s what you do:

Choose one of the cheesecake recipes below that feels like a challenge to you and make it for friends, family, or coworkers.

– Take a photo and email it to me at juruble ‘at’ gmail ‘dot’ com with a few comments about how it went and a link to your blog (if you have one — if you don’t, that’s okay too!).

– Do this before April 5, 2011. In exactly a month, I’ll post all of your cheesecake masterpieces here on Willow Bird Baking!

– You can also grab the badge at the bottom of this post if you’d like to let your readers know that you’re participating in the Cheesecake Challenge, but it’s optional.

If you’d like to participate, leave me a comment below and let me know! If you’ve already made one of the recipes below, that counts too! Just send me a photo!

Willow Bird Baking’s Cheesecake Recipes:

1. Coffee Cookie Dough Fudge Cheesecake



2. Red Velvet Cheesecake



3. Caramel Fudge Brownie Cheesecake



4. Chocolate Peanut Butter Bliss Cheesecake



5. Blueberry Lemon Cheesecake Cupcakes



6. Chocolate Cheesecake-Stuffed Cupcakes with Ganache



7. Lemon Blueberry Cheesecake Squares with Shortbread Crust



8. Marbled Chocolate Cheesecake Brownies



9. Pumpkin Cheesecake Bread Pudding

And don’t forget to watch my (slightly embarrassing) cheesecake tutorial for great cheesecake pointers!

Finally, here’s the Cheesecake Challenge badge if you want to grab it:

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Red Velvet Cheesecake

Every year around this time, I get the urge to build a mailbox.

Don’t look at me like that. I blame my elementary school teachers. At the beginning of almost every February, my teachers would pull out construction paper, glue, stickers, markers, and paint, and we’d all set to work constructing mailboxes. Sure it wasn’t the most glamorous construction job I’ve ever been a part of, but I was very serious about it nonetheless, because this wasn’t just any mailbox — this was a Valentine’s Day mailbox.

On February 14, we’d all bring in our packets of valentines and circulate about the classroom uncomfortably, dropping one in each of the waiting mailboxes. We tried not to pause too long at anyone’s desk or — heaven forbid — make any accidental eye contact, lest it be misinterpreted during this socially charged process.

Secretly, though, I’d probably spent the night before carefully selecting the perfect Strawberry Shortcake Valentine for the boy I liked. One that could be interpreted as being totally casual — plausible deniability in case he had no interest in me whatsoever — but was also slightly on the mushy side, in case he was just waiting for a sign of my interest. If I was appending candy to my valentines that year, I probably spent another eternity choosing the candy heart or chocolate that I thought he’d like the very best.

(Yes, I now realize that the boy I liked, in contrast, had probably spent the night before Valentine’s Day being hounded by his mother to at least write his classmates’ names somewhere on the valentines she’d bought for him, eating most of his valentine candy before it got attached to anyone’s card, and playing a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles video game until bed.)

Anyway, when every valentine was passed out and the time had finally come to sit down and empty our mailboxes, I was always breathless with suspense. Imagine the possibilities! Forget bills and junk mail — these mailboxes were carefully crafted to hold L-O-V-E. Every year I fully expected to receive a long letter handwritten by the boy I liked (actually, any boy would’ve done. Or a secret admirer? Yes, please!) detailing the many, MANY reasons he was smitten with me. He might even include a phone number. Maybe a special conversation heart. Maybe an engagement ring! You never know.

Reality was a little disappointing. I’d dump out all the valentines and quickly shuffle through the boring ones — Scooby Doo holding a bunch of flowers and saying, “Rees are for Roo, Valentine!” or Power Rangers crying, “It’s Morphin’ Time, Valentine!” My eagle eyes were looking for two things: candy and handwritten messages. Candy because it would sustain me on my arduous journey toward discovering the love of my life, and handwritten messages from said love.

Was his heartfelt letter to me in this envelope? Nope, a smurf card. How about this one? Nope, an I Love Lucy valentine — you can tell Mom picked those out. How about the envelope with a heart drawn on the front? Nope, that was from my BFF. Thanks a lot for getting my hopes up, girl. Slowly but surely, my stack dwindled. One after another, the valentines were slapped down onto my “read” pile with barely more than a glance. Finally, the fateful moment came when I’d read and dismissed the very last card.

No proposal. No secret admirer. Not even a lousy paragraph about my eyes being like the sun or something. Nothin’. At this point I’d probably look at my crush across the classroom and sigh, appreciating the suave way in which he used his lollipop as a sword to launch attacks against his friend’s ear.

Childhood is rough. Adulthood is a lot better. Yes, there are bills and junk mail in my mailbox now. And unfortunately, I didn’t get to MAKE my mailbox. And, okay, I’m not going to get a pile of colorful valentines, some of which are boasting candy.

But here’s why adulthood rocks. This year, when Christof Van Snufterplucken (names changed to protect the innocent — or lame) doesn’t turn off his video game long enough to write me a love letter about how awesome I am, I can remedy my disappointment in a mature, adult way: by making and eating a ridiculous amount of cheesecake. Red Velvet Cheesecake, to be exact.

Reader Victoria first gave me the idea for a Red Velvet Cheesecake back in November and I thought it sounded fantastic! She made a beautiful layer-cake-like version, and I went the cheesecake-like route. This ultimate Valentine’s dessert includes an oreo crust filled with layers of ganache, creamy cheesecake, and moist red velvet cake decorated with ganache and cream cheese frosting. Perhaps this is obvious, but apart from being pretty (especially when served with chocolate-covered strawberries and white chocolate hearts), this thing is delicious, indulgent, and yes, romantic. So even if your crush loves radioactive reptilian ninjas more than you, you can have your own little slice o’ love.

Tell me about one of your elementary school crushes. Did you ever receive a fantastic valentine in school?

Red Velvet Cheesecake



Recipe by: Willow Bird Baking
Yield: 11-13 pieces

Crust Ingredients:
32 chocolate sandwich cookies, finely processed into crumbs
5 1/3 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 used half semisweet and half bittersweet)

Cake Ingredients:
1/4 cup vegetable shortening
1 egg
1 tablespoon cocoa
1/4 teaspoon salt
3/4 cups sugar
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
1/2 cup buttermilk
1 1/4 cups flour
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 tablespoon white vinegar
1 ounce red food coloring

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

Decorative Toppings (optional):
2 oz. cream cheese, at room temperature
2 tablespoons butter, at room temperature
1 cup confectioners’ sugar, sifted
white chocolate for drizzling
strawberries

Directions:
Note on cheesecake making: Cheesecakes are simple and super customizable. New to cheesecake making? Watch my 6 minute Cheesecake Video Tutorial for visual assistance!

Note on scheduling: This cake is easily separated into two days of preparation, and can be prepared ahead of time. On day one, prepare the red velvet cake, cool it, and freeze it. On day two, prepare the cheesecake. You can then assemble and decorate right away, or leave this for day three.

Make the cake: Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Line the bottom and the sides of an 9-inch round cake pan with parchment paper, leaving an overhang on two opposite sides to make it easier to lift the cake out of the pan when it’s done. Cream shortening, sugar, and eggs. Make a paste of the cocoa and coloring and add to the shortening mixture. Add salt and vanilla. Add buttermilk alternately with the flour, beginning and ending with flour. Mix vinegar and soda right before using and add to mixture by folding in. Pour batter into the cake pan and bake at 350 degrees for 20-25 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the center of the cake comes out clean. Cool completely, cover in wax paper, and freeze for 30 minutes or until firm.

Make the cheesecake: To make the crust, preheat the oven to 350˚ F. Butter a 9-inch springform pan and place it on a baking sheet. 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).

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 – 1.5 cups of the ganache over the bottom of the crust. Freeze until the ganache layer is firm, about 30 minutes. Reserve the remaining ganache; cover and let stand at room temperature for later decorating.

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. 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 over the cold ganache in the crust. Place the springform pan on a rimmed baking sheet. 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. 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.

Assemble topping: Whip room temperature ganache to create a fluffy texture perfect for piping. In a separate bowl, mix together cream cheese, butter, and confectioners’ sugar to make a small amount of cream cheese frosting for decorating.

Assemble the cheesecake: Wrap a warm towel around the outside of the springform pan to help loosen the crust from the sides. Carefully remove the springform. Transfer the cake to a serving platter. Here, you can schmear some ganache on the cheesecake to help the red velvet cake adhere. I didn’t, but it’s a good idea. Then place your red velvet cake layer on top of cheesecake (right side up). Decorate top of cake with drizzled white chocolate, piped cream cheese frosting, whipped ganache, and strawberries.

P.S. Who could this photographer be shooting my cheesecake? Find out this coming Wednesday!

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Browned Butter Pumpkin Croquemcake with White Chocolate Chai Mousse (Project Food Blog Round 8!)

Because of YOU, Willow Bird Baking is one of only 24 blogs in Project Food Blog Round 8! I am so beyond grateful for your support and love throughout this process. Challenge #8 was to create a baked good using pumpkin. VOTING IS NOW OPEN! (Thank you for voting! Voting is now closed.) I’d love it if you’d pop over to cast a vote for me by clicking “Vote for this Entry” here. Thank you all!!

I am basically an architect. I know some folks who worked through countless hours of pesky schoolwork to call themselves architects and may disagree with me. But I think I have enough experience to go ahead and claim the title.

See, in 6th grade, my classmates and I were divided into teams and charged with a task of monumental proportions. We were to engineer a bridge out of toothpicks, string, and glue. Each of these “resources” was assigned a cost, and we were given a budget of imaginary money with which to purchase supplies. The team whose bridge could hold the most weight at the end of the competition would win epic bragging rights.


Moist, amazing Browned Butter Pumpkin Cake!

We must have been hyped up on marshmallowy breakfast cereal or something, because as soon as the teachers said GO, it was on.

We were ruthless. We pasted, chopped, measured, quarreled, budgeted, collaborated, and in a move that I’m still not sure was entirely legal, pilfered cast-off supplies from the trash can. Hey, we were just being green, right? Nowadays we’d obtain a high L.E.E.D. certification and get a pat on the back. I’m sure my teachers would’ve seen it that way . . .

I remember waxing intellectual about the structural integrity of domes, lecturing a classmate on how strong the ends of an egg were for this reason. Another peer gave an impromptu diatribe on the virtues of suspension bridges. We ended up with some sort of Frankesteinian hybrid, a bridge held up by suspension and bulky domes underneath. We were still furiously glopping on excess glue in hopes of bolstering the bridge’s integrity when the teachers called time.

We watched breathlessly as the teacher judging the competition picked up a thin book and placed it on our bridge. It held. Another volume was snapped up into her fingers and laid gingerly on our opponents’ bridge. It held.

One by one, she stacked books on top of our lopsided, aesthetically wreck-tastic but apparently strong-as-an-ox toothpick bridge. Every book our bridge held was matched by one on our opponent’s bridge — until the teacher picked up two textbooks. Ours held under the weight. Our opponents’ bridge collapsed — and so did we: we collapsed into cheers and giggles, inebriated with victory. We had done it! We were brilliant engineers! We had won!


Pumpkin profiteroles — with pumpkin in the choux dough itself — were filled alternately with White Chocolate Chai Mousse and ganache.

As the crowd thinned, we stood around and stared in wonder at our messy little Golden Gate. My friend Ashley was not yet satisfied. Sure, our bridge was stronger than the other team’s, but just how strong? With her hands on teammates’ shoulders for balance, Ashley stepped — first one foot, and then the other — onto the bridge.

It held.

I’ll never forget that moment standing in front of my elementary school, seeing Ashley’s huge grin, relishing the easy pulse of victory through our already-marshmallow-filled veins. So, yeah, I’m basically an architect. Right?

At least, it was this (misguided?) confidence that led me to believe that I could construct what I’ve officially dubbed the croquemcake.

I wanted to pull out all the stops for Project Food Blog Round 8 (do I say that every round? It’s definitely true every round!) The challenge was to create a baked good using pumpkin, and I was torn between building pumpkin profiteroles (made from pâte à choux) into a lovely croquembouche (mounted cream puff tower) or baking a pumpkin chai cake. Suddenly, it hit me. When in doubt, do both.


I may or may not have tweeted my desire to bathe in luxurious Swiss buttercream.

Thus, the croquemcake was born: a browned butter pumpkin cake filled with a comforting white chocolate chai mousse heart, frosted with velveteen Swiss buttercream frosting, and topped with a croquembouche of pumpkin profiteroles filled with chai mousse and ganache. The cake is served in slices accompanied by a few plucked cream puffs, and is essentially the embodiment of all things autumn.

At first I was panicky about trying to stack a tall, leany thing on top of a tall, frosted thing, but it turned out to be super easy, and it produced a ravishing effect.


The White Chocolate Chai Mousse is incredamazing, y’all. Even if you put off making the whole shebang until Christmas, you should make some bowls o’ mousse ASAP!

. . . oh, and it just might be my new favorite dessert ever. Every bite had an insanely satisfying combination of textures and flavors. This beautiful croquemcake would be the rockstar of any holiday table.

Don’t be scared of the length of the recipe. True to Willow Bird Baking’s mission, this dessert is also surprisingly easy to make. Let me qualify that: it takes three days and has tons of steps, but the steps themselves are simple and manageable. Use my note below on timing to space out the recipe steps into manageable chunks. It is so worth the effort.

What’s your favorite childhood memory?

Browned Butter Pumpkin CroquemCAKE with White Chocolate Chai Mousse



Recipe by: Willow Bird Baking, compiled and adapted from sources including Fine Cooking, Annie’s Eats, America’s Test Kitchen, Cookin’ Canuck, Martha Stewart, Gina DePalma, Alone and Unobserved
Yields: 15-20 servings, depending on your size o’ cake slices. You’ll have the topping croquembouche plus about 30 other cream puffs to serve alongside.

Pumpkin Puree Ingredients: (or use canned pumpkin puree)
about 7 pounds worth of sugar pumpkins (or pie pumpkins)
2-3 cups water

Browned Butter Pumpkin Cake Ingredients:
1 1/2 cups of your pumpkin puree
3/4 cup unsalted butter; more for the pans
2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour; more for the pans
1 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground ginger
3/4 teaspoon table salt
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
1 1/2 cups granulated sugar
2/3 cup firmly packed light brown sugar
2 large eggs
1/3 cup buttermilk

White Chocolate Chai Mousse Ingredients: (I had a lot of leftover mousse; you could probably get by with 2/3 of this recipe)
2 1/4 teaspoons powdered gelatin
3 tablespoons water
18 ounces white chocolate chips (see note)
4 1/2 cups cold heavy cream
heaping 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
heaping 1/2 teaspoon ground cardamom
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon ground ginger
1/4 teaspoon ground allspice
1/4 teaspoon ground pepper (white or black)
dash cayenne powder

Swiss Buttercream Frosting Ingredients:
1 cup sugar
4 large egg whites , at room temperature
24 tablespoons (3 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature
2 teaspoon vanilla extract

Profiterole (Cream Puff) Ingredients:
1 1/8 cups water
9 tablespoons unsalted butter
3/8 teaspoons salt
1.5 tablespoons sugar
1.5 cups all-purpose flour
6 large eggs
3/4 cup pumpkin puree
Egg wash (1 egg yolk and 1/2 cup heavy cream, lightly beaten)

Ganache Ingredients:
10 ounces bittersweet and semisweet chocolate chips
3/4 cup heavy whipping cream


Directions:
Note on timing: This dessert is easy to create, but involves many steps. For this reason, I divided the work over three days. On day 1, I roasted and pureed my pumpkins (you can nix this day if you use canned pumpkin). On day 2, I baked my cake and froze it, baked my profiteroles and froze them, and made my chai mousse. I also piped out white chocolate snowflake decorations to dry overnight. On day 3, I made my frosting, assembled and frosted my cake, made ganache, filled my profiteroles, and constructed my croquembouche.

To make pumpkin puree: Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Cut the tops off of above 7 pounds worth of sugar pumpkins (also called pie pumpkins). Cut the pumpkins in half and scrape out the seeds and innards. Place the pumpkin halves peel-up, cut-side-down in a baking dish and fill the dish 1/4 inch deep with water (about 2-3 cups). Roast pumpkins for 60-90 minutes, or until flesh is fork tender. Allow them to cool for a bit before scooping all flesh out of the peel and placing it in a food processor. Puree for 2-3 minutes until completely pureed, then drain in a paper towel-lined colander for about an hour. Store your pumpkin puree in the fridge for up to 5 days or freeze it in 1-cup increments for later use. Alternatively, you can use canned pumpkin puree for this recipe.

To make browned butter pumpkin cake: I baked my cake in a pan that allows you to fill your cake with a heart-shaped tunnel of mousse (please comment if you’d like the details). If you don’t have one of these pans, you can still create the tunnel effect! You can use this technique by the fabulous Amanda, or this tunnel technique featured previously on my blog.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Butter and flour two cake pans (either the heart-tunnel pan or regular 9-inch cake pans) very thoroughly. Melt the butter in a saucepan over medium heat and cook it, swirling occasionally, until it’s golden brown with a nutty aroma, around 4 minutes. Remove it from heat and pour it into a bowl to cool for about 15 minutes.
Whisk or sift together flour, baking soda, cinnamon, ginger, salt, and cloves in a small bowl. In a separate, large bowl, whisk together 1 1/2 cups of pumpkin puree, granulated sugar, brown sugar, eggs, and buttermilk until well combined. Use a spatula to stir in the dry ingredients until just combined, and then whisk in the browned butter. Pour batter evenly into prepared cake pans.

Bake the cakes until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out with just a few moist crumbs, around 28 minutes. Let cakes cool in their pans until mostly cool before turning them out onto wax paper to wrap and freeze. Freeze at least 30 minutes or until firm.

To make white chocolate chai mousse: Mix spices (cinnamon, cardamom, nutmeg, allspice, ginger, pepper, cayenne) together in a small bowl. Set aside.
Place 3 tablespoons of water in a small bowl and sprinkle the gelatin over top to dissolve and soften for at least 5 minutes. Place white chocolate in a medium bowl. Combine 1 1/2 cups of cream and spice mixture in a saucepan over medium heat and cook until simmering. Remove from heat, add gelatin, and stir to dissolve. Pour gelatin mixture over white chocolate and whisk in small circles until smooth. Cool completely to room temperature, stirring occasionally, around 5 to 8 minutes.

In a separate bowl, beat remaining cream to soft peaks. Use a whisk to fold about 1/3 of the whipped cream into white chocolate mixture to lighten. Then fold the rest of the whipped cream in until no streaks remain. Refrigerate your mousse until set, then stir slightly to break up before using.

To make profiteroles: Combine water, butter, salt and sugar in a saucepan over medium heat. Bring to a boil and stir occasionally. At boil, remove from heat and sift in the flour, stirring to combine completely.

Return to heat and cook, stirring constantly until the batter dries slightly and begins to pull away from the sides of the pan. Transfer to a bowl and stir with a wooden spoon 1 minute to cool slightly.

Add 1 egg. The batter will appear loose and shiny. As you stir, the batter will become dry-looking like lightly buttered mashed potatoes. It is at this point that you will add in the next egg. Repeat until you have incorporated all the eggs. Stir in pumpkin puree.

Pipe the batter using a pastry bag and a plain tip. Pipe choux about 1 inch-part in the baking sheets. Choux should be about 1 inch high about 1 inch wide. Using a clean finger dipped in hot water, gently press down on any tips that have formed on the top of choux when piping. You want them to retain their ball shape, but be smoothly curved on top. Brush tops with egg wash while trying not to drip the wash down the puffs onto the pan (which could somewhat inhibit rise).

Bake the choux at 425 degrees F until well-puffed and turning lightly golden in color, about 10 minutes. Lower the temperature to 350 degrees F and continue baking until well-colored and dry, about 20 minutes more. Remove to a rack and cool (tip from a pro: poke each puff with a toothpick while cooling to release the steam inside. It shouldn’t cause your cream to leak, but will help the puffs stay crisp). Can be stored in a airtight box overnight, but I recommend, if you aren’t using them right away to create your croquembouche, that you freeze them. When you’re ready to use them, bake them at 350 degrees F for 5-6 minutes to refresh and recrisp them.

To make ganache: Bring the cream to a simmer in a medium saucepan (or just stick it in the microwave for 2 minutes in a microwave-safe bowl). 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. Let ganache stand at room temperature until fully cooled, then whip to frosting-like consistency for piping into cooled profiteroles.

To make Swiss buttercream frosting: Combine sugar and 1/2 cup water in a small saucepan and bring to a boil over medium-high heat, stirring to dissolve sugar. Boil without stirring until syrup reaches 240° on a digital thermometer, about 5 minutes.

Meanwhile, in a stand mixer with whisk attachment, beat egg whites on medium-high speed until soft peaks form. With mixer on medium speed, gradually pour in hot syrup in a thin stream; avoid pouring syrup on whisk. Increase speed to medium-high and beat until stiff peaks form and mixture is cool, about 8 minutes. Reduce speed to medium and add butter 1 tablespoon at a time, beating after each addition. (If at any time buttercream appears curdled, beat on high until smooth, then reduce speed to medium and continue beating in butter.) Once all butter is added, beat on high speed until buttercream is smooth and fluffy, about 1 minute. Beat in vanilla extract.

To assemble your cake: Line up cake layers and trim sides as needed with a long serrated knife. No need to thaw before you do this — it’s actually easier with frozen layers. Spoon white chocolate chai mousse into heart-shaped wells in your cake layers (if applicable — or spoon it into whatever shaped cavity you’re using). Carefully position the top layer on the bottom. Apply a thin coating of frosting all over as a “crumb coat” and refrigerate the cake for a half hour or so. Then frost the cake generously with the remaining frosting.

To assemble your croquembouche: Fill cooled profiteroles with leftover chai mousse and ganache as desired. Melt white chocolate bark and dip tops of each profiterole into the chocolate, lining up on wax paper to dry. Cover a plate with wax paper — this is where you’ll build your croquembouche. Start with bigger, broader profiteroles and use the white chocolate as “glue” to piece together a sturdy base. I refrigerate my croquembouche after the construction of each new layer, to harden the chocolate and avoid any toppling incidents! Continue building a cone, fitting the profiteroles together according to their shape. Use white chocolate to pipe snowflakes on wax paper, and to “glue” them onto your croquembouche once they’re dry. Refrigerate your croquembouche until you’re ready to assemble your final product.

To assemble your final croquemCAKE: Carefully ensure that your croquembouche isn’t sticking to your wax paper. Gently lift it onto the center of your cake. Surround your cake with leftover cream puffs for serving. Enjoy!


Roasting pumpkins! While there’s not a huge taste difference from using this process versus the canned stuff, it’s a fun, satisfying thing to try!

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How to Make 27+ Cheesecakes and Look Awesome While Doing It

…or at least, feel like you look awesome while doing it?

Thank you so much for voting me into Project Food Blog Round 7 — I’m so grateful for your support! Challenge #7 was to create a video tutorial. I think you guys know by now that I’m a little obsessed with soupedup cheesecakes, so without further ado (okay, with a little more further ado), I’m about to show you how to create flippin’ awesome cheesecakes.

LIGHTS

What went into creating this video? Lots and lots of planning — dozens of pages worth! Lots and lots of time — 35+ hours worth! And lots and lots of fun — probably more than I should’ve had. Ahem. You’ll see.

CAMERA

Cheesecakes are incredibly customizable. In the video below, I’ll show you 3 different crusts, 3 different fillings, and 3 different toppings. By mixing and matching these components, you can feasibly create over 27 different cheesecakes! So, um, if you ever need 27 different cheesecakes . . . I got ya covered.

ACTION

Enough of the suspense! What do you get when you combine stop-motion animation, a music video, some ridiculousness, and a whole lotta cheesecake? Watch and see.

(please click here to see bigger version)

You can print the recipes for these cheesecakes here: Coffee Cookie Dough Fudge Cheesecake, Caramel Fudge Brownie Cheesecake, Chocolate Peanut Butter Bliss Cheesecake.

(Note: Voting is now open! I would so appreciate if you’d take a moment to pop over and vote for me by clicking the heart on this page once you’re signed into your Foodbuzz account. Registering for a Foodbuzz account is quick, easy, and free if you don’t have one already! Thanks, y’all!)

THE BLOOPER REEL

…wherein I prove that I’m basically tone deaf, drop my brownie layer in the floor, yell a lot at my piece-of-crap hand mixer, and eat bacon.

(please click here to see bigger version)

STRIKE THE SET

After the video camera was tucked away, the tripods were folded up, and my smudgy lipstick had faded, there was still one itty bitty order of business to attend to. What the heck does one do with three cheesecakes?! Turns out there was something awesome to do with them!

My friend Carol has a heart the size of Jupiter. She’s worked with children with special needs for several years now, and recently, while browsing Reece’s Rainbow, a website that connects orphans with special needs to adoptive homes, she laid eyes on Quinton. Quinton is a tiny, precious baby boy in Eastern Europe with Downs Syndrome. At first, Carol half-jokingly asked her husband if they could adopt him. As time went on, though, it became clear that neither she nor her husband could stop thinking about Quinton.

They posted his picture on her refrigerator and decided they were going for it. They’re currently beginning the process to bring him home! This miracle is not without a cost — it will take thousands of dollars. I decided my huge, decadent cheesecakes were perfect for a little fundraising. I gave two of them away in return for donations to Quinton’s fund. I can’t tell you what an honor it is to be a tiny part of Carol’s journey — and how humbling it is to see other friends donating their time, goods, services, energy, and love to them! Little Quinton is already changing our lives. Would you like to help as well? You can see Quinton and donate to his adoption fund here.

ROLL THE CREDITS

A big thank you to: ALL Willow Bird Baking readers who have been so supportive, Sarah for the use of her camera, Kim for loaning me a second tripod, Byrd for being willing to hang out with me while I edited video for about a decade, Royalty-Free Music, Carol for already being an amazing mommy even though her little one is still across the world, my 7th grade students for inspiring my stop-motion animation, and everyone who helped me eat cheesecake!

P.S. – Did you have a chance to see my Teaser Video?
P.S. 2 – Dear Coworkers, if you make fun of me about this, no more cheesecake for you!

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Honeybun Cake with Caramel Sauce

Willow Bird Baking is a contestant in Project Food Blog, a contest comprised of a series of challenges to find the next food blog star. Today is the last day to vote for me in Round 2! To vote, register for a Foodbuzz account. Once you’re registered, sign in and go here. To vote, click the heart next to the words “Vote for this Entry.” I am so grateful for your support!

Willow Bird Bakers, I have one thing to say to you:

You’re my honeybun, sugarplum,
Pumpy-umpy-umpkin; you’re my sweetie pie.
You’re my cuppycake, gumdrop,
snoogums-boogums; you’re the apple of my eye!
And I love you so and I want you to know
That I’ll always be right here,
And I love to sing sweet songs to you,
Because you are so dear!

Mike thinks this song is annoying, but we’ll ignore him for a moment — because it’s too true to resist. I got an email today from a stranger-turned-fast-friend that reminded me (again!) how special the opportunity to share with you really is.

This now-friend, J, said that she’s been experiencing some hard times, and that something she found here — on a food blog of all things — comforted her on a difficult day.

Little did she know that I was also having a difficult day: Byrd’s tummy has been upset and after all her knee surgery woes, this feels like the proverbial camel’s back-breaking straw. Mike and I are struggling with the distance between us, among other things. A confluence of so many issues has been forming a river of worry in my heart.

Her note letting me know that she had found comfort here was, so fittingly, a huge comfort to me. Apart from just the reminder that the food community is an army of friends and supporters, her email calmed the river of worry and helped me listen to the living waters inside of me. The main points of a sermon I heard just this past Sunday while visiting Mike in Raleigh flooded into my mind: God is in control, He is faithful, and I can rest in Him in my time of need.

Indeed, Jesus said, “Come to Me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.”

With how you’ve supported me, no wonder I can’t help but call you my honeybuns — and give you some honeybun cake.

This cake is a simple, fuss-free dessert to make and serve. More importantly, though, it’s dynamite! The buttery cake base with the deep cinnamon swirl reminds me of the best sort of coffee cake, and the buttery caramel drizzle makes it gooey, just like a real honeybun. Each bite is a revelation of different flavors, since the swirl ensures you get a different proportion of cinnamon to butter cake with each forkful. In short: YUM.

Regarding the recipe, it calls for a box cake mix. I’m not a box mix snob — I’m of the camp that says use a box mix if you feel like it, and don’t use one if you don’t feel like it. Frankly, box mixes taste great. The only argument against them that resonates with me is the fact that they contain preservatives and artificial flavorings, but really, y’all, we’re making a honeybun cake — exactly how healthy do you think you could make this thing? (answer: not very.) We eat dessert in moderation anyway (ahem).

That being said, I prefer to make things from scratch. One reason is because I feel like people are too far removed lately from the raw ingredients of their meals, and have decided that baking or cooking from scratch is intimidating. A primary message of my blog is that cooking from scratch isn’t scary — that anyone can do it. Another reason I cook from scratch is just because I like to. Simple!


from-scratch version

For this cake, I tried it two ways. I didn’t set out to try it two ways, mind you, but that’s how it ended up happening! First, I tried baking it with a homemade cake mix. Turns out that recipe’s proportions were off somehow. The cake overflowed a bit, and was gooey in the center while done on the sides. Disappointed and in need of a dish for a school potluck, I grabbed my roommate’s box of butter cake mix and hastily remade the cake.

When my second cake was in the oven, though, I realized that my first cake was actually lookin’ pretty delicious despite being wonky. If anything, the slightly undercooked middle was appealingly moist. Just like that, I had two cakes — and the perfect setup for a box mix versus homemade comparison!


box mix version – note the yellow!

So which did I like better? Honestly, it was a very close call. The box mix has a more pronounced butter flavor that was delicious, but did taste artificial. The homemade cake had a deeper from-scratch flavor, but wasn’t as buttery. In the end, I think I preferred the homemade version, but with such close results, you can feel comfortable going either way. If you do use the homemade cake mix, though, be prepared for the wonky manner in which is bakes — and maybe line your oven with foil to guard against spills.

What about you – do you use box cake mixes? Why or why not?

Honeybun Cake with Caramel Sauce



Recipe by: My friend Lora and Martha Stewart (caramel sauce)
Yield: one 9 x 13 inch cake; serves about 12-15 depending on size of pieces

Cake Ingredients:
1 box butter recipe yellow cake mix (or 1 recipe homemade cake mix, below)
4 eggs
1 cup milk
3/4 cup vegetable oil
1 cup sugar
2 tablespoons cinnamon
1 cup brown sugar

Caramel Sauce Ingredients:*
3/4 cups sugar
1/8 cup water
1/2 cup heavy cream
1/8 cup creme fraiche or sour cream
1/4 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
Pinch of coarse salt

Directions:
Make caramel sauce first. Prepare a bowl set in an ice-water bath. Place sugar and water in a saucepan and heat over medium-high heat until it boils and the sugar is dissolved. Throughout this process, use a wet pastry brush to wash down the sides of your saucepan often to prevent crystal formation. Reduce the heat to medium and cook until the mixture reaches 345 degrees on a candy thermometer (begin swirling gently when you see hints of amber, so the sugar cooks evenly), about 5-7 minutes. Immediately remove from the heat and add cream carefully (the mixture will bubble up) while whisking constantly. Return mixture to medium heat until it boils and sugar melts.

Remove from heat, and pour into the bowl set in your ice-water bath. Let the caramel cool, whisking often, for 10 minutes before whisking in creme fraiche, vanilla, and salt. Cover and refrigerate at least 2 hours before serving over heated honeybun cake. Can store in the refrigerator for up to 5 days.

To make honeybun cake, preheat oven to 200 degrees F. Mix together homemade or store-bought cake mix, eggs, milk, sugar, and oil. Pour this mixture into a greased 9 x 13 inch baking pan. Mix cinnamon and brown sugar together and sprinkle this mixture over the batter. Use a fork to swirl the batter over the entire cake, going to the bottom of the pan, until it is well-swirled. Bake cake at 200 degrees F for 20 minutes before increasing the temperature to 300 degrees F and baking for an additional 30 minutes. Drizzle caramel sauce over hot pieces of cake.

*(Alternate glaze, if you’re not a caramel fan (though that is some phenomenal caramel, y’all, and very easy to make with a candy thermometer! Glaze: mix 1 cup powdered sugar, 2 tablespoons milk, 1 teaspoons vanilla and pour over hot cake.)

Homemade Cake Mix



Recipe by: My Kitchen Cafe
Yield: one box mix worth

NOTE: as mentioned in the post above, this recipe bakes wonkily in a 9 x 13 in. pan. Visit My Kitchen Cafe to read her note about it. I still think it’s worth making, since mine turned out delicious, but do line your oven with foil and watch that the sides of the cake don’t burn while you’re waiting for the middle to finish cooking.

Yellow “Cake Mix” Cake Ingredients:
2 cups granulated sugar
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/2 cups cake flour
1/2 cup nonfat dry milk powder
1 tablespoon baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
16 tablespoons butter (2 sticks), cut into 1/2-inch pieces and chilled
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
2 teaspoons imitation butter flavor

Directions:
Pulse sugar, flours, milk powder, baking powder, and salt in a food processor for 15 seconds to combine. Add butter, vanilla, and butter flavor and pulse until the mixture resembles coarse meal (much finer than, say, a pie crust). Freeze the dry mixture in a zipper-lock bag for up to 2 months or use immediately in recipe above.

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Chocolate Peanut Butter Bliss Cheesecake and Project Food Blog

I have something important to tell you.

In a world that boasts thousands upon thousands of food blogs, I have to tell you what makes my little corner of the web something special.

Foodbuzz is hosting Project Food Blog, a competition to crown the next food blog star. Willow Bird Baking is a contestant, and the first challenge isn’t a challenge for me at all. It’s simply to tell you why I’m here, and what I stand for — something I’ve been convicted of over and over again.

Listen, I cook accessible food. I try to take lovely photos. I write in tune with my personal life — sometimes laughing, sometimes crying, always eating. Those things are special, but they’re not what makes me unique.

What really makes me unique are two things: Chocolate Peanut Butter Bliss Cheesecake, and a stranger’s 91-year-old grandfather.

This rich cheesecake was more than just a cheesecake. It was an experiment. It was a gift. It was an experience. It embodies what makes Willow Bird Baking unique:

1. I believe in creativity. I dream of combining individual desserts into super desserts, mixing dessert with breakfast, and drizzling caramel all over everything. Maybe a few dollops of cookie dough, too? I’m constantly creating and improving food. Over the past year, it’s been so rewarding to see photos and read accounts of how your creativity was sparked by a recipe here!

This cheesecake was born of my desire to innovate. A peanut butter sandwich cookie crust instead of an chocolate sandwich cookie crust? Sure! I’m smitten with fun ideas. Sure enough, with a creamy chocolate cheesecake slapped into that crust and a cool, soft peanut butter mousse spread on top, it was the best peanut butter and chocolate dessert combo I’d ever tasted.

2. I believe in challenging yourself. Like any home cook, I have family recipes I love to make, but I’m also adamant about the value of trying new things. Especially fancy things that make you want to say, “Oh, that’s lovely, but I could never do that.”

My culinary journey was one of continually tackling challenging recipes, and with every puffy puff pastry or foot-ed macaron, I felt proud of myself. It’s an incredible feeling to know that by encouraging you to take on these challenges as well, I can give you that sense of pride and accomplishment. For instance, the Croissant Challenge on Willow Bird Baking inspired 17 readers to make homemade croissants in their own kitchens for the very first time — and many more have committed to do so! I have never had a prouder blogging experience than seeing those beautiful croissant pictures roll in.

3. I believe in cooking impressive meals for those you love. This Chocolate Peanut Butter Bliss Cheesecake was made on a whim. Mike was coming to visit and I knew I wanted to make him dessert, but having just started teaching with a heavier load than usual, I was exhausted. I decided to make some simple bar cookies and began gathering supplies in the grocery store.

Somewhere near the butter aisle, though, I realized that we only get so much time to show our love to the special people in our lives. After imagining his face upon seeing a ridiculous surprise cheesecake in the fridge, I replaced the bar cookie ingredients and set about gathering cheesecake supplies. I worked all evening to create this recipe for him. It was so worth the effort to see him enjoying each bite, and I think it did more for my heart than it did for his.

You can have take-out days. We all do that. But every now and then, you need a recipe that you can set in front of your family to say, you are so important to me. I’ve got those for you.

Speaking of sharing love through food, there’s one last story to tell: the story of how a stranger’s 91-year-old grandfather reminded me of my blogging purpose.

Almost a month ago, I went to explore a blog post that had linked to my Peach Cobbler Cupcakes.

What I found was Songs of the Self, a blog by Jessica, a mom from Georgia. The post recounted how she’d made the Peach Cobbler Cupcakes for her grandfather’s 91st birthday party. As I read about her experience, I saw a photo that gave me pause — one of her husband helping her to sprinkle streusel on each cupcake and smiling for the camera.


photos used with permission by Jessica

I don’t know why it hit me like it did, but suddenly I was reading through tears. I realized that this was a family somewhere, working together to make a recipe that I created, following each little direction. The post from the next day shows the birthday party: her sweet grandfather in a silly party hat blowing out candles, her grandmother laughing, her tiny daughter Olivia representing the youngest generation.

At the end of her post, Jessica noted, “My cupcakes were beyond a hit! Everyone ranted and raved about them! …Yippee for crafty me!” Being able to participate in her special occasion in some meaningful way, and especially knowing that my recipe had a part in making her feel proud of herself reminded me of why I blog. As I closed her post with a filled heart, I thought of my friend Maranda’s proud post after making her first batch of homemade croissants — a post that inspired a similar effect in me.

The truth is, I blog to create a virtual communal table. Come sit, bake, eat, learn, and enjoy. Come try new things within a comfortable web of support. Come forgive yourself for your flaws, laugh at your kitchen flops, and ponder your life with a popsicle in hand.

Perhaps most of all, come and eat some Chocolate Peanut Butter Bliss Cheesecake. I saved a piece just for you.

Please take a look at my Project Food Blog profile and consider voting for Willow Bird Baking on September 20, 2010. Thank you so much for your support — you are precious to me!

Chocolate Peanut Butter Bliss Cheesecake



Recipe by: Willow Bird Baking, pieced together from Jerome Chang (peanut butter mousse), Joelen (chocolate cheesecake)
Yields: 15-20 pieces

Crust Ingredients:
1 pack (32) of peanut butter sandwich cookies, processed into crumbs
5 and 1/3 tablespoons butter, melted

Cheesecake Ingredients:
4 packages (8 oz. each) of cream cheese, room temperature
1 cup sugar
1 teaspoon of vanilla extract
4 eggs, room temperature
3 (1oz) squares semisweet bakers chocolate (melted and cooled)

Peanut Butter Mousse Ingredients:
1/2 teaspoon powdered gelatin
2 tablespoons cold water
1 cup heavy cream
2 large egg yolks
1 1/2 tablespoons sugar
3 tablespoons salted smooth peanut butter

Optional decorations:
Reese’s cups
melted chocolate
whipped cream

Directions: Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. For the crust, mix the crust ingredients together and press into bottom and up the sides (about 3 inches) of a springform pan. Set aside.

For the cheesecake: Mix cream cheese and sugar in a large bowl until well blended and creamy. Add the eggs and continue mixing until combined. Add chocolate and continue mixing until combined. Pour mixture into prepared crust and smooth top with a spatula.

Bake for 55 minutes or until center of cake is almost set. The top may crack, but it doesn’t particularly matter, since you’ll be covering it anyway. Let the cake fully cool. When almost cool, place it in refrigerator to chill while you prepare peanut butter mousse.

For peanut butter mousse, dissolve the gelatin over the water in a small bowl and let stand for 5 minutes. In a saucepan over moderate heat, cook the cream until it bubbles around the edges. In another bowl, whisk together egg yolks and sugar. Temper the eggs: pour about 1/2 cup hot cream into the egg yolks slowly while whisking vigorously. Then slowly pour the egg mixture into the saucepan of cream (whisking constantly). Cook over low heat, stirring constantly, until thickened, about 3 minutes. Remove from the heat and whisk in the peanut butter and the gelatin. Place mixture into a wide bowl to allow it to cool for a bit, then chill it for just a little while — not until set, but until it’s not so runny. Pour the mixture onto the top of the pie and refrigerate at least one hour or overnight. You can pipe on melted chocolate and decorate with chopped Reese’s cups, if desired.

When completely chilled, loosen the cake from rim of springform pan by wrapping the pan in warm dishtowels. The remove the springform pan. Refrigerate the cheesecake for one day or overnight before serving. Garnish with fresh whipped cream if desired.

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