Tag Archives: cheese

April Fool’s Day Cupfakes

Ah, April Fool’s Day! The perfect occasion to show someone you love them by playing nasty tricks on them and guffawing as they stand, bewildered, trying to figure out what just happened.

Orrrr you could play a sweet (well, savory) trick instead! Cupfakes are adorable, savory treats masquerading as their sweet cousins. At one time or other, I’ve had people mistake each one of the dinnertime cupfakes below for dessert! In reality, though, Deep Dish Pizza Cupfakes are fun Chicagoan deep dish pizzas topped with fluffy ricotta and a cherry tomato. Meatloaf Cupfakes are moist meatloaf with mashed potato “frosting” and colored salt sprinkles. Finally, my favorite: Cheddar, Chive, and Bacon Cupfakes with Avocado Frosting are slightly sweet, cornbready dinner muffins full of goodies.

One warning: when people are expecting to bite into a sweet cupcake and it turns out to be a cupfake, their brains do a little backflip of revulsion no matter how good your treats taste. It’s probably best to reveal your trick right before they take a bite!

Deep Dish Pizza Cupfakes

Meatloaf Cupfakes

Cheddar, Chive, and Bacon Cupfakes with Avocado Frosting

P.S. Only 1 week left in my Cheesecake Challenge! Choose any one of 9 cheesecake recipes to prepare within the next month. Email a photo to me by 4/5/2011 to be featured on Willow Bird Baking! Get more details about the challenge here.

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Mini Apple Pies with Cheddar Crusts

On car trips when I was younger, one of my favorite things to do was to torment my little brother. He would be tucked safely into his car seat minding his own business when I would attack. There was no tickling or hitting or poking involved — that’s just not my style. Instead, I launched a calculated verbal and psychological assault.

Despite the fact that we were usually in Tennessee or Kentucky at the time, I’d point out the window and scream, “HEY, look, it’s Disney World!” His hopeful little face would whip around to see the happiest place on earth, only to be confronted with cornfields and the occasional disinterested cow. “Oh, you just missed it,” I’d say, consoling him with a pat on the arm.

After he’d missed a few more Disney Worlds and a Sea World or two, he was about as frustrated as a hornet in a mason jar. His spluttering protests were met with one of those smug-big-sister shrugs on my part. “What?” I’d say, “I can’t help it if you’re turning around too slow.”

Okay, so I was kind of a punk. In my defense, I was little. And he was usually a pill, I promise.

Anyway, huge counterexample aside, I’m actually a pretty trustworthy person. I don’t know if Alex will ever trust me again, but you can.

One thing you should certainly trust me about is the fact that apple pies and cheddar cheese were made for each other. Some folks — especially in my part of the world, it seems — have never heard of this combo. People can be downright skeptical when you mention it.

I first heard about pairing apple pie and cheddar cheese only a few years ago. I was shocked to find out that this odd couple was an established and beloved tradition in some places. How had I missed out on this my entire life? I promptly ran to the grocery store, bought a mini apple pie and a block of sharp cheddar, and gave it a try. Turns out all those crazy New Englanders (love you guys!) weren’t wrong: the sweet filling with the sharp cheese was a perfect match.

So what would be better than a slice of apple pie with a slice of cheddar cheese on top? How about a pie that fully integrates the apply and cheddary goodness? I created these mini apple pies with cheddar crusts to do just that. The cheddar crust is phenomenal — I think I ate more of it raw than I used in the pies — and I chose a sweet apple filling to balance it out. The result is a buttery, sweet-and-salty piece of heaven.

If this is the first time you’ve heard of the apple pie and cheddar combo, trust me — all Disney Worlds and Sea Worlds aside — when I say you have to try it. And if you’ve enjoyed a slice of apple pie with a hunk of cheddar on top, back me up: tell us how much you love it.

P.S.: Some folks have apparently been known to say, “An apple pie without the cheese is like a hug without the squeeze.”

P.S. 2: Happy Pi Day — only one day late. These little guys are worth the wait.

Mini Apple Pies with Cheddar Crusts



Recipe by: Adapted from my own pie crust and Betty Crocker’s filling
Yield: 4 cupcake-sized apple pies and 10-12 mini apple-pies

Crust Ingredients:
4 cups flour
1 teaspoon salt
10 ounces extra-sharp cheddar, grated
3/4 cup cold lard (non-hydrogenated if available)*
3/4 cup cold butter, chopped
6-8 tablespoons cold water
1 egg beaten with 1 tablespoon water for egg wash
1/4 cup white sugar mixed with 1 teaspoon cinnamon for sprinkling
*you can substitute vegetable shortening here if you wish, but I highly recommend the lard!

Filling Ingredients:
1/4 cup sugar
1/8 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
pinch salt
4 cups mixed apples, peeled and chopped (4 medium — I used Gala, Fuji, Granny Smith, and Golden Delicious)
1 tablespoon butter

Directions: Pulse flour and salt together to combine. Add scoops of lard and pulse into the mixture has the texture of coarse sand, about 10 seconds. Add in chunks of butter and cheese and pulse until butter pieces are no larger than small peas, about 10 pulses. Add minimum amount of water and pulse on low. If dough remains crumbly and doesn’t come together, add another 2 tablespoons of water. Add as little as is required to enable the dough to be rolled into a ball. Form the dough into 2 disks, wrap in plastic, and refrigerate for 20-30 minutes while preparing your filling.

Prepare filling: Mix all ingredients together except for butter.

Preheat your oven to 400 degrees F. Use cupcake pans, mini-cupcake pans or both for your pies, as desired. After crust has chilled, roll it out between two sheets of parchment paper until it’s relatively thin — a little thinner than 1/4 inch. Pull the parchment paper off the dough every now and then (flipping to do this on both sides) to ensure your dough isn’t sticking. Use a big round cookie cutter or a knife to cut out a piece of dough about 2 inches larger around than your cupcake wells (or about 1 inch larger around than your mini-cupcake wells). Fit this dough down into a well as a bottom crust. Fill it with filling, top it with a few bits of butter, and use another circle of dough to form the top crust. Crimp the edges (careful not to make your crimping too elaborate — if your edge is too big, your pies can be top-heavy and pull apart. You may just want to use a fork to create decorative edges instead of traditional “crimping.”) Repeat this process until all of your mini pies are ready for the oven. Brush them all with egg wash and sprinkle cinnamon and sugar mixture over the top.

Bake mini pies at 400 degrees for 15 minutes (for cupcake-sized) or 10 minutes (for mini-cupcake sized). Turn temperature down to 375 degrees F, open the oven to rotate your pans and cool it off for a few seconds, and turn temperature down to 375 degrees F. Bake cupcake-size pies for 7-9 minutes longer, and mini-cupcake sized pies for 6-7 minutes longer. Remove from the oven and let pies cool completely in the pan — then gently “twist” the pies in their wells to be sure they aren’t sticking and pull them out. Serve immediately or store in an air-tight container in the refrigerator.

P.S. Don’t forget about the Cheesecake Challenge! Choose any one of 9 cheesecake recipes to prepare within the next month. Email a photo to me by 4/5/2011 to be featured on Willow Bird Baking! Get more details about the challenge here.

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Soft Pretzel Dogs (an homage to Auntie Anne’s Pretzels)

I have this embarrassing salad bar practice. You’re going to think I’m silly (or else you’re going to leave me a comment saying, “I DO THAT EXACT SAME THING!” and make me feel a little better. No pressure.)

See, I’m a little shy about how much salad dressing I eat. I was never one of those mostly-veggies-with-a-spritz-of-lemon-juice salad people. I was (am!) one of those bacon-cheese-and-crouton salad people, where the dressing has to touch every leaf with its creamy goodness. But I can never quite shake the feeling that the person behind me at the salad bar is watching me pour my bleu cheese dressing with thinly veiled disgust, silently tabulating the calories I’m about to consume.

To deal with this uncomfortable situation, I developed a little pantomime routine in which I dump as much salad dressing as I want on my salad before giving a little gasp and jerking the bottle up as if to say, “Oops! Of COURSE I didn’t mean to pour that much salad dressing — it just came out so fast!” Then I snap up my salad and hastily head to my seat.

I’m sure the lemon-spritzers in line behind me think I’m disappointed that my salad got drenched and that I’m really only eating it because I hate to waste food . . . right?! Okay, maybe I’m not fooling anyone.

The truth is, while I eat reasonably all week, I go all out on the weekends. And I can eat a lot. Like, enough so that more than one waitress has been driven to exclaim over the amount I have consumed (they better be glad I don’t believe in docking tips). Like, enough that I can almost always out-eat any fully grown, healthy, hungry man around me.

In college, the impressive amount I could eat would become glaringly apparent in the dining hall, where most gals were ordering half a grapefruit for breakfast and my plate was overflowing with bacon and eggs. And a waffle. With, like, butter and syrup and stuff. This disparity produced lots of food embarrassment. For some reason, perhaps especially as a woman, I always feel like I should be, um, daintier or something.

Sometimes, though, a certain food compels me to stop caring about what other people are thinking. Recently, that food was Auntie Anne’s Pretzel Dogs. I first saw them in the Dallas airport on a layover. I was reserved, ordering only one along with a couple of other small snacks.

But my first bite of that buttery, yeasty pretzel wrapped around a juicy hot dog was a surreal experience — and I don’t think it was just the medicine I take for my flight anxiety. I was hooked. I talked about the pretzel dogs throughout my entire weekend trip, and when I found myself flying back home to Charlotte through Dallas, I was prepared.

As soon as we touched down, I hastily disembarked and headed straight for the nearest Auntie Anne’s. There, I immediately threw caution and food embarrassment to the wind, ordering 3 pretzel dogs and a big soft pretzel on the side to, um, balance out my meal. And cheese sauce. I was in pretzel dog heaven.

Clearly, the next step was to figure out how to make pretzel dogs at home in Charlotte. I found the following recipe and, while not perfect, it’s pretty darn close, not to mention pretty darn easy!

The baking soda solution I dipped my pretzels in didn’t seem strong enough to give them a nice deep brown color, so I tweaked it below. I also had a lot of fun with flavors. I made soft pretzels, pretzel dogs, cheddar pretzel dogs, and jalapeno pretzel dogs. And all bashfulness aside, over the course of a weekend, I ate almost every single one of them myself.

Do you ever feel any food embarrassment, or are you an unabashed eater?

Soft Pretzel Dogs



Recipe by: Adapted from CDKitchen
Yields: 8 pretzel dogs and 5-6 pretzels

Ingredients:
1 1/2 cup warm water
1 1/8 teaspoon active dry yeast
2 tablespoons brown sugar
1 1/8 teaspoon salt
1 cup bread flour
3 cups regular flour
2 cups warm water
2 tablespoons baking soda
3 tablespoons butter, softened to room temperature
8 Nathan’s all-beef hot dogs (do yourself a favor and don’t use anything but Nathan’s!)

Toppings:
cheddar cheese
jalapeno slices (wear gloves to handle, and don’t touch your eyes!)
coarse salt, to taste
4 tablespoons butter (melted)

Directions:
Place warm water in mixing bowl and sprinkle yeast in, stirring to dissolve. Add the sugar and salt and stir. Add the flour and mix until combined. Knead until the dough is smooth and elastic (this took a few minutes on high speed with my KitchenAid mixer equipped with a dough hook). Place the dough in a greased bowl and cover it. Place it in a warm area to rise at least 1/2 an hour.

Preheat oven to 450 degrees F. When dough’s almost finished rising, prepare a baking soda water bath. I used one that I don’t think was strong enough (from the original recipe) to brown the pretzels appropriately, so I’ve poked around and found a better one for you. Mix the warm water and baking soda and continue to whisk periodically as you work with your dough.

Once your dough is risen, spray cooking spray over a spot on your counter and turn the dough out onto it. Use a sprayed pizza cutter to slice off a strip of dough. Roll it, starting from the middle and working outward with greased hands, into a thin rope — the thinner you get it, the more like Auntie Anne’s pretzels it’ll be. I even gently picked it up and let gravity help me lengthen it every now and then. For inspiration, watch this awesome video from the folks at Auntie Anne’s on shaping, dipping, and baking pretzels.

Form your strand into a pretzel shape OR wrap it around a hot dog OR wrap it around a hot dog and strip of cheese OR wrap it around a hot dog with a strip of cheese and some jalapenos. When you wrap it around the hot dogs, just slightly overlap the dough so there aren’t many gaps. Now dip the pretzel into your soda solution and place on a parchment-lined baking sheet. Sprinkle with coarse salt. Bake for 7-10 minutes or until golden brown. Brush with melted butter and serve immediately with hot mustard or Cheez Whiz (tastes just like Auntie Anne’s cheddar dip!) for dipping.

P.S. Don’t forget about the Cheesecake Challenge! Choose any one of 9 cheesecake recipes to prepare within the next month. Email a photo to me by 4/5/2011 to be featured on Willow Bird Baking! Get more details about the challenge here.

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