Tag Archives: crust

Gooey S’mores Bars

GUESS WHAT I JUST BOUGHT. Can you guess?! First, let me tell you a story. Maybe I’ll drop some hints here and there . . .

I got my first camera in high school. It was a Polaroid I-Zone, and I had no idea how cool it was. It took grainy, gorgeous photos full of unintentional auras and printed them instantly on adhesive-backed paper. You’ll have to forgive my poetic heart for the example below — a triptych (am I allowed to call it that?) of a goose that had been hit by a car. The middle frame is my hand full of its oversaturated feathers. Morbid, I know, but isn’t it pretty?

My next camera was a little Kodak film camera. I carried it everywhere with me, hoping to capture some gritty reality. I took photos of the outcast crowd at my high school (I wasn’t cool enough to fit in, even with them), of my feet, of neon lights. I filled rolls of film and convinced my parents to get them developed only to find, again and again, that my photos weren’t this or this or this. They were flat snapshots.

I gave up.

Fast forward to food blogging. I’m a baker and I’m a writer, so food blogging suits me nicely. But, I told everyone who asked, I am not a photographer.

Photography was the red-headed stepchild (what’s so bad about one of those, anyway?) of Willow Bird Baking. It was an ill-behaved upstart of a stepchild at that — one that I often had to drag along behind me as it kicked its tiny mismatched-stocking feet.

Since WBB’s inception in June 2009, I’ve used a Canon PowerShot A540 to shoot all of my photos. That faithful little point-and-shoot was powerful, don’t get me wrong, but the fiddling that went in to my hours-long photo shoots was extremely stressful. I shot in manual mode and it went something like this:

Make food for hours. Style food. Wait until the perfect time of day. Go out onto the balcony to freeze and/or sweat. Set up my camera on its tripod. Set all camera settings: manual mode, white balance, macro mode, exposure time, self-timer. Hold up white boards to bounce light in crazy directions. Change all settings repeatedly, taking photos with varying exposures, camera angles, and lighting setups. Run into the apartment to upload the photos every 50 or so snaps to see if I’m on the right track, usually to find that ALL of the photos were out of focus. Hours and hundreds of photos later, drag myself inside and clean up. Go through the hundreds of photos looking for the 6 or 7 acceptable ones. Edit them. Write my post.

Even while I loved my camera (so much so that I decided I’d stick with Canon whenever I upgraded), it’s not hard to see why photography stressed me out. There was a teensy (and sometimes nonexistent) yield for all the sweat I put into it.

When Willow Bird Baking was featured recently in the Davidson Journal, Meg Kimmel was kind enough to mention my “burgeoning skills as a food photographer.” They even printed my photo of my Coffee Cookie Dough Fudge Cheesecake for good measure. But oh, did I have a love-hate relationship with photography.

That is, until now.

Have you guessed yet? I think I set you up pretty well, and hopefully the photos were helpful hints. I bought a new camera!

A Canon Rebel T2i with a 50mm f/1.4 lens, to be exact. By no means did the camera make me an instant photographer extraordinaire, but when I styled and photographed these Gooey S’mores Bars (inside! with air conditioning!), I marveled at how fun and exciting and creative it felt!

I wasn’t doing acrobatics to get an acceptable shot in 100 degree heat — the camera was doing more than its fair share of work! I wasn’t forcing the photos — I was making artistic decisions! I wasn’t fretting and uploading a dozen times to check my shots — I was contentedly fiddling with various camera settings and enjoying the results! For the first time in years, I think I’ve almost recaptured the joy of snapping a photo with that old Polaroid I-Zone and sticking it in my poetry notebook surrounded by walls of messy handwriting.

. . . Almost.

P.S. Will you look at the number of exclamation points in that last paragraph? I must be in love.

P.S. 2 There’s just over a week left in the Willow Bird Baking Cupcake Challenge! Bake your creation and email photos to juruble ‘at’ gmail.com by Wednesday, September 7, 2011. I’ll feature your cupcake on WBB! Find more details and some cupcake inspiration here.

Gooey S’mores Bars



Recipe by: Adapted from Lovin’ From the Oven
Yield: 9-12 bars depending on your appetite

These Gooey S’mores Bars were more than worthy of being the first dish snapped by my new camera. They combine a chewy, graham cracker-flavored base with melty marshmallow creme and a hearty dose of chocolate. I heated each bar in the microwave for 25 seconds and then used a kitchen torch to toast the sides before serving, resulting in the perfect s’more flavor. Don’t worry if you don’t have the torch, though — they’d be delicious without.

Ingredients:
1/2 cup butter, room temperature
1/4 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup sugar
1 large egg
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 1/3 cups all-purpose flour
3/4 cup graham cracker crumbs
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 king-sized milk chocolate bars (e.g. Hershey’s)
1 1/2 cups marshmallow creme/fluff

Directions:
Preheat the oven to 350°F. Grease an 8-inch square baking pan and create a foil sling: tear off 4, 16-inch long pieces of aluminum foil and fold them in half. Situate two side-by-side in the pan, covering the bottom of the pan to the edge (they will overlap). Situate the other two strips in the same manner, but perpendicular to the first. The overhanging foil of the sling will make it easy to remove the bars from the pan after baking and cooling. Grease the foil as well.

Cream the butter and sugar together in a large bowl until fluffy and pale yellow. Beat in the egg and vanilla. In a small, separate bowl, whisk together the flour, graham cracker crumbs, baking powder and salt. Add the dry ingredients to the butter mixture and mix until just combined. Divide the dough roughly in half.

Press half of the dough (using clean fingers is easiest) into the pan. Place the chocolate bars side by side (if they fit; if not, break them and arrange) over the dough such that you have a full single layer of chocolate (about 1/4 inch thick). Glop on marshmallow creme and use a greased offset spatula to spread it evenly across the chocolate. Place the remaining dough on top (to do so, take a small handful at a time and flatten it into a “shingle,” laying these side by side over the top). Bake for 25 to 30 minutes or until lightly browned. Let cool completely in pan before gently using the overhang of the foil sling to lift the bars out of the pan and place them on a cutting board to slice.

When ready to serve, heat each bar in the microwave for about 25-30 seconds and use a kitchen torch to lightly “toast” the exposed marshmallow (optional). Enjoy!

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Red, White, and FOOD!

Here are some Willow Bird recipes that are perfect for your 4th of July celebration! If I had to tell you just one thing you have to make in order to fully enjoy all the fireworks and summer heat, it’d be the Old-fashioned Burger Stand Burgers. Everything else is delicious, too, but I’m craving one of those tender, thin, salty, juicy, tangy burgers right this second! And it doesn’t get much cuter than the printable fry pouches and checkered trays.


Old-fashioned Burger Stand Burgers with Easy Fries (and cute pouch/tray printables!)


Strawberry Lemonade Popsicles



Itsy Bitsy Berry Cream Pies


Deconstructed Pizza Bites


Pretzel Dogs


Red Berry Pie


Sparkling Strawberry Lemonade


Sparkling Raspberry Lemonade

Stay tuned later this week for a cute party banner that you can make with minimal effort and about $8. I made the whole thing while watching America’s Got Talent, so it obviously doesn’t take much concentration, either! Happy eating!

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Itsy Bitsy Berry Cream Pies

It happens every year. Early in the springtime, the Sunday comes when I find a neon card tucked inside of my church bulletin, scrounge around in my purse for a pen, and scrawl out some contact information. I drop the card in the jar in the lobby on my way out. I wait for the email telling me where to come for training, inevitably miss training, go to the makeup training. Finally, it’s the first night of Vacation Bible School. I try to find some fun earrings to wear (for some reason, fun earrings have always struck me as a key tool in childcare), and head over to the church.

Last year there was a ranch theme, so every night was spent air-lassoing imaginary animals, tipping our imaginary cowperson hats, conducting chili tastings (I couldn’t make this stuff up), playing with ranch paraphernalia foreign to many of those city kids, and hearing stories about Jesus.

I took great delight in dancing and singing wholeheartedly during worship while all of my third grade charges stared, trying to decide whether I was cool or embarrassing. No comment on their verdict. But we all had a lot of fun.

One of the boys last year (I’ll call him John) stood out to me from the first night. He was subdued, and his freckled face wore the same blank expression no matter what the activity. He seemed guarded, like he had already reached the stage where he wasn’t sure if it was still cool to have fun.

In music class, though, he was different. The music teacher (I’ll call him Mr. Maestro) had a wry sense of humor that John responded to right away. As a result, John would chirrup witty responses to Mr. Maestro’s questions and call out periodically in class. The interruptions were sometimes too frequent, and I could tell by the edge in Mr. Maestro’s voice that he thought John was a bit of a troublemaker. I knew John was actually very sweet, but I wasn’t concerned, since Mr. Maestro was never unfair, just firm.

As an aside, trying not to peg students as “the troublemaker” or “the clown” or “the slacker” is a constant, noble effort of good teachers everywhere. Kids are so dynamic, and most of them truly want to please the adults around them; for this reason, it’s vital to continually give them a fresh slate and the opportunity to remake themselves. That doesn’t mean it’s not a struggle.

On the very last day in music class, Mr. Maestro made a lovely point about helping others. In response, John began enthusiastically, “I sometimes help my mom!” Before he could continue, Mr. Maestro responded, “Oh, do you? That’s nice,” to cut him off at the pass and get on with the lesson. Something turned over in my heart as I watched John disappointedly release the breath with which he had hoped to tell his story.

Before you judge Mr. Maestro too harshly, please think back to a time when you’ve been interrupted repeatedly by a child eager to tell a story. It can be taxing. Some days in my own class, I feel like 75% of my job is shutting down off-topic story telling. Some of those stories were about So-and-so’s sister who ate half a gluestick, but some of them were probably truly charming, edifying additions to our class. We just don’t always have the time. I just don’t always have the energy. We’re all human.

Nevertheless that night, seeing John’s crestfallen face and remembering the emphasis in VBS training on listening to every child, I was determined to do something.

Back downstairs at worship at the end of the night, I was worried John would have long since forgotten his story. I screamed over the din of about a bajillion hyper children and the ecstatic worship music, “John, what was that you were saying about helping your mom?”

The way his face immediately lit up touched my heart; sure enough, this was a special story to him. He explained that his mom was sick and very tired, and so he sometimes swept the floor or did the dishes. With childlike sincerity, he revealed that he was glad he got to serve her.

I could tell he was thankful to share his story, but I was beyond thankful to hear it. It was a moment when God reminded me again (He does so often) that my job is to love Him with all of my heart, mind, and soul, and to love others just as much as I love myself.

Vacation Bible School started up again this week, and while John isn’t in my class this year, I do have more than 20 fourth graders to lead. And you’d better believe I’m doing a ton of listening! So far I’ve heard about video games, making homemade ice cream, a dying grandfather, a new baby sister, and baseball. What serious, funny, sad, crazy, and important things they have to say!

So, in honor of all of those sweet little ones, here are some sweet little pies! I loved my Aunt Pat’s Strawberry Cream Pie so much that I decided to make it in miniature — and in blueberry! These little pies are bright, fresh, and creamy in addition to being adorable finger foods. They’re an especially great first step for a home cook who’s nervous about rolling out a pie crust, since there’s no rolling involved. Happy summer!

Itsy Bitsy Berry Cream Pies


Recipe by: Adapted from my Aunt Pat’s Strawberry Cream Pie recipe
Yields: about 56 mini pies

Crust Ingredients:
4 cups flour
2 teaspoons salt
3/4 cup cold shortening or lard
3/4 cup cold butter, chopped
6-8 tablespoons cold water

Cream Filling Ingredients:
1/2 cup sugar
3 tablespoons cornstarch
3 tablespoons flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 cups milk
1 egg, slightly beaten
1/2 cup whipping cream
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1.5 cups of diced fresh strawberries (or about 1.5 cups blueberries)

Glaze Ingredients:
1 cup fresh strawberries (or blueberries)
1 cup water
1/2 cup sugar
4 teaspoons cornstarch

Directions:
Note on timing: To make the preparation of these mini pies even more manageable, I prepared and baked the pie shells a day in advance. I then made the cream filling, diced the berries, and made my glaze on the day I was planning to serve them. They really benefit from at least a few hours in the fridge before serving.

Make the crust dough: 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 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 a disk, wrap in plastic, and refrigerate for 20-30 minutes.

After the dough has chilled, preheat the oven to 450 degrees F. Take about 1/4 of the dough out of the fridge at a time. Pinch off walnut-sized balls. Place a ball in each well of an ungreased mini-muffin pan. Using your fingers, work the dough up the sides of each well. Use a fork to “dock” the bottom and sides of the dough –poke holes in it so that it doesn’t puff up too much as it bakes. Bake for 12-15 minutes or until lightly browned. Cool the mini pie shells in the pan for 5 minutes or so before gently removing them (you can use a table knife to help you lever them out) to a cooling rack to cool completely.

Make cream filling: While the crust bakes, prepare your cream filling. Prepare an ice water bath in a bowl big enough to accommodate your saucepan. Mix sugar, cornstarch, flour, and salt in a saucepan over medium-high heat. Stir in the milk and bring to a boil, stirring constantly. Reduce heat and cook until thickened, still stirring constantly. Spoon out about 1/4 cup of your hot mixture and gradually drizzle it into your beaten egg, whisking constantly. This will temper the egg so that when you add it back into the hot mixture, it won’t cook. Add the egg into the hot mixture, continuing to stir constantly. Bring this just to boiling.

Set the saucepan in the ice water bath and stir it periodically as it cools. Once cool enough, chill the mixture in the refrigerator. During this time, whip the cream and vanilla together to stiff peaks. Take the chilled mixture from the fridge and beat it to break it up. Stir in about 1/3 of the cream to lighten it, and then gently fold in the rest of the cream until well combined. Chill until ready to use.

Assemble the pies: Using a piping bag (or a ziplock with the corner cut off), pipe cream into each pie shell. Top with diced strawberries or blueberries. Chill these while you make your glaze.

Make the glaze: Crush 1 cup of strawberries (or blueberries) and cook with water in a saucepan over medium-high heat for two minutes. Strain through a fine mesh sieve and discard the pulp. Add the juice back to the saucepan over medium-high heat and gradually stir in sugar and cornstarch. Cook until thickened. If you want, you can tint this glaze with food coloring to desired hue, but mine was plenty bright enough! Cool the glaze slightly, and then spoon over the top of your mini pies. Chill pies for at least a few hours for best results.

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(Freshly Picked!) Strawberry Cream Pie

Before we get to the pie: prayers go out for those of you in any of the areas affected by tornadoes this year — you are on our hearts and minds daily.

I just made perhaps the prettiest, most scrumptious pie I’ve had the privilege of shoveling into my mouth. Encased in a flaky, tender pie crust are billowy mounds of pastry cream, toasted almonds, and fresh glazed strawberry slices. Making it even sweeter (not as if it needed it or anything) is the source of the recipe. It comes from this lovely lady, my Aunt Pat, who’s also responsible for this lovely flower garden. Just call her a domestic genius:

My cousin sent me this recipe mounted on a gorgeous wooden plaque and it now sits by my computer desk as a reminder of my sweet family and all of the food memories that bind us — grandma’s homemade sausage gravy and biscuits, all the potluck Thanksgiving treats, and now, thankfully, this Strawberry Cream Pie.

Another sweet thing about this pie is that it comes to you during May, which is National Strawberry Month! The Charlotte Food Bloggers celebrated by going strawberry pickin’ at Miller’s Farm in South Carolina.


freshly picked strawberries!

I’d never been strawberry picking, but the thought of dancing around the kitchen whipping up this pie spurred me along row by row, bush by bush. Along my journey, I realized that one could glean many a life lesson from the berry-picking process. Here are just a few:

Life Lessons from Strawberry Pickin’:

1. The best berries are in the middle of the bush. Sometimes the things in life that are worthwhile also require more effort. Sitting in the sunshine and playing in the sand is worth the hassle of loading the beach chairs into the car and slathering on sunscreen. Showing love to a friend is worth the time it takes to create a special dessert for them. Seeing your family is worth enduring an hours-long road trip and a few embarrassing childhood anecdotes. Go for what’s worthwhile, even if it’s hard.

2. There will be bugs. They’ll even, like, bite you and stuff. But the hard and annoying parts of your life are still parts of your life — not just times to get through, but times to experience! Every hardship is an opportunity to react with grace and integrity, and to grow as a person. And, in the case of bugs, to itch.

3. Don’t be afraid to get a little muddy. Life’s more relaxing when you stop trying to keep things perfect.

4. Pet the pig . . . You know, like “smell the roses,” except cuter. There were a few random animals at the farm that we decided to love on after our berry baskets were full: a porker aptly named Juicy, a goat, a duck, and a donkey. Don’t hurry past the fun parts of life.

5. . . . But watch out for the donkey, because he flippin’ bites, especially if you have strawberry juice on your fingers. This probably has no life application. But really, watch out for that beast.

6. Being “hot, sticky, sweet” is not all that Def Leppard made it out to be, but it does make you thankful for showers.

7. Be sure to wear some flowers in your hair. Everything’s more fun when you’re purposeful about enjoying yourself. Optimism and positivity come naturally for some people — and some of us have to make it happen.

8. Sweet experiences are best enjoyed with people you love. And even the not-so-sweet experiences can be helped along by great company. Like these crazies:


Charlotte bloggers Crosby, Diana, Katie, and Erin pick berries (not pictured: Vanessa, Taylor, and Julia)

9. The early picker gets the berry. Plan ahead and keep your life organized according to the systems that work best for you. We went picking when the strawberries were just past their peak, so others nabbed the better berries. Next time, we’ll be proactive!

10. Use your strawberries before they go all mushy. Don’t wait for great things to happen, and don’t let your talents and energy be wasted on sitting around, fearing failure. If you think an endeavor is worthwhile, give it your all and make it happen.

This life lesson can also be translated as: get in the kitchen this instant make a Strawberry Cream Pie!

Have you ever been strawberry picking? What’s your favorite use for delectable strawbs?

Strawberry Cream Pie


Recipe by: Pat Howard
Yields: about 10 servings

Crust Ingredients:
2 cups flour
1 teaspoons salt
3/8 cup cold shortening or lard
3/8 cup cold butter, chopped
3-4 tablespoons cold water

Cream Ingredients:
1/2 cup sugar
3 tablespoons cornstarch
3 tablespoons flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 cups milk
1 egg, slightly beaten
1/2 cup whipping cream
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Other Ingredients:
1/2 cup sliced almonds
1 1/2 cups fresh strawberries
1/2 cup water
1/4 cup sugar
2 teaspoons cornstarch
red food coloring (optional; I skipped this)
mint leaves or whole strawberries for garnish (optional)

Directions:
Note on timing: There are several components of this pie, but their preparation fits together nicely. You can make the crust dough and while it’s chilling, toast your almonds and set them out to cool. While the crust is baking and cooling, make and refrigerate the cream and slice your strawberries. Assemble these things once the crust is cool, and chill your almost-completed pie while you whip up the glaze. Chill the whole concoction for a few hours before slicing for best results.

Make the crust dough: 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 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 a disk, wrap in plastic, and refrigerate for 20-30 minutes.

Toast your almonds: While the crust dough is chilling, preheat your oven to 350 degrees F and spread your sliced almonds out on a baking sheet. Toast for about 4-6 minutes, using a spatula to gently flip and stir the almonds ever 2 minutes. They burn quickly, so keep a close watch on the nuts and remove them when they just start to get some color and are fragrant. Mine took about 5 minutes.

Finish making your crust: Preheat oven to 450 degrees F. Roll disk of dough out to around 2 inches larger than your (9-inch) pie plate and transfer it, situating it in the plate. Fold the excess dough around the edges and crimp, trimming where necessary. Cover the dough with parchment paper and fill with pie weights or dried beans, pressing to the edges. Bake for around 20 minutes. Remove weights and paper, egg wash crust, and bake 5-10 minutes more, until golden brown (you won’t be baking it again, so make sure it has good color — shielding edges with foil if they begin getting too dark). Let crust cool completely.

Make cream filling: While the crust bakes, prepare your cream filling. Prepare an ice water bath in a bowl big enough to accommodate your saucepan. Mix sugar, cornstarch, flour, and salt in a saucepan over medium-high heat. Stir in the milk and bring to a boil, stirring constantly. Reduce heat and cook until thickened, still stirring constantly. Spoon out about 1/4 cup of your hot mixture and gradually drizzle it into your beaten egg, whisking constantly. This will temper the egg so that when you add it back into the hot mixture, it won’t cook. Add the egg into the hot mixture, continuing to stir constantly. Bring this just to boiling.

Set the saucepan in the ice water bath and stir it periodically as it cools. Once cool enough, chill the mixture in the refrigerator. During this time, whip the cream and vanilla together to stiff peaks. Take the chilled mixture from the fridge and beat it to break it up. Stir in about 1/3 of the cream to lighten it, and then gently fold in the rest of the cream until well combined. Chill until ready to use.

Assemble the pie: Cover bottom of crust with toasted almonds, and then dollop in chilled cream mixture, spreading it smooth with an offset spatula or the back of a spoon. Slice about a cup of fresh strawberries and layer them in overlapping concentric circles on the top of your pie. Chill this while you make your glaze.

Make the glaze: Crush remaining 1/2 cup of strawberries and cook with water in a saucepan over medium-high heat for two minutes. Strain through a fine mesh sieve and discard the pulp. Add the juice back to the saucepan over medium-high heat and gradually stir in sugar and cornstarch. Cook until thickened. If you want, you can tint this glaze with food coloring to desired hue, but mine was plenty bright enough! Cool the glaze slightly (I transferred mine to a heat-proof measuring cup with a pour spout to cool for a bit) and then pour over top of strawberry slices on your pie. Garnish with big mint leaves, if you’d like, or whole strawberries. Chill entire pie for at least a few hours for best results; cut with a knife held under hot water and then dried.


life’s too short — eat strawberries!

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Rich Ice Cream and Coffee Cheesecake

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

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

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

What can I say? Coffee is gross.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rich Ice Cream and Coffee Cheesecake



Recipe by: Willow Bird Baking
Yields: 15 servings

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Birthday Cake Cheesecake

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Birthday Cake Cheesecake



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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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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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