Tag Archives: ice cream

One-Skillet Gooey Pumpkin Cookie Cake

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A slice of the final cake.

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

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

One-Skillet Gooey Pumpkin Cookie Cake

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Recipe before and after tweaking to warm, gooey perfection.

Need a closer look at the final product?

Gooey, caramelly, streuselly, pumpkiny, amazing.

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Filed under cakes, cookies

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

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)

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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Ice Cream Cupcakes

My sister Sarah is a Tetris addict. Something about spinning those awkwardly shaped blocks around and packing them together must release happy chemicals in her brain. It’s serious: she played Tetris in her wedding gown right before walking down the aisle, and she thinks this guy is totally hot.

I really can’t talk. I play real-life Tetris. All my errands have to be planned to ensure maximum efficiency: no driving out of my way or backtracking. My groceries are arranged on the checkout belt so that they fit together nicely. Periodically I’ll rearrange my fridge so that all the food is organized by shape (flat items on bottom, tall items shoved together in the back, and materials to make a quick dinner wrap all stacked together neatly for easy grabbing). But the fridge is nothing compared to the freezer.

Pistachio Ice Cream Cupcakes

My roommate and I are world champions at Freezer Tetris. We both overshop, and every now and then one of us will come home with a month’s worth of foodstuffs to shove into our already-full freezer (cue the excuses: “It was on sale! It’s cheaper when you buy in bulk!”). Let the games begin! We set to work emptying, rearranging, tossing, organizing, repackaging, and creatively stuffing until every last green pea has its own chilly little space in the freezer. There ought to be an international competition we can enter or something — why let all this talent go to waste?

I don’t know about other bakers, but the bulk of my freezer space is consumed by dessert scraps: leftover cake, extra frosting, the last piece of blueberry pie, curds, berries, ice creams, doughs. For someone who only eats dessert on the weekend, I have a lot of fixins! Well, my Freezer Tetris has served me well. This week I went out and bought some of my favorite ice cream flavors, grabbed out some of my scraps, and created Ice Cream Cupcakes. If you have sweet bits and pieces lying around your freezer, this is just the leftover makeover you need!

The Coffee Cupcake decided it was too sophisticated to be photographed with the others. Love that beautiful stamped mug as much as I do? It’s made by local artist Julie Payne. She also makes lovely clay pendants.

This post is actually more of a method than a recipe (as such, you’ll find detailed process photos below). You can use any ice creams, cakes, brownies, cookies, or creative add-ins that suit your fancy. The overall idea is to create a personal ice cream cupcake with three layers (two cake layers sandwiching a thick slab of ice cream), freezing the layers as you build. The whole thing is topped with icing and decorated before being stuck back in the freezer.

Clockwise from top: Cake Batter Ice Cream Cupcake, Cherry Garcia FroYo Cupcake, and Pistachio Ice Cream Cupcake.

Personally, I had some leftover chocolate sheet cake (the best cake in the world, and so easy!) and cream cheese frosting. I made four variations: Cake Batter Ice Cream Cupcakes (with and without toffee pieces added), Pistachio Ice Cream Cupcakes, Cherry Garcia FroYo Cupcakes, and Coffee Ice Cream Cupcakes (with and without Ferrero Rocher or toffee pieces added).

The ice cream line-up.

I can’t decide which was my favorite! The deep coffee flavor complemented the chocolate cake and Ferrero Rocher perfectly, creating a rich, indulgent cupcake. The cake batter cupcake tasted just like a big ice cream birthday cake. I think if forced to choose, though . . . I might have to go with the pistachio! Something about the sweet, otherworldly flavor of pistachio ice cream with toasted pistachios and chocolate cake just bowled me over. Speaking of bowls, that’s how we ate these: in a bowl with a spoon. No sticky fingers!

Shall we call this a Café au Lait Cupcake?

Grab a couple of pints of ice cream, some leftovers, and go wild! You could even whip up a small cake or some brownies just for the purpose of tearing it up and making some ice cream cupcakes! I won’t tell. What ice cream flavor would you pick for your cupcakes?

Ice Cream Cupcakes

Recipe by: Willow Bird Baking
Yields: Varies depending on amounts of ingredients

Cake or brownie scraps, crumbled (I used Chocolate Sheet Cake)
Ice cream of your choice, softened slightly
Frosting of your choice (I used this delicious cream cheese frosting)
Add-ins (chocolate, peanut butter, cinnamon, or butterscotch chips; toffee; candy; nuts; frozen berries etc.)

muffin tin
plastic wrap
a glass with a bottom that fits into muffin wells
wax paper

Directions (also see process photos below):
1. Clean out some space in your freezer. You’ll need room for the muffin tins in addition to the container you’ll eventually store your cupcakes in. You don’t want to have to clear out space in the middle of the process while your cupcakes melt on the counter! Don’t ask me how I know this.

2. Line your muffin tins with plastic wrap, leaving an overhang. I did this by cutting a long sheet of plastic wrap in half lengthwise. I then used each long, thin strip to line one column of wells on my muffin tin — using 3 strips total.

3. Form the base cake layer: Place a heaping scoop of cake or brownie into each well. Lay a small square of wax paper over the wells one at a time, pressing on the cake with the bottom of the glass to flatten and pack it. Carefully peel wax paper away and continue until all wells have a base cake layer. You also might be able to put wax paper over all of the wells, press down with the bottom of another muffin pan, and pack cake into all the wells at once — but I didn’t try this.

4. Form the ice cream layer: Scoop a heaping spoonful of ice cream over the packed cake and level it with the back of a spoon. Sprinkle any add-ins over the ice cream layer. Try to leave some room at the top of the well for another cake layer!

5. Cover muffin tin with plastic wrap and freeze for a few hours.

6. Form final cake layer: Working quickly, scoop a final spoonful of cake over each well. Lay a small square of wax paper over the wells one at a time, pressing on the cake with the bottom of the glass to flatten and pack it. Carefully peel wax paper away and use a table knife to scrape away any uneven edges. Continue until all cupcakes have a top cake layer.

7. Cover muffin tin with plastic wrap and freeze for about an hour.

8. Frosting and decorating: Do this step in batches if possible! Things can get melty and messy if your cupcakes sit out too long waiting to be decorated. Don’t ask me how I know this. Pull 4 cupcakes out of your tin at a time using the plastic wrap overhang, keeping the rest of the cupcakes in the freezer. Place cupcakes carefully into cupcake papers if desired, or directly into storage container. Frost with a big star tip and decorate with sprinkles, nuts, or frozen berries as desired. Place finished cupcakes into your storage container and then into then freezer while you move on to the next batch. Keep cupcakes frozen until you’re ready to enjoy them (no need to soften before eating)!

Step 2: Cut long strips of plastic wrap to line columns of wells in your muffin tin.

Step 3: Spoon cake into the well, cover with a square of wax paper, and use the base of a glass to pack and flatten.

Step 4: This is a good time to add Ferrero Rocher halves! Add ice cream layer and freeze for a few hours.

Step 6 and final cupcakes! Pack another layer of cake on, cover and freeze, and then decorate!

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Filed under cupcakes