Sunday, February 23, 2014

Pecan Pie Cheesecake

There are lots of dessert recipes in which the item is stuffed or filled.  The recipes that are more commonly seen are cookies and cupcakes.  However, it is not all that common to have a stuffed cheesecake.

Upon first reading the title of this recipe, I thought that it would be a complicated task. Surprisingly, it was very easy.  The other thing that crossed my mind is how would an already cooked item do being cooked a second time inside a cheesecake?  The only thing I noticed different in the pie inside the cheesecake rather than outside is that it became more compact, but the same flavor remained.

After tasting one slice of this cheesecake, I wished I had been the one to think of this delectable combination!  Velvety vanilla cheesecake with a center of sweet caramel and crunchy pecans...enough said- it does need a place at the top of your "to make" dessert list.

Pecan Pie Cheesecake
adapted from 2002 Southern Living Cookoff Winning Recipes

Ingredients/Candied Pecans
3 cups pecan halves
2/3 cup dark brown sugar (packed)
1/4 cup golden syrup or light corn syrup
6 tbs butter

One 8 or 9 inch pecan pie
1 cup sour cream
3- 8 oz packages of cream cheese
3 eggs
2 tsp vanilla extract
6 tbs butter (melted)
2 cups graham cracker crumbs
1 1/3 cups sugar
1 tsp cornstarch

For the candied pecans, preheat the oven to 350 degrees.  Cover a baking sheet with foil and place pecans in a single layer on top.  Toast pecans in oven for about 5-7 minutes. Remove baking sheet and transfer pecans to a heat proof bowl and set foiled baking sheet aside.

Reduce the oven temperature to 300 degrees. Then brush the foiled baking sheet surface with some melted butter. Add 6 tbs butter, sugar and syrup to a saucepan. Place saucepan over medium low heat.  Stir the mixture until sugar dissolves.  Increase the temperature to medium and let candy simmer for 2 minutes, stirring constantly. Remove from heat and mix in pecans till coated.  Pour mixture onto prepared baking sheet and spread evenly.  Bake for 5-7 minutes then transfer and spread out on wax paper to cool.

Start on the cheesecake by heating the oven to 350 degrees.  Fill a 9X13 inch pan with 3/4 cup of water. Also, take and chop up enough candied pecans to fill 1/2 cup and 1 tbs.  Place these items aside.

Wrap the bottom and sides of a 10 inch springform pan with foil.  For the graham crust, mix the graham cracker crumbs, melted butter and 1/3 cup of sugar together until blended.  Press the mixture evenly into the bottom and up 2 1/2 inches along the interior sides of pan.

In the bowl of a stand mixer, beat together the cream cheese, remaining 1 cup of sugar and vanilla extract on high speed for about 3 minutes or until completely smooth.  Add one egg and beat on low until blended.  Repeat process of beating in the rest of the eggs, one at a time.  Then blend in the sour cream and cornstarch.

Separate out 1 1/2 cups of cream cheese batter and stir in the chopped candied pecans.  Pour this batter into prepared crust.   Take the pecan pie and, if using an 8 inch pie, cut off the top border of the crust.  For a 9 inch pie trim 1/2 inch of the outer edge off.  Cut the pie into 6 pieces and invert each piece on top of the cheesecake batter, (crust side up) in the springform pan.  The pour the rest of the batter into the springform pan, covering the pie. 

Place the 9X13 pan of water on the bottom rack in the oven. Then put the cheesecake pan on the next rack up. Bake until the center of the cheesecake is set.  This should take about 70 minutes.   Once it is baked, turn off oven and leave oven door cracked open about 3-4 inches.  Let cheesecake rest in oven for an hour.

Remove cheesecake from oven and let cool.  Refrigerate overnight.  The next day, warm one cup of candied pecans in the microwave, just so the pecans are pliable and a little sticky.  Place candied pecan halves decoratively around the outer edge of the cheesecake.

Serve cheesecake slices with extra candied pecans. A scoop of whipped cream on top is also an option .

Tips and Notes:

1. To save time you can always purchase a pecan pie.  Usually the purchased ones flip out of their foil pans easily so there is no need to cut the slices to transfer, just flip into the center of the springform pan over the first layer of cream cheese batter.
2. Note that three cups of candied pecans is an abundance.  My pecans remained pliable in the candy coating at room temperature, so there was no need to microwave any to get them to stick to the top of the cheesecake.
3. The cheesecake did not crack, even though the 3/4 cup of water in the pan below evaporated at some time during the baking process.
                              **LAST YEAR: Chocolate Caramel Sandwich Cookies **

Sunday, February 16, 2014

Peach Brandy Pound Cake

Peaches may not be in season but with a little help from peach brandy, you can still have that flavor.  Mother nature does impact how good the fruit season is and after a slice of this, I have hopes that this summer has the tastiest, juiciest crop of peaches yet.

As you can see, I left this cake very plain.  No glaze and not even a side of whipped cream.  Like most good pound cakes, they are best served plain so you are sure to taste the true flavor of the cake.I think it is better served the second day, when the flavor has had time to develop more.

Since most of us may have indulged in some rich decadent desserts over Valentine's, a slice is a nice change of pace.  Also, this Bundt cake does seem to belong right next to a hot cup of tea in the afternoon.

Peach Brandy Pound Cake
adapted from Cakes, 1001 Classic Recipes

1 tsp lemon extract
1 tsp orange extract
1 tsp vanilla extract
2/3 cup peach yogurt (I used greek style with fruit on the bottom)
1/3 cup peach brandy
4 eggs
2 cups flour and more for dusting pan
2/3 cup butter and 2 tbs for pan preparation
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
2 cups sugar

Prepare a 9 inch Bundt pan by brushing the inside with 2 tbs of melted butter.  Then dust with flour, making sure all crevasses are completely covered.  Preheat oven to 325 degrees.

In a medium bowl, cream together butter and sugar until fluffy.  Then beat in the 3 different extracts.  Add one egg and beat for 30 seconds. Repeat the process with the other 3 eggs.  Set aside.

Sift together the flour, salt and baking soda.  Fold in 1/3 of this mixture into the butter/sugar batter.  Stir in the peach yogurt and fold in the next 1/3 of the dry mixture.  Add the peach brandy and mix until blended and fold in the last 1/3 of the dry, sifted ingredients.

Fill the prepared pan with the cake batter and smooth the top so it is even.  Bake until golden brown and tester comes out clean.  Baking time should be about 55-65 minutes.

Remove cake from oven and let rest in pan for 20 minutes.  Then invert onto rack to completely cool.  Once cooled, move cake to serving platter.  

                                         **LAST YEAR:Oatmeal Butterscotch Cookie Pie**

Sunday, February 9, 2014

Dutch Love Letter Cookies

With Valentine's coming up, I decided to take on a project.  Turning a tasty cookie recipe that is very basic in appearance to something more pleasing to the eye.  Granted these were not the easiest things to form and did take some practice batches, but I am happy with the end result.  If you are short on time, you can always just do these in logs or the "s" shape as the recipe instructs.

The cookies have a flaky, crunchy exterior with an almond paste filling.  The exterior is somewhat made like pastry dough, using water. Instead I used chocolate liqueur in its place.  However, there was no trace of this flavor in the cookie after baked.  Perhaps with something stronger like rum or bourbon, the flavor may remain.  I still want to experiment some more on these.  With regard to the the shaping of the dough, the filling does not ooze out when baking so cracks in the cookie dough is not a disaster.

The original recipe states to form these in large "S" shapes, brush with an egg wash and sprinkle with sugar.  As you can see, I dipped these in chocolate instead.  The recipe in its original state is below, but I encourage you experiment and add your own spin.  In making the large "S" shapes as per the recipe, it yields 16 cookies and takes about 2 1/2 hours to complete the process.

Dutch Love Letter Cookies
adapted from 100 Great Cookie Recipes/Ladies Home Journal

Ingredients/Cookie Crust
1 cup or 2 sticks cold butter, cubed
1 egg yolk
6-7 tbs ice water
3 cups flour
1/4 tsp salt

1/4 tsp grated lemon peel
8 oz can almond paste or 7 oz tube
1/3 cup sugar
1 egg

Ingredients/ Topping
1 egg white
2 tbs sugar

Sift together the flour and salt.  Then cut in butter with pastry blender or 2 knives until mixture is crumbly.  In a separate small bowl, whisk together 1 egg yolk and 2 tbs water. Drizzle mixture into the sifted ingredients and toss together with a large fork.  Add one tbs of water and toss together.  Repeat with additional tbs of water until the mixture comes together like pastry dough.

Separate dough into 4 equal sizes.  Place a square on lightly dusted wax paper and form into a 4 inch square.  Repeat with the other lumps of dough.  Peel wax paper off of squares and completely enclose in plastic wrap.  Refrigerate for 1 hour or overnight.

During chilling time, prepare the filling by beating together all 4 ingredients listed above.  Once it is blended into a fluffy mixture, scrape out of bowl with a spatula and transfer into a plastic zip lock bag.  Seal and chill for one hour or overnight.

After the chilling time, preheat the oven to 375 degrees and line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper.

Lay a 20 inch piece of wax paper on a flat surface and lightly dust with flour.  Remove one pastry square from the refrigerator.  Test the dough by kneading to make sure it is can be rolled out without breaking.   Once it becomes pliable, roll into a 9 1/2 inch square about 1/8 inch thick. 

Trim the edges until you have a straight edged, 9 inch square.  Cut into 4 strips, each measuring 2 1/4 by 9 inches.  Brush each strip with water.  Take filling out of refrigerator and cut off a small section of the corner of the bag.  Then pipe 1/2 inch strip lengthwise down the center of the dough, starting 1/2 below small top of strip and ending 1/2 above bottom of strip.  Roll up pastry strips lengthwise and crimp seam and ends.  Place seam side down on baking sheet in the shape of an "S".

Brush top with egg white and sprinkle with sugar.  Continue with the forming of the 3 remaining strips for this pastry dough and sugarcoat as instructed.  Repeat the rolling, forming and topping instructions for the remaining 3 squares of pastry dough in the refrigerator.

Cookies should bake for about 20 minutes.  The finished letters should have a slightly golden hue on the edges. Let cookies cool on pans for 2 minutes then transfer to a rack to finish cooling.
                                     **LAST YEAR: Lemon Limoncello Cupcakes**

Sunday, February 2, 2014

Cherry Mahlab Muffins

While cranberry and orange is a familiar flavor combination, there are few bakery items that combine cherries and oranges.  While the cherry and orange does make for a tasty muffin, there is a third subtle flavor in these- it is a spice called mahlab.

Mahlab is more commonly found in desserts in the Middle East and Mediterranean countries.  It is actually made up of a seed or pit from the Saint Lucie cherry.  The pit is actually dried and then ground to a fine powder.  Due to its short shelf life, it is best to purchase the seeds and grind them yourself.  Adding the ground spice to desserts imparts a cherry almond flavor to your baked goods.

I was pleased with the moist texture as well as the pop of flavor that the dried cherries added to the cake.  This recipe is a keeper in my book, but the recipe only makes 18 so you may want to consider doubling it if you have company over.

Cherry Mahlab Muffins 
adapted from Moufflet

1/2 cup buttermilk
1 cup orange juice
1 tsp vanilla extract
2 eggs
1/3 cup butter melted and cooled
1 cup dried cherries
2 tsp orange zest
1 cup sugar
2 cups flour
1 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp baking soda
1 tsp ground mahlab

Ingredients/Orange Glaze
2 tbs butter, melted and cooled
3 tbs orange juice
1 tbs orange zest
1 cup powdered sugar
1/2 tsp vanilla

Prepare muffin tins by filling 18 cavities with paper liners and greasing the top edge or spraying pan with non-stick spray.  Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Sift together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, mahlab and salt.  Take 1/4 cup from mixture and place in small bowl.  Add the orange zest to the 1/4 cup of the dry ingredients.  Whisk or use a fork to blend, making sure that the zest is evenly distributed.  Then pour this back into the larger bowl of the sifted ingredients and add the sugar.  Mix until all is combined and set aside.

Fill a small saucepan with the orange juice and dried cherries.  Place over medium heat, stir a few times and then let mixture come to a boil.  Remove from heat and cover with lid.  Let sit for about 30 minutes so flavors will meld and cherries will soften more.  Then drain the cherries, reserving the cherries in one bowl and liquid in another.

In a medium size bowl add the melted butter, vanilla extract and buttermilk.  Whisk until smooth. Then add each egg, one at a time, continuing to whisk.  Once blended, stir in the orange cherry liquid.

Go back to the bowl of sifted ingredients and form a well.  Then pour in the wet ingredients and fold the both together until just combined.  To keep from over mixing, the recipe states that this process should take about 10 strokes. Fold in the cherries in 3 strokes.

Scoop the batter into the muffin cavities, taking care that they all are filled evenly.  Place in oven and bake until they are golden brown and spring back when lightly touched.  This should take about 18-20 minutes.  Let muffins cool in pans for 3 minutes and then transfer to a rack to completely cool.

To make the glaze, blend the melted butter with 1 tbs of the orange juice.  Sift the powdered sugar into the mixture and stir.  The glaze should be the consistency of corn syrup, so continue to stir in the additional orange juice until the right consistency is achieved.  Then stir in the vanilla and orange zest.  The glaze can be drizzled on the tops of the muffins or the muffin tops can be dipped into the glaze. The muffins will need to rest for 1 hour before serving in order for the glaze to set.
                                  **2 years ago: Coconut Macaroon Brownies**