Monday, April 29, 2013

Mocha Peanut Butter Cup Cheesecake

My little sister Anna was only 10 when I moved away from home, and I'm pretty sure I've been away for all of her birthdays since then.  I insisted on being the one to make her a cake for her 24th birthday.  After deliberating for awhile, she decided that she wanted a cheesecake with mocha and peanut butter.

Well, that sounded interesting.

I searched around and didn't really find much that included both of those flavors - it's a bit of an unusual combination, I suppose.  I ended up altering the Layered Mocha Cheesecake that I've already made and adding some homemade chocolate peanut butter and lots of chopped peanut butter cups in the middle.  I was going to drizzle the extra chocolate peanut butter on top.....and thought it needed a tiny bit of extra sugar. Foolishly, I added granulated sugar instead of powdered sugar, and despite heating it repeatedly, I never got the graininess to disappear.  Oh well, that meant I got to add ganache on top instead.
You can bet I wasn't crying about that.

The cheesecake was a huge hit - the mocha flavor isn't super strong and it is really complemented by the peanut butter and chocolate.  Anna loved it, and that was the most important thing.

Oh, and using Nutter Butter cookies for the crust? Awesome.  Man, I could just eat an entire package of Nutter Butters in one sitting if left unsupervised.  But you could certainly use graham crackers or even Oreos for the crust if you wanted.

Mocha Peanut Butter Cup Cheesecake

16 Nutter Butter cookies
4 T. butter

Chocolate Peanut Butter: (or you could use purchased chocolate peanut butter)
3/4 cup creamy peanut butter
2 Tbsp. cocoa powder
3 Tbsp. powdered sugar
1/2 tsp. vanilla extract

14-16 miniature peanut butter cups cut into quarters
3/4 cup chocolate chips, melted and cooled
2-1/2 Tbsp. instant coffee granules
1 Tbsp. boiling water
1/4 tsp. ground cinnamon
4 packages cream cheese, softened
1-1/2 cups sugar
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
4 eggs, lightly beaten
2 tsp. vanilla extract

4 oz. good quality semi-sweet chocolate
1/2 cup heavy cream
Chopped mini Reeses cups for garnish

Preheat oven to 325°.

Place Nutter Butter cookies in a blender or food processor and grind into crumbs. 

Combine cookie crumbs and butter; press onto the bottom of a  9-in. springform pan.

To make chocolate peanut butter, In a medium bowl, combine peanut butter, cocoa powder, powdered sugar, and vanilla.  Stir well.  Spread 1/2 cup over the prepared crust.  Reserve remaining chocolate peanut butter to drizzle over the top of cheesecake (if not using ganache) or for another use.

Sprinkle 14-16 chopped miniature Reese's cups over the chocolate peanut butter.

To make the filling, in a small bowl, combine the coffee granules, water and cinnamon; set aside.
In another small bowl, melt the 3/4 cup chocolate chips in the microwave and stir until smooth; set aside.

In a large mixing bowl, beat the cream cheese, sugar and flour until smooth. Add eggs; beat on low speed just until combined. Stir in vanilla. Divide batter in half. Stir melted chocolate into one portion; pour over crust. Stir coffee mixture into the remaining batter; spoon over chocolate layer.

Place pan on a baking sheet (to catch spills). Bake for 45-55 minutes or until center is just set and top appears dull. Cool on a wire rack for 10 minutes. Carefully run a knife around edge of pan to loosen; cool 1 hour longer. Refrigerate overnight.

To make the topping, chop the chocolate finely and place in a small bowl.  Heat the cream to a simmer (not a boil) and pour over the chocolate.  Allow to sit for a minute, then stir until smooth.  Pour over the chilled cheesecake.  Garnish with more chopped peanut butter cups if desired. Refrigerate until set.  

Sources: Chocolate peanut butter adapted from Judy's Kitchen, Layered Mocha Cheesecake adapted from Taste of Home, This Cheesecake altogether - Rebekah's Original

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Dark Chocolate Salted Caramel Layer Cake

I had a birthday last Friday......and I am now officially 35.  That's still young, right?   Right???

Grant surprised me with a bouquet of pink roses on the Monday before my to enjoy for the whole birthday week.  They were so beautiful and I just loved seeing them brighten our dining table.

On my actual birthday, he got goodies from Panera Bread for the family to share and he and Corban made scrambled eggs to accompany them.  Then Corban made me a birthday crown and the kids insisted that I dress up like a I went all out and donned the bridesmaid dress I wore in my sister Sarah's wedding (11.5 years ago), high heels, and bright lipstick....oh, and I can't forget the fancy jewelry.....
the children were so delighted!  I have to admit, it was really fun to be a queen for a morning.

This was the first birthday I've gotten to celebrate with my family (parents and some siblings) since we moved to Virginia 9 years ago.  Although my mom and sister offered to make my cake, I insisted on doing it myself.  It's all part of the fun.....deliberating for at least a month ahead of time on what to bake.....and then actually doing it.  

So salted caramel is all the rage right can find it everywhere.  And for good reason - it's fabulous.
Let me just tell you something.
Anyone who tells you that making homemade caramel sauce is "easy" is either incredibly lucky, incredibly talented, or just wants to make you feel like an idiot.
I am a pretty decent baker - and I have failed at caramel sauce five times over the past year.  And each time, I convinced myself for at least a few days that I would never attempt it again.  But of course, I just had to try "one more time".
Cooking sugar is a finicky business.  Cook it too fast, you get crystallization.  Hard lumps. Giant mess, not fixable. Cook it too long, just seconds too long....and it's burnt.  Not fixable.  I've done both.  Ick.

I found that following Mel's instructions were very helpful.....although the first time with this caramel sauce, I failed miserably again.  I might have shed a tear.  But I decided to give it one more shot.....lo and behold, when I cooked the sugar at a lower temperature in the first stage, it worked out so much better.  The sauce was perfection. I almost hated to make buttercream with it because it was so darn good by itself.
But I didn't regret it.

The original recipe called for a Swiss meringue buttercream, which I'm sure would have been delicious, but I went with a traditional buttercream because it doesn't take as long and I thought the caramel flavor would be more prominent.  It turned out even better than I imagined.  I just wanted to eat it by the spoonful.

But the chocolate frosting is also is so silky and smooth, rich and having a truffle melt in your mouth.  I can't even tell you how amazing this frosting is.  Paired with my favorite chocolate cake and the caramel buttercream - it was a match made in heaven.

I could seriously eat this cake every day and not get tired of it.

Oh, so the cake is humongous.  I made 1-1/2 times the original recipe of cake (change is reflected in my recipe) so it would be 3 layers instead of 2.  You could easily just make a 2 layer cake and fill and frost it with the caramel buttercream and leave off the chocolate frosting altogether, and it would be a great cake.  Or you could just decrease the amount of frosting and filling if you wanted a smaller cake. Personally, I don't mind having extra frosting around the house.   You can always find something to do with it.

Dark Chocolate Salted Caramel Layer Cake

3 cups sugar
2-1/2 cups + 2 Tbsp. all-purpose flour 
1 cup + 2 Tbsp. cocoa powder (I use Hershey's Special Dark)
2-1/4 tsp. baking powder
2-1/4 tsp. baking soda
1-1/2 tsp. salt
3 eggs
1-1/2 cups milk
3/4 cup oil (I use expeller-pressed coconut oil)
1-1/2 cups boiling water
2 tsp. instant coffee granules (optional)

1/4 cup water
1 cup sugar
4 Tbsp. butter, cut into pieces
1/2 cup heavy cream
1 tsp. sea salt
1 tsp. vanilla

1-1/2 sticks butter, room temperature
5-6 cups powdered sugar

12 oz. semisweet or bittersweet chocolate, finely chopped (I used 8 oz. Bakers semisweet, 4 oz. Ghiradelli bittersweet)
1/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1/4 cup very hot water
1 cup plus 2 Tbsp. unsalted butter, at room temperature
2/3 cup powdered sugar
pinch of salt

Fleur de sel, for garnish (optional)

To make the cake: 
Preheat oven to 350°F.
Grease and flour three 9" round cake pans and set aside.
In the bowl of an electric mixer, combine sugar, flour, cocoa powder (sifted), baking powder, baking soda, and salt.
Add eggs, milk, and oil and stir on medium speed for 2 minutes.
Add coffee granules to boiling water if desired (it enhances the flavor of the chocolate but isn't necessary) and pour slowing into the batter, mixing on low speed.  Batter will be very thin.
Distribute evenly between the three cake pans and bake for 25-30 minutes, until a toothpick comes out clean.  Cool in pan for 10 minutes then turn out onto wire racks to cool completely.

To make the filling:
In a heavy saucepan, slowly combine the sugar and water, taking care to not let any of the mixture splash up onto the sides of pan.  Set the pan over low heat and stir the mixture gently until the sugar is dissolved, about 10 minutes.  Don't stir vigorously or the syrup will splash onto the sides of the pan and cause crystallization later, which is very bad.  Make sure the sugar is completely dissolved before letting the mixture come to a boil.
Once the sugar is dissolved, increase the heat to medium-high and bring the syrup to a boil.  Cover the saucepan and let the syrup boil for 2 minutes.  Uncover, reduce the heat to medium, and continue to boil, without stirring, until the edges turn golden brown.  Then carefully and gently swirl the pan until the syrup turns a dark amber color.  Do not scrape the sides of the pan.
Remove from the heat and add the butter.  Gently stir until the butter is melted. Stir in the cream.  Mixture will foam up, so be careful.  If the sauce becomes lumpy and isn't whisking together, set the pan over the still-warm burner and stir until smooth.  Stir in the vanilla and salt.  Strain through a fine-mesh strainer to remove any lumps if necessary.
Pour into a bowl and cool to room temperature.  Use the fridge or freezer to help you out if you're in a hurry, like I was.

Once it's room temperature, place 1-1/2 sticks of butter in the bowl of an electric mixer.  Beat until light and fluffy, about 2 minutes.  Add caramel sauce and slowly add powdered sugar, beating until the frosting is desired consistency.

To make the frosting:
Place the chopped chocolate in a heatproof bowl set over a pan of simmering water.  Heat, stirring occasionally, until the chocolate is completely melted and smooth.  Set aside and let cool to room temperature.  In a small bowl, combine the cocoa powder and water and stir until smooth.  In the bowl of an electric mixer, combine the butter, powdered sugar, and salt.  Beat on medium-high speed until light and fluffy, about 5 minutes. With the mixer on low speed, gradually blend in the melted and cooled chocolate until well incorporated.  Blend in the cocoa powder-water mixture until smooth.

To assemble the cake:
Level the cake layers if necessary.  Place one of the cake layers on a cake board or serving platter.  Top with a little more than 1/3 of the caramel buttercream and smooth in a thick, even layer.  Place a second cake layer on top and smooth an equal amount of buttercream on it.  Place the final cake layer on top.  Cover the top and sides of the cake with the chocolate frosting and smooth with an offset spatula.  If desired, use additional caramel buttercream to pipe decorative accents on the cake.  Before serving, sprinkle with fleur de sel, if desired.

Sources: Cake adapted from Hershey's, inspiration and frosting from Annie's Eats, Caramel Sauce from Mel's Kitchen Cafe

Monday, April 15, 2013

No-Knead Dinner Rolls - SRC

I am not capable of a low-carb diet.  
There, I said it.

I can avoid processed foods with no problem, but you'd better believe I am more than happy to make and bake from-scratch carbohydrate delights.  And I don't think they're the enemy.  I just think all things should be eaten in moderation.

These dinner rolls were so yummy, my family found it hard to eat them in moderation. I made them for Resurrection Sunday dinner, for which we had 5 adult family members joining us.  I only made a half batch (24) because I thought that would be plenty, with all the other food we were consuming.  Although we did have 3 left over, I think if I had made all 48 rolls, lots more would have been eaten.  And there were great disputes over who got to eat those 3 rolls the next day.

I enjoyed perusing Betcha Can't Eat Just One  as my assigned blog for the Secret Recipe Club this month.  Katie  has some incredible baked goods and seriously MAD cake decorating skills.  I was so tempted by her Neopolitan Whoopie Pies and  I am totally making these Peanut Butter Cups as soon as I can come up with an excuse for them.

But in the end, these dinner rolls made the cut for being my highlighted recipe from her blog.  I am so glad I made them!  I've been wanting to make my own crescent rolls for ages and for whatever reason, never got around to it.  The fact that these require no kneading and no electric mixer was a huge draw - I don't mind kneading or anything, but just that extra time and effort can be a deterrent in making my own bread sometimes.  I did cut down a little on the butter in the dough, and used half white whole wheat flour, although you can certainly use only all-purpose if you prefer.

The rolls are tender and just faintly sweet.  I'll try making them with honey also.....I love bread with honey.
They're a perfect accompaniment to just about any entree and I'm sure a basket of them would disappear in no time.

My kids are begging me to make these rolls again soon.....and I'm looking forward to it!

No-Knead Dinner Rolls
adapted slightly from Betcha Can't Eat Just One
Makes 48 rolls - can be easily cut in half for 24 rolls (still use 1 egg)

1-1/2 cups milk
5 Tbs. butter
1/3 cup sugar + 1 Tbsp.
2 cups warm water
2 Tbsp. yeast
1 Tbsp. salt
1 egg
9-10 cups flour (I used half all-purpose, half white whole wheat)
1/4 - 1/2 cup butter (I went on the lighter side here, but I'm sure the whole amount would be delicious!)

Start by scalding the milk with 5 Tbsp. butter and 1/3 cup sugar. You can do this for 2 minutes in the microwave or use a pot on the stove.  Cut the butter into pieces for easier melting, but don't worry if it doesn't melt completely.

Stir 1-2 cups of flour into the hot milk mixture to cool it down a bit.  Once you know it's not really hot, stir in the egg and salt.  KEEP track of how much flour you're adding!!!

In a large bowl, combine the warm water with the yeast and remaining Tbsp. sugar.  Add the milk mixture to the yeast mixture and stir it all together with a wooden spoon.  Add the remaining flour and mix until all the flour has been moistened. The dough will be fairly sticky.

Cover with a moist dish towel or greased plastic wrap and set in a warm place (I prefer my oven with the light on) to rise for 1 hour or until doubled.

Line two sheet pans with parchment paper or grease them very well.

Gently deflate the dough and remove from the bowl onto a lightly floured work area.  Divide into 4 equal sections.

Roll each section into a circle, about the size of a large dinner plate. Smear each circle of dough with softened butter - I used about 1 Tbsp. but you can use more if you want.

Using a bench scraper or a pizza cutter, divide the dough into 4 wedges.  Cut each wedge into 3 sections.

Roll up each section from the wide edge of the triangle.  Place fairly close together on the baking sheet with the tail of the triangle on tucked under the bottom. Place 24 rolls on each pan.

Let rise for 1 hour or until doubled in size.  Preheat oven to 350°F. Bake rolls for 15-20 minutes or until  golden brown.

Once removed from oven, run a stick of butter over the tops of the rolls for a delicious buttery glaze!

Friday, April 5, 2013

Carrot Cake

There's nothing like grating a pound of carrots by hand to make you wish you had a food processor. 
I can't believe that with all the baking and cooking I do, I still don't have one.
Thankfully, my birthday is coming up and I just might be getting one.  Any recommendations on brand and size?

Well, even with all the time and effort those carrots took, this cake was totally worth it.

I love carrot cake....I really do.  Although I am always drawn to chocolate first, whether in a restaurant or at home, when I take that first bite of carrot cake, I'm hooked.

Quick side story: When Grant and I were on our honeymoon (nearly 12 years ago) in Montana, Grant ordered  Huckleberry Carrot Cake at a Mexican restaurant...(you can pretty much get huckleberry anything in Montana...yum!) and it was so amazing.  I wish I could re-create that.  

I know there are some definite preferences when it comes to carrot cake - whether or not to add pineapple, raisins, nuts, and coconut.  Some recipes use jarred carrot baby food, some cook the carrots and puree them, and most just use grated carrots like this one.
I'm not going to say that this is the BEST carrot cake, because that is completely subjective and I haven't tasted all there is out there, but I will say that this is pretty wonderful.  Even Grant enjoyed it tremendously, and he is rarely crazy about desserts without chocolate.

I took a recipe from Mel's Kitchen Cafe, which I'm sure is marvelous exactly as written, and changed it up a bit to make it slightly healthier and added some pineapple and coconut.  I substituted 1/2 cup of applesauce for 1/2 cup of the oil, which lightened up the calorie count a little but still left the cake moist and delicious.  Oh, I also upped the powdered sugar called for in the frosting because my frosting was just too runny - maybe my butter and cream cheese were too soft.  Even with an extra cup of powdered sugar, the frosting was still soft and was certainly not too sweet, so I think it worked out fine.  My changes are reflected in the recipe.  

I added some chopped toasted walnuts (was out of pecans) to the top of half of the cake for my extended family - my own kiddos and Grant don't like nuts on baked goods.

The cake brought rave reviews by everyone who graced our table on Resurrection Sunday - my parents, sister Anna, brother Joseph, and his girlfriend Ginny.....not to mention my own crew.

I can't wait to make it again....once I have my food processor!

Carrot Cake
(adapted slightly from Mel's Kitchen Cafe)

2-1/2 cups unbleached all purpose flour
1-1/4 tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. baking soda
1-1/4 tsp. ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp. ground nutmeg
1/8 tsp. ground cloves
1/2 tsp. salt
1 lb. carrots, peeled and grated (should be about 3 cups)
1-1/2 cups granulated sugar
1/2 cup packed dark brown sugar
4 large eggs
1 cup oil (I used expeller-pressed coconut oil)
1/2 cup applesauce
1 (8 oz) can crushed pineapple, drained
1 cup shredded  coconut (I used sweetened)

2 (8 oz) blocks cream cheese, room temperature
10 Tbsp (1 stick plus 2 Tbsp) butter, room temperature
2 Tbsp. sour cream, light or regular
1 tsp. vanilla extract
3-1/4 cups powdered sugar
Chopped toasted walnuts or pecans for garnish, optional

Preheat the oven to 350° F.  Grease and flour two 9-inch round pans.

Whisk together flour, baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves, and salt in a large bowl.  Set aside.  Shred carrots in a food processor or by hand.

In the bowl of a standing mixer fitted with a paddle attachment (or in a large bowl and using a hand-held mixer), beat granulated and brown sugars and eggs on medium-high until thoroughly combined, about 45 seconds.  Reduce speed to medium; with the mixer running, add oil in a slow steady stream, being careful to pour oil against inside of bowl.  Increase speed to high and mix until mixture is light in color and well emulsified, about 45 seconds to a minute longer.  Turn off mixer and stir in carrots, pineapple, coconut, and dry ingredients by hand until incorporated and no streaks of flour remain.

Pour into prepared pans and bake for about 32 minutes, or until a toothpick comes out clean.

Let cakes cool for about 10 minutes in the pan and then invert them onto a cooling rack to cool completely.
(At this point, once the cakes are cooled, they can be wrapped in plastic wrap and put in a ziploc bag and placed in the freezer for up to 2 months.  Thaw at room temperature before frosting.)

When the cake is cool, mix cream cheese, butter, sour cream and vanilla at medium high speed in the bowl of an electric mixer until well combined.  Add powdered sugar and mix until very fluffy, about 1 minute.

I decided to torte the layers, just for do so, carefully cut each cake layer in half using a large serrated knife.  It's totally not necessary, I just like the look of extra layers.

Frost and eat!

I stored the cake in the refrigerator but allowed it to come to room temperature before serving.

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