Saturday, January 30, 2016

Cake of the Week: Pink Velvet Raspberry Cheesecake

You may have heard we had a bit of a snowstorm here on the East Coast last weekend. I worked from home on Friday, fitting in a mid-day tempo run just as the first flakes began to fall. By Friday night it was a blizzard, and by Saturday morning the outside world was a blur of of whitish gray with earth, trees, houses, and cars barely differentiated from the sky.

Sunday was all clear and blindingly sun-shiny, but my usually mobile urban life was severely and snowfully restricted. There was literally no public transportation open all weekend and just walking (or more accurately, trekking/plodding/swimming through feet of heavy powder) a couple blocks constituted an epic journey.

But journey I did! After two days of barely leaving the house I needed to get outside. And like the crazy person I am, I needed to run. So I tramped to a gym, paid a drop-in fee, and found myself treadmill'ing next to SpeedyKate for fourteen miles .

Strategic distractions aside (X-Games viewing, episode 3 of Serial, and many many songs on Pandora's No Diggity station), spending fourteen miles on a treadmill gives one a lot of time to think. So I thought about cheesecake. And then I journeyed home and made it happen.

I have concocted many a cheesecake in my day, but this might be the best one yet. It is super light and creamy, much more mousse-like than the New York style heavy cheesy cheesecake. The buttermilk, vinegar, and hint of raspberries makes it delightfully tangy but the Oreo crust is there to remind you that this is definitely a decadent dessert.

To be honest, the whole raspberry part wasn't planned, but rather a reaction to the fact that I never have red food coloring. And I'm so glad that was the case! There is still some food coloring in this cake (I mixed some pink and magenta and yellow and brown like the mad scientist/artist that I am), but the raspberries add such a nice hint of flavor! And the cake really is beautiful, no?

Pink Velvet Raspberry Cheesecake

  • Crust 
    • 2 cups Oreo crumbs (about 20 normal Oreos)
    • 4 tbsp butter, melted
  • Cheesecake filling
    • 24 oz cream cheese, room temperature (three 8 oz packages)
    • 1 cup sugar
    • 3 tablespoons cocoa
    • 4 eggs, room temperature
    • 1 cup sour cream
    • 1/4 cup buttermilk
    • 2 tsp vinegar
    • 1 tsp vanilla extract
    • 1/3 cup raspberries (either fresh or frozen and thawed), blended in a food processor to smooth out the seeds
    • Pink or red food coloring (optional)
  • Whipped Cream
    • 1 cup heavy whipping cream
    • 1/4 cup powdered sugar
    • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla
  1. Crust: Preheat oven to 325 degrees.
  2. In a food processor combine Oreos and butter until it looks like sand.
  3. Press mixture into the bottom and up the sides of a 9-inch springform pan.
  4. Bake crust for 10 minutes.
  5. Cheesecake filling: Reduce oven to 300 degrees.
  6. In a large bowl, use an electric mixer to combine the cream cheese, sugar, and cocoa with an electric mixer until smooth, scraping down the sides of the bowl
  7. Add eggs one at a time, beating after each addition.
  8. In a food processor or blender, puree the raspberries and buttermilk until smooth.
  9. Add the sour cream, buttermilk/raspberries, vinegar, vanilla extract, and food color (if using) to the main bowl. Beat until well combined.
  10. Pour the filling into the crust.
  11. Fill a pan (like a 8x8 or something like that, the size doesn't really matter) with water and place it on a lower rack in the oven.
  12. Put the cheesecake in the oven on a middle rack.
  13. Bake for 2 hours. To see if it's done, gently shake the cake -- if the center looks liquidy then keep baking.
  14. Turn off heat and leave cheesecake in oven with the door closed for 30 minutes.
  15. Crack open the oven door and leave the cheesecake in there for another 20 minutes.
  16. Remove the cheesecake from the oven and cool on a wire rack (in the fridge if you're in a hurry, or overnight -- cheesecake is actually best made one day in advance). The cheesecake should be completely cooled before the whipped cream part. 
  17. Whipped Cream: With a mixer on high, whip the cream until soft peaks form. Mix in the powdered sugar and vanilla until it's thick, then smooth on the top of the cake. 
  18. To serve, run a knife under warm water before slicing.
  19. YUM.

Saturday, January 23, 2016

Candied Bacon Chocolate Chip Cookies

I can't say I'm much of a football fan (shocking I know from a girl who blogs about books and baked goods). I'm not anti-football, I'm just indifferent as to who throws a thing or kicks a thing or wins or loses or runs where on the field over an insanely stop-and-start 5-hour televised experience.

Football related snacks, however, are a completely different story! I will cheer for whomever's team of choice if there are ample snacks provided. And I'm happy to do some snack providing of my own.

Recently my roommates and I hosted a huge pre-football brunch. Chilaquiles, pancakes, eggs, cinnamon rolls, and bacon. So. Much. Bacon. As the crew settled into couches and chairs in a food-coma football daze, Steph and I decided that the time was finally right for a much-anticipated bacon chocolate chip cookie experience.

The bacon is candied!!!

But how much bacon is enough? How much is too much? Like the (mad) scientist we are, we decided to conduct some A-B testing.

The base recipe is compliments of Steph's recipe box (have I mentioned that I now live with another avid baker!?). We made half the recipe as "Medium Bacon" cookies -- meaning that they included ample candied bacon. The other half -- "Very Bacon" -- we took things to a whole other level and used bacon grease instead of butter (I KNOW), in addition to the candied bacon pieces.

We thought there would be a clear winner, but results were shockingly mixed! "They're chewy and crispy at the same time!" shouted one friend. "So much bacon," sighed another. "Just so much bacon."

I preferred the Very Bacon version, while there were others who preferred the Medium Bacon. We concluded that if you're going to eat multiple cookies at once then the Medium Bacon were the better choice, while the Very Bacon were more intense and thus more of a one-off eating experience.

I'll leave the recipe choice up to you. Either way, these are an excellent contribution to any party, football or otherwise.

Candied Bacon Chocolate Chip Cookies

  • 1 package (12 oz) bacon
  • 1/4 cup maple syrup
  • 1/4 cup brown sugar
  • 1 2/3 cups whole or rolled oats (not quick-cooking)
  • 1 1/2 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 3/4 teaspoon baking powder
  • 2 cups (1 bag) chocolate chips
  • 3/4 cup butter (OR 3/4 cup solid cooled bacon grease -- note that we had bacon grease reserved from our morning bacon experience)
  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • 3/4 cup brown sugar
  • 1 egg
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla
  1. To candy the bacon: Lay bacon strips on a baking sheet with raised edges (so the grease doesn't ruin the inside of your oven). Mix maple syrup and brown sugar and brush over bacon. Bake at 350 degrees until crispy (20-ish minutes). Once bacon is cooled, use your hands to break them into little pieces. 
  2. To powder the oats: Pulse the oats in a blender until coarsely ground.
  3. To make the cookies: Mix sugars and butter (or bacon grease). 
  4. Mix in egg and vanilla.
  5. Mix in dry ingredients (dough will be very crumbly, you may need to use your hands).
  6. Mix in bacon pieces and chocolate chips. 
  7. Using your hands, form dough into 2-tablespoon sized balls and place on a baking sheet.
  8. Bake at 375 degrees for 8-10 minutes. 
  9. Cool and enjoy!

Friday, January 1, 2016

Homemade Marshmallows

Making marshmallows is like making magic. Watch the silky soft semi-translucent peaks of egg whites transform into thick and shiny white swirls of marshmallow before your eyes. Create a substantial and yet pillowy light something, then slowly but surely watch it dissolves into nothing when plopped into a mug of hot chocolate. Sounds like sorcery or legerdemain, but really it's simple science and love. 

When most people think about marshmallows, they think toasted s'mores around a campfire, they think a handful of those mini dry things in their hot chocolate, they think Lucky Charms cereal or Easter Peeps or some other kid's candy. And don't me wrong, those are all great things. But what if we thought about marshmallows as something a little more sophisticated? A homemade confection, coming in limitless flavors, to be eaten alone as a bonbon or luxuriously melting into a mug of hot chocolate or coffee. A gift for friends, a treat worth bringing to a party. That is the kind of marshmallow I'm talking about. 

The mass-produced kind are fine, but homemade marshmallows will change your life. Or, your marshmallow life at least. They're so fun to make, require minimal ingredients, and once you start making your own you'll never go back. Here's a basic vanilla recipe. You can also experiment with different extracts for different flavors -- imagine a peppermint marshmallow in your hot chocolate! An almond marshmallow covered in coconut flakes! This really is the perfect winter treat. 

Vanilla Marshmallows

  • 2 envelopes powdered gelatin 
  • 1/2 cup + 1/3 cup cold water
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1/3 cup light corn syrup
  • 4 large egg whites, at room temperature
  • pinch of salt
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 1/2 cup powdered sugar
  • 1/2 cup corn starch
  1. In a small bowl, sprinkle the gelatin over 1/2 cup cold water until it's dissolved (do this before you start anything else -- it can sit for a while). 
  2. In a small pot over medium heat, mix the sugar and corn syrup with 1/3 cup water. Place a candy thermometer on the side of the pot. 
  3. In the bowl of an electric mixer (or in a large bowl with a hand-held mixer) beat egg whites until frothy, then add a pinch of salt.
  4. When the syrup in the pot reaches 210ºF/99ºC, increase the speed of the mixer to high and beat the whites until stiff peaks form (see this image if you're not sure what that means).
  5. When the syrup reaches 245ºF/118ºC remove the pot from the stove and slowly pour the hot syrup into the whites while the mixer is running on high (if you're using a hand mixer you'll probably need a trusty assistant to hold the mixer while you pour).
  6. Scrape the gelatin/water, which should be pretty solid, into the pot that you used for the syrup (no need to wash it hooray!). Warm it until it melts to liquid. 
  7. Pour the liquified gelatin slowly into the whites as the mixer is running (again, you may need a trusty assistant). Add the vanilla extract and continue to whip for at least 5 minutes, until the outside of the bowl feels completely cool when you touch it. 
  8. Mix powdered sugar and corn starch in a small bowl. Use a sifter to thoroughly and completely dust a 9x13 pan with the mixture (you don't want any of the pan showing, or else the marshmallows will stick). You should use about 2/3 of the mixture.
  9. Use a spatula to spread the marshmallows in a layer on the pan. Allow to dry uncovered for at least 4 hours, or overnight. 
  10. Dust the top of the marshmallows with the rest of the powdered sugar/corn starch mixture. Use a pizza cutter or scissors to cut the marshmallows into any size or shape pieces that you’d like. I prefer large squares about the size of a coffee mug -- you can imagine why. Roll the edges in the powdered sugar/corn starch mixture to make sure they're not sticky on any sides. 
  11. Shake the marshmallows in a wire strainer to remove the excess powder.
  12. Store in an airtight container for up to one week.
  13. ENJOY!!!