Berries


I’m well again! No coughing, no sniffling, no congestion–and best of all–no wandering around the apartment like a mindless zombie.   After 2 months of wondering what it feels like to be normal again, I am indeed myself again. With renewed energy, I’ve been excited to head back into the kitchen and start up the baking again.  This post? Involves absolutely no baking–just a wonderfully fast and easy way to whip up some deliciousness.

Before I get into the Cheesecake stuffed strawberries–I just want to give you guys a look at THE BEST BIRTHDAY GIFT (EVER)!  Every so often, I tinker with the idea about getting a DSLR…but I always end up chickening out of making such a huge purchase.  But it was time…and I decided I was going to do it.  Leave it to  Mike (aka best fiance in the world) to rush out and get me one before my designated April 1st purchase.  So, I am now the proud owner of the Canon Rebel T1i (and a Canon Rebel T1i for Dummies book I’ve yet to read).  It’s beautiful!

Okay, onward with the recipe!  Mike’s cousin sent me a link to this recipe a few months back and now that we’re back in strawberry season, I was excited about giving it a try.  Strawberries stuffed with cheesecake? Ingenious!  I had a baby shower to attend this weekend, and I thought it would be the perfect opportunity to give these guys a shot.  And–they were DELICIOUS!  To top it off, they’re super easy!  And to answer your question–yes, they taste just as you’d expect them to.

Make them…make them now!

Cheesecake Stuffed Strawberries

Original Recipe from Indigo’s Sugar Spectrum

Good for about 20 servings ( 2 green baskets of strawberries)

INGREDIENTS

2 green baskets of Strawberries, washed and dried.
1 8oz package of Cream Cheese, softened
1 tsp of Vanilla Extract
¾ cup Powdered Sugar
6-8 Graham Crackers, crushed
Semisweet chocolate, melted (optional)

  1. Once the strawberries are dry, slice off a bit of one side.
  2. Take a melon baller and spoon out the center of the strawberry, being careful to keep the walls of the strawberry intact.
  3. To make the cheesecake filling: With a mixer, beat together the cream cheese, sugar, and vanilla extract until smooth and fluffy.
  4. Now, take the strawberry and fill the center with the cheesecake filling.
  5. Spoon the graham cracker crumbs over the stuffed strawberries.  Take a spoon and gently pat the graham crackers into the filling until crumbs “stick.”
  6. Drizzle strawberries with melted chocolate*.
  7. Place strawberries in refrigerator until ready to be enjoyed.

*Whenever I plan to drizzle desserts with melted chocolate/candy melts–I use Wilton squeeze bottles.  Fill the bottles with your choice of chocolate and carefully place bottle in a small pot with hot water to melt.  Super easy and a super neat way to enhance any dessert.  You can easily find them at your local Michael’s Craft Store.

 

 

Oh boy was it crazy hot this weekend…so hot, I woke up so alert I couldn’t and despite all my efforts I simply couldn’t go back to sleep.  So, I decided to make the most of the morning and make breakfast for the Mike and my sister.  Yeah, I know…who is this person?!  I gave the fridge a once over–and quickly made up my mind.  Pancakes! Pancakes! Pancakes!

Breakfast is probably my favorite meal–ironically, I never really have breakfast on the weekends.  And when I do have the time–I’m quick to coerce Mike into taking me to Starling diner.  But, I absolutely LOVE this recipe!  The pancakes are just perfect little fluffy pillows of goodness.  Best of all, they’re super easy!  If you have some leftover buttermilk in your fridge after a baking project–this is the best way to make use of it!

Unfortunately, I don’t remember where I originally found the recipe.  It’s something I’ve had in notebook since college.

Note–the pictures for this post are terrible! It was hot and the pancakes were warm and I just wanted to eat.  I simply didn’t invest much effort into taking better pictures. Sorry! But rest assured–these were awesome pancakes!

Buttermilk Pancakes

Makes about 6 medium pancakes

1 cup all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon white sugar
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 cup buttermilk
2 tablespoons and 2 teaspoons milk
1 eggs
1 tablespoon and 2-1/4 teaspoons butter, melted
2 tsp vanilla extract
sliced berries
powdered sugar

In a large bowl, combine flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. In another bowl, beat together buttermilk, milk, eggs, vanilla, and melted butter. Combine both mixtures when you’re right before cooking.  Heat a lightly oiled griddle or frying pan over medium high heat. Make sure griddle/pan is ready before spooning on batter.  To test the pan, place a few droplets of water into the pan–if it sizzles, you’re good and ready.  Pour the wet mixture into the dry mixture, using a  fork to blend. Stir just until blended–do not overmix! batter will be thicker than traditional pancake batter.   Pour or scoop the batter onto the griddle, using approximately 1/2 cup for each pancake. Brown on both sides and serve hot.

Top pancakes with berries, dust with powdered sugar, and serve with maple syrup. Enjoy!

It was Mike’s younger cousin’s birthday and I was asked to make some fruit based cheesecake. I know…how many9 year-old’s actually ask for cheesecake?  As it turns out, not many because the cheesecake was really for the adults.   They were wild about the strawberry cheesecake cups I made last time, but I thought I’d change it up a bit, and take advantage of all the wonderful berries I had on hand after my catering gig.  So, I adapted my strawberry cheesecake recipe a bit to make these.  I wouldn’t say that they taste a drastically different…but the other berries add a wonderful tartness to the dessert.

Blackberries

Raspberries baked in

Use this recipe here, but make modifications to the amount of fruit.  I did decide to keep the strawberries (gives the cheesecake such beautiful color and adds a nice sweetness to the otherwise very tart berries).  I cut the strawberries down to just 1/2 cup and to this added 1 cup raspberries and 1/2 cup blackberries.  Go ahead and toss them in sugar and heat up the syrup.  You can then puree all berries for the cheesecake, but I found it more interesting to have small bits of the blackberries and raspberries. I chose to puree the strawberries and about a 1/3 of the other berries. I expected the berry combination to be a bit more on the tart side, but  I bought the berries from the farmer’s market–so they were super sweet. I had my heart set on something a bit more tart, so I used an additional 2 tsp of lemon juice.  With the remaining raspberries and blackberries, I thought it would it be a great idea to just chop them up.  As you can see in the pictures, the chopped berries are then visible in the actual cheesecake once baked.  Taking that idea a bit further, I decided to drop a whole raspberry/blackberry in the middle of each cheesecake cup prior to baking.  The raspberries cook thoroughly, since they are a bit more fragile.  The blackberries tenderize a bit, don’t cook all the way through.  Tasty either way, but if you want everything cooked through, make sure to cut the blackberries in half.

These were great as is, but I couldn’t help myself from making a dollop of berry enhanced cream cheese frosting to top them off.  The berries were just beautiful in this dessert, so i wasn’t too concerned with making a traditional cream cheese frosting.  I used quite a bit of the berry puree, rendering more of a sauce than a frosting.  I thought it was fantastic–it wasn’t too sweet and it didn’t overwhelm these wonderful cheesecake cups.

Again, this recipe is super versatile.  I will likely give this a go with fresh ripe peaches…or even mangoes! I’ll keep  you guys posted!

Enjoy!

Unbelievably good and satisfying–and you wouldn’t believe how easy they are to make.  Well, let me take a step back–“easy” refers to if you’re smart enough to buy puff pastry sheets from the frozen foods area at your local grocery store.  I, being the dreamer that I am, thought it would be a “great” idea to make my own puff pastry sheets.  Major no-no, especially since it was done for a huge catering gig where I had a very limited amount of time.  I will say, that the homemade puff pastry, was wonderfully buttery and flaky. By no means does frozen puff pastry compare.  I will be honest though–when weighing the pros and cons, I can confidently say that I will be buying puff pastry the next time I make this dessert (which will be very very soon!).  There really is no reason to put yourself thru that much work.  If you’re a puff pastry purist and you JUST HAVE to make your puff pastry from scratch, I can definitely vouch for Emeril Lagasse’s recipe that can be found here.  But for those of you who are just looking to make a wonderfully fresh and simple dessert, I’d buy the puff pastry.  You bet I wish I had!

Anyhow, like I discussed in my previous post, I decided to make these since my boss stated that his wife isn’t big on cake.  We were going to make a really light vanilla cake loaded with tons and tons of  fruit.  But I was in Westminster and stopped by a Vietnamese Bakery (Yes, it was Van’s)–and a light bulb went off.  Go to a large Vietnamese gathering and you’ll likely find this dessert there.  It’s always been one of my favorites, so I thought it would be a great idea.  Catch?  I’ve never made anything like this before.  But I was certain with some research and determination, I’d be able to pull it off.  After I got the go-ahead,  I found a handful of recipes to work with.

And well…these things couldn’t be more beautiful.  It’s a wonderfully versatile recipe as well–use it with different fruit combinations, create different fruit based glazes , or heck turn them into fruit pockets.  The possibilities are limitless.

Oh! Save yourself some grief–and make the custard the day before.  You want the custard to be cold/cool when you place it on the puff pastry so that it doesn’t get all soggy.

Mini Fresh Fruit Tarts

1 package puff pastry, thawed (I recommend Pepperidge Farm)
1 egg + 1 tbsn. water, beaten (egg wash)
1 bow of strawberries, washed, hulled and sliced
1 box of blueberries, washed
1 box of blackberries, washed
1 bow of raspberries, washed
1 ripe mango, diced.
For the Custard:

1 cup whole milk (if you’re brave and want to step it up a bit, use heavy cream–makes the custard oh-so-rich. I mean, Jay Z rich.)
1/4 cup white sugar
1/2 vanilla bean, halved lengthwise (or use a 1 tsp of vanilla extract)
3 egg yolks
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
3 tablespoons unsalted butter
1/2 pinch salt


To make the custard:

  1. Place the milk, half the sugar and the vanilla bean in a saucepan over medium heat.
  2. Combine the egg yolks and the remaining sugar in a bowl and whisk until light in color. Add in the flour and the salt, mix to combine.
  3. When the milk just begins to boil, remove from heat and remove vanilla bean. Very slowly stream the hot milk mixture  into the yolk mixture, stirring constantly. When about half of the milk has been added, place all of the yolk mixture into the saucepan over medium heat. Using a spatula or a whisk, mix the pastry cream as it heats.  Make sure to thoroughly whisk mixture completely–scraping down the sides of the pan.
  4. Bring the mixture to a boil. Let boil for about 1 minute, stirring constantly. The mixture will thicken.
  5. Remove from heat and add the butter. Stirring constantly should give you a very smooth cream. If you are unsatisfied with the consistency, strain to remove any lumps.
  6. Place into a bowl, and cover.  Make sure the drop the saran wrap all the way down to the surface of the pastry cream.  This will prevent a skin from forming.
  7. Let cool and refrigerate.
Fruit Tart Preparations:
  1. Defrost Puff Pastry as directed on package.  Remove and unfold sheets onto a lightly floured surface.
  2. Use a knife and cut each sheet into 9 evenly sized squares (each package comes with 2 sheets, so you should have a total of 18).  Take a fork and prick holes all over each square, taking care not to rip the sheets.
  3. Place the squares onto a baking sheet lined with parchment paper (I use my Silpat liner.  I love that thing more than I can ever say!) .
  4. Brush each square with the egg wash.  Bake until each one puffs up to a golden brown (directions should be on package).
  5. To assemble, spread about 2 tablespoons or so of custard onto each pastry and top with the fruit.  Dust with powder sugar when ready to serve.  Enjoy!

Chocolate Valrhona Cupcakes with Cream Cheese frosting and Boston Cream Pie Cupcakes

Boston Cream Pie--Pastry Cream filling topped with Chocolate Ganache

So guys, i know I haven’t posted anything in a few days.  In the interest of being coherent, I decided it was best to recover before posting about my CRAZY catering experience.  As I mentioned before, i was stoked about being booked for my boss’s 4th of July party!  After much deliberation I decided on a menu.  25 Valrhona Cupcakes, 25 Boston Cream Pie Cupcakes, and 20 individual fruit tarts.  We were initially going to do some sort of fruit heavy birthday cake for his wife, but she’s not huge on cake, so I thought it would be a good idea to do something a bit different.

I was nervous. Anxious. Most certainly stressed out.  Outside of the Valrhona cupcakes, I had never made anything on the menu.  I was very confident in my abilities.  My fail?  I just didn’t anticipate the amount of time it would take to make all these items.  I worked Friday, rushed home and began baking at 7pm.  Worked straight until 8:30pm when I took an  hour for dinner with Mike…and…wait for it…continued to bake nonstop until 7:10am.  Yes, you read that correctly.  7:10am.  And here’s the kicker–I wasn’t done.  I still had to assemble all the cupcakes–and more importantly–I had to start on the fruit tarts. So, the alarm was set for 7:40am (30 minutes…I can’t believe it) and I worked like a madman until delivery at noon.

I know, it’s hard to imagine how anything like this could take that long–but when  you only have one oven, one Kitchen Aid mixer, and one bowl attachment–you are screwed.  Thank goodness I had the foresight to create white chocolate stars and the pastry cream Thursday night.  I would have been majorly EFFED if I had not.

Fresh Organic Berries from the Farmer's Market

So, the goods were delivered… and I couldn’t have been more relieved.  My only gripe is that in my rush, i wasn’t able to capture too many good shots of my work.  Mike works on Saturday, so I didn’t have any help with the transportation or with any of the minor last minute touches.  And I lied. I have several gripes.  Two, my kitchen and the surrounding areas were just disgusting! Bowls everywhere, food dyes all over my hands, face, and counter…it was terrible messy.  Could I have possibly done all this?  Can I blame entropy?  I tried that argument with a visibly shocked Mike that morning…and I could tell he did all he could to not strike me 🙂  Oh…and did I mention I was also suppose to make cheesecake for a birthday party the following day.  Yeah, it brought tears to my eyes.

Either way, I just wanted to share some pictures with you and I’ll be writing up the recipe shortly.

Before I go, you should know that this was an extremely difficult but rewarding challenge.  I’ve learned so much about my process and I really shocked myself with how much I was able to push myself.  I am so grateful to have had such an opportunity and I really hope I’ll be able to do this again.

I have mixed feelings about this one.  If you read my “About Me” section, you’ll know that I’m a bit a self-conscious baker…and I’m really hard on myself when I fail to impress, I take it very hard.  I have to come to the realization, that like all things in life, the outcome of our work can in fact be disappointing.  I know, I know…I’m talking about cupcakes.  But Mike will attest to this, if I make something I don’t like, I toss. I won’t serve it to a soul.

First off, let me just say that if you like out of the norm cupcakes, you will definitely like these.  The cupcake itself is great–perfectly tangy and lemony as promised.  The frosting is equally as good–very fragrant and creamy and you get the strawberry dead on.  Putting them together?  Well, to each their own.  These cupcakes got polarized reviews.  Mike loved them.  He found these cupcakes to be light and refreshing–he had 4 cupcakes in the first 2 days.  I brought them into work and the reviews were not so great.  While they liked the cupcake itself, they weren’t too fond of the combination.  One person said these cupcakes were simply “too complicated.”

Look how beautiful the fresh strawberries are in the cupcake!

D’oh.

I was hoping to serve these cupcakes to Test Group 2 during game night this weekend, but had a family emergency Friday night (all is well now, thank you).

So, let me give my honest review on this cupcake.  The cupcake is really moist and flavorful.  I love strawberry cream cheese frosting, so there you go.  I really do like this cupcake.  I think it’s refreshing and I think it’s fun.  But here’s the catch–I don’t know if I’d make this again.  Why?  Because it’s really not the kind of cupcake you can serve to a group and have it be a runaway hit.  I think you’re just going to have some people love them, some who are indifferent, and some who are just thrown off by the unique pairing of the flavors.  So, if you’re going to have an adventurous bunch over, by all means give it a shot.  These cupcakes are certainly fun and visually beautiful.  Just have a back-up dessert just in case 🙂

That or pair the cupcake with a simpler frosting.

Strawberry Lemonade Cupcakes

Yields about 24 cupcakes

For the cake:
2 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/2 tsp. baking powder
3/4 tsp. salt
3 tsp. lemon zest
12 tbsp. unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 1/2 cups sugar
2 eggs
2 tsp vanilla
3/4 cup whole  milk
2 cups fresh strawberries, chopped

For the lemonade syrup:
1/2 cup fresh lemon juice
3/4 cup confectioners’ sugar

For the frosting:
3/4 cup fresh strawberries, roughly chopped
8 oz. cream cheese, at room temperature
10 tbsp. unsalted butter, at room temperature
2  cups confectioners’ sugar, sifted
2 tsp. lemon juice
1 tsp. vanilla extract

Preheat the oven to 325 degrees F.  Line muffin pans with paper liners.  In a bowl, combine the flour, baking powder, salt and lemon zest.  Whisk together and set aside.  In the bowl of a stand mixer, beat the butter on medium speed until it is light and fluffy.  Add the sugar and beat until well combined.  Beat in the eggs one at a time, scraping down the bowl after each addition.  Add half of the flour mixture to the bowl and beat on low speed until just incorporated.  Add in the milk and vanilla and mix until smooth.  Add in the remaining flour mixture and mix on low speed until just blended.  Fold in the fresh strawberries with a spatula.

Divide the batter evenly between the paper liners, filling them about 3/4 full.  Bake about 20 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.  Allow to cool in the pan 5 minutes, then transfer to a wire rack to cool completely.

Once the cupcakes have cooled, whisk together the lemonade juice and confectioners’ sugar in a small bowl to make the lemonade syrup.  Poke several holes in the top of each cupcake with a skewer and brush the syrup over the cupcakes, allowing it to soak in.  I got a bit lazy in the end and just spooned the syrup onto the cupcakes.  It works, it’s just messy.

To make the frosting, puree the strawberries in a food processor or blender.  Beat the cream cheese and butter in the bowl of an electric mixer on medium speed for about 5 minutes until light and fluffy.  Add the powdered sugar and mix until smooth.  Add the lemon juice and vanilla extract and mix until incorporated.  Mix in strawberry puree, a little bit, until you achieve your desired texture and flavor of frosting. I added about 7-8 tablespoons.   You want to make sure that you don’t add so much that it’s runny.  As it was, it was still a tad runny and I had to refrigerate it before frosting.  Frost cupcakes as desired and garnish.

Adapted from Annie’s Eats

Some desserts from my last catering gig.

So, I must say…I’m pretty psyched.  I’ve been booked for a gig for a 4th of July bash!  I’m super excited!  They are looking for some rather basic cupcake flavors (yellow cake and chocolate),  but I really want to spruce them up.  To me, yellow cake should eternally be paired with chocolate frosting.  It’s blasphemy to do otherwise.  I’m going to have to think of something great to fill these cupcakes with.   Pastry cream?  Raspberry sauce?  This is going to be a challenge.   As far as the chocolate cake goes, Valhrona is going to be the way to go.  I love the deep chocolate flavor…so heavenly.  I’ll likely pair it with cream cheese frosting (his favorite and obviously mine as well).  The funny thing is, I’m always asked to make desserts that are a bit more labor intensive than just simply cupcakes, that I feel strange making these.   I’m a week away from baking and I’m totally wracking my brain for something fun and creative to do to these cupcakes, without overwhelming them.   aaaaaaahhh!  To be honest, these cupcakes will be filled.  With what, I’m not yet sure…but filled they will be.

Hmm…and cupcakes are one thing…but I’m not much of a decorator.  So that’s going to be tough.  I have a few ideas running around in my head, but I really need to find a way to make these fit into the 4th of July theme.  I can obviously add food coloring, but I’d love to something special.  I’m toying with the idea of using royal frosting to create some edible toppings…but I’m a bit inexperienced.

I guess we’ll just have to see how things go. Wish me luck!

Oh!  Outside of the 50 cupcakes, I’ve just been asked to make a fruit based birthday cake!  FOR THE SAME DAY!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!  Pray for me.

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