Hi there, folks. If you know me personally, then you probably already know that I’ve moved to a new domain. If you’ve stumbled upon this blog by happenstance, thanks for stopping by, but this blog is no longer in use. You can now find me at Rachel Robin’s Nest, rachelrobinsnest.com, where I document not only baking adventures, but other recipes, crafts, DIY and whatever else I happen to be up to. I’d love it if you’d come check it out!
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Well, it’s Valentine’s Day. Whether you believe it’s a stupid holiday fabricated by Hallmark and other companies looking to capitalize on our relationships, or the ultimate time to shower your loved one with expressions of your feelings, it’s here, and it’s not going away. I wanted to do a special entry for the holiday, and decided to do something that’s a bit of a twist on a V-day standard. We all know and love Red Velvet. Chocolatey, deep, dark Red Velvet. Whether in cake or cupcake form, it’s hard to go wrong. We also love cheesecake, right? Sweet, tangy, rich, delicious cheesecake. So I decided to use a Betty Crocker recipe that combines the best of both worlds-Mini Red Velvet Cheesecakes!
Now, generally I don’t like Betty Crocker recipes, because they always want you to use a box of Betty Crocker cake mix, or Betty Crocker frosting, or some other pre-made thing that totally takes the work out of baking. However, this is an honest-to-goodness recipe, where you actually have to measure, mix and, well, you know, bake.
- 24 graham crackers, or chocolate wafer cookies
- 3 tbsp melted butter
- 20 oz cream cheese, softened
- 1 c. sugar
- 1/4 c unsweetened baking cocoa
- 2 tsp vanilla
- 2 tbsp red food coloring
- 3 eggs
- 1/2 c. whipping cream
- sprinkles, chocolate curls or other decorations
First of all, I needed to make the delightful graham cracker crust. Now, the recipe called for “chocolate wafer cookies.” Not very specific. After walking up and down the grocery store cookie aisle for about 20 minutes, I couldn’t find anything that looked like a chocolate wafer cookie, so I decided to simply use a package of regular old graham crackers that was hiding in the back of my kitchen cabinet. The best way to make nice, fine crumbs out of crackers or cookies is to put them in a ziploc baggy and roll over them with a rolling pin. They come out perfectly sized!
I used beautiful Valentine’s themed cupcake cups!
Next, I combined the butter with the graham crackers. You may need more or less butter depending on how big your crackers are. You just need enough to hold the crumbs together into a nice, crumbly crust. Then I scooped about a tablespoon full of the crust mixture into the bottoms of my muffin papers and pressed them down with a spoon to form a hard disk.
Then it was time to make the actual cheesecake mixture. Thankfully, I acquired my very own hand mixer this weekend!! Some dear friends of mine got married this past fall, and were gifted not one, but two hand mixers, and they were kind enough to re-gift one to me! So beating my cream cheese to a smooth and creamy state was considerably easier than it could have been. Then I whisked the cocoa into the sugar, and added that mixture slowly into the cream cheese. Next went the food color and vanilla, then the eggs one at a time until it was all velvety smooth and cherry colored.
I ended up with enough crust and and filling to make 23 cupcake sized cheesecakes. I filled the cups about 3/4 of the way, because I wasn’t sure if they’d rise as much as normal cupcakes. Now, the recipe called for baking them at 350 degrees for 20-25 minutes, but after 20 minutes they were still completely liquid in the center, so I continued baking them in 5 minute stretches until a toothpick inserted in the center came out mostly clean, which ended up being about 40 minutes. The tops started to crack like real cheesecakes, so I figured they must be done.
Sadly, the cheesecakes sort of collapsed in on themselves and ended up not looking very pretty. However, they tasted absolutely PHENOMENAL! Extremely smooth and creamy, with a perfect balance between chocolate and cream cheese flavor. I ended up not making the whipped cream topping because the cheesecakes were so good already, but if you’re looking for an extra decadent treat to make for your sweetie next Valentine’s Day, or really, any time, this is a great, easy, delicious recipe to try. I know I will DEFINITELY be making them again.
Hello, again! I hope you all enjoyed my inaugural post starring Molasses Cookies. I know I did! And even after sharing some with my coworkers and my boyfriend, I still have a few to munch on for lunches!
When I left you last time, I promised that this time around I’d have a recipe to share, and boy do I have something special. Chocolate Cupcakes with Cream Cheese Chocolate Chip Filling and Cream Cheese Frosting! Whew, what a mouth full, pun intended. This adventure is a hybrid of several different recipes, all chosen for their deliciousness and brought together to fulfill all your cupcake desires.
I was joined in this endeavor by my lovely friend Lisa. I was fortunate enough to have a day off from work due to the inclement weather that’s been oh-so-prevalent in the Boston area this winter, and I knew I wanted to bake. Lisa is an avid baker herself, so she braved public transportation to join me, picking up an essential ingredient, cream cheese, along the way.
First, let’s lay out the recipe:
For the filling, you will need:
- 8 oz cream cheese, softened
- 1/3 cup sugar
- 1 egg
- Dash salt
- 1 cup chocolate chips
Beat the first four ingredients until creamy, then stir in chocolate chips. Delicious. Creamy. I don’t even wanna know how many calories. This part of the recipe actually came from the kitchen of my Grammy, my dad’s mom. I value her recipes very highly, both because she is no longer with us, and because she was an exceptionally skilled baker. HOWEVER, I have a qualm with this recipe. She calls it a recipe for filled cupcakes, but guess what? There’s no recipe for cupcakes in her recipe. She says to mix cupcakes, spoon in filling, and bake according to package instructions. My Grammy used *GASP* cake mix instead of a recipe from scratch! I’m sure half of you are shaking your heads in disgust, and the other half are scratching your heads in confusion. I know, I know, using a boxed mix isn’t the end of the world. It makes baking easy and fast. But she was my GRAMMY for goodness’ sake! She was supposed to do everything from scratch! (I know I’m being a hypocrite. I actually cheat and use mixes sometimes too. You’ll see in some other recipes.) Regardless of my issues with how the actual cupcakes are made, this cream cheese filling is genius.
OK. Now, for the cupcakes themselves:
- 3 oz unsweetened chocolate, chopped
- 1 cup unbleached flour
- 1/2 tsp baking powder
- 1/2 tsp baking soda
- 1/4 tsp salt
- 1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, softened
- 1 1/4 cups sugar
- 2 large eggs
- 1 tsp vanilla extract
- 1/2 cup sour cream
- 1/2 cup water
Technically, this recipe is not mine, but I hope that by giving credit where credit is due, I will not get in trouble. This recipe comes from “The Cupcake Deck” by Elinor Klivans. I highly recommend it for cupcake lovers. Many creative, delicious variations, great instructions and beautiful pictures. Thank you, Elinor Klivans, wherever you are!
Now then, down to business. Melt the chocolate very carefully, either in a double boiler or the microwave. I don’t have a double boiler, so I zapped it, but be EXTREMELY careful if you use the microwave. Once chocolate burns, there’s no going back-it’s ruined. Set it aside for a hot second.
Sift together the dry ingredients and set aside.
Next, beat the butter and sugar until creamy (remember this from the Molasses Cookies?). Mix in the melted chocolate next. (It looked so cool changing from yellow to chocolate brown!) Next go the eggs, one at a time. Then the vanilla. My favorite part comes next-mixing in the sour cream!
Sour cream is one of my all time favorite foods, and Lisa agrees with me here. It goes on/in/with everything, and is a critical ingredient in cupcakes. They just wouldn’t be the same without that tangy zip. MMMMM dairy products. We’re really loading up on the dairy in these cupcakes. My apologies to all you lactose intolerant folks out there. I promise sometime soon I’ll attempt some dairy free sweets! My little sisters are vegan, meaning they don’t consume any animal products, so I’ve been meaning to branch out in that direction a bit.
Anywho, mix in that sour cream. It looks quite pretty and marbly at first, but make sure you get rid of all those white streaks! Next, mix in half the flour mixture, followed by the water. Ok, I know, Lisa and I thought the same thing. Water, in our cupcakes? Why not milk or cream? I was a little anxious about dumping it into the mix, but that’s what the recipe said, so that’s what we did. Lastly, mix in the remaining flour mixture. And, oh yeah, for those of you wondering, I still don’t have a mixer. Lisa and I took turns stirring by hand. We’re tough! The cupcake batter turned out to be a lovely dirt brown, and was exceptionally fluffy.
So now, it was finally time to get baking. We preheated the oven to 350 degrees, lined my brand spankin’ new muffin tin with paper liners, and started scooping batter. We filled the cups about 2/3 of the way with batter, and then we needed to put in the filling. Grammy’s recipe is somewhat vague as to how to get the filling in the center of the cupcakes, so we improvised. We just put teaspoon sized scoops of filling on top of the batter, hoping that the cupcake batter would fluff up and envelope the filling. Well, that didn’t work out quite like we planned… The filling stayed on top, and the cupcakes did fluff up around the filling, just not over the tops, so we ended up with marbled cupcakes instead of filled cupcakes. I can assure you, however, that they taste just as scrumptious!
While the cupcakes were baking (about 23 minutes per tray), we needed to make the frosting, because we wanted to use a pastry bag to make pretty designs with the frosting, meaning we needed to chill it first. The frosting recipe we originally used was neither tasty enough, nor was there enough to frost all the cupcakes we made, so we ended up improvising. The recipe, therefore, is not terribly exact. Just feel it out. I promise you can’t mess it up!
- 8 oz cream cheese, softened
- 3 teaspoons milk
- 2 1/2 – 3 cups confectioner’s sugar
- 6 oz butter, softened
Beat it all together, and chill for 30 minutes before frosting for best results!
By this point, Lisa and I had used up all the cupcake batter (we ended up with almost 2 dozen cupcakes!), but there was an AWFUL lot of filling left. Lisa looked at me and asked with a sort of evil grin, “So what are we gonna do with all this filling?” And you can just bet we figured out what to do with that extra filling. Let’s see, cream cheese, sugar, chocolate chips and egg? Boy, that sounded an awful lot like…CHEESECAKE! Yeah, that’s right, mini cheesecakes. You get a bonus recipe today!
Lisa suggested that we add a bit of sour cream to the mixture. Well, heck yes, I wanted some sour cream in there too! Cheesecake just isn’t cheesecake without sour cream. She also added a dash of vanilla. I crushed up some graham crackers that I had hiding in my cabinet and put the crumbs in the bottom of the cupcake papers, then we spooned the filling in, and baked it for about 25 minutes, until the top started to crack, just like real cheesecakes! *drool* If you decide to try this at home, here’s a tip that comes from hindsight-mix a bit of butter in with the graham cracker crumbs to make a real crust, otherwise it’s very messy. Or, put Nilla Wafers or other tasty little cookies in the bottom!
Now that we’d finished baking, it was time to frost. Lisa grew up using pastry bags to decorate baked goods, whereas I’m a newbie. I got my first cake decorating kit for Christmas and I’ve only used it once since! We had a grand time experimenting with different tips and designs, and I learned a lot. My prettiest one was this sunflower:
And Lisa made this gorgeous rose (my camera doesn’t really do it justice):
As far as frosting using a pastry bag goes, I have a few tips. First of all, roll the edges of the pastry bag down before filling. This way you won’t have frosting too close to the top, so it won’t squeeze out the top and all over your hand while you’re working. Also, you should definitely spring for a coupler. A coupler is a device that allows you to change tips without having to take apart your entire pastry bag. You just unscrew the ring, pop the tip out, put a new one on and screw it back together. Voila! A new design to play with. Lastly, don’t get caught up in the need to “make it pretty.” You’ll never learn new things unless you try, and you’ll never get better unless you practice. Try a different angle. Try moving the bag back and forth or up and down as you go around the cupcake. Try using lighter or heavier pressure. You can also practice on a sheet of parchment paper first to help decide what you want to do, and then you can just scoop up the frosting and reuse it on your cupcakes, no waste!
All in all, it was a very successful afternoon of baking. We’d ended up with two goodies instead of one, and lots of them! It was fun to try a variation on a favorite recipe, and it was even more fun to make something out of the leftovers. I know Grammy would be proud. Feel free to use any and all of these recipes together, or in combination with others, and see what you can make!
What can I say about Molasses Cookies? Well, for a start, I love them. Deeply. Especially chewy ones. The spicy sweetness reduces me to a state of idiotic happiness. They are the perfect cookie. Not too sweet, but still somehow incredibly rich. My dad used to buy Archway Molasses Cookies at the grocery store. They were flower shaped, and I would eat them slowly and carefully, biting off one petal at a time, chewing it until it was nearly disintegrated, and swallowing with relish. Ahhh memories… I’ve been wanting to make my own for ages, but molasses isn’t something I regularly keep in the house. Bad choice, me. So when Ben and I went grocery shopping last week, I made a beeline for the baking aisle and grabbed a pretty generic jar of molasses. I may regret not being more choosy about said molasses, but we’ll see.
One of my biggest pieces of advice for those of you who are just starting out with the whole baking thing is this: make sure you have all the ingredients BEFORE you start. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve gotten halfway through a recipe only to discover I’m missing some key ingredient. Sometimes, substitutions can be arranged (Crisco for butter-fatty and delicious!), but some things you just can’t fake (molasses). That being said, before I started my molasses cookies today, I first perused my favorite book, The King Arthur Cookie Companion.
This book, along with the King Arthur Baking Companion, are the two books I use most for finding delicious and easy recipes. Not only do they have excellent recipes, but they give wonderful instruction on the basics of baking, the whys and wherefores, and lots of tips and tricks. Like greasing the measuring cup before putting molasses in. Genius! But I digress. Anyway, The Cookie Companion has recipes for Soft Molasses Cookies, Crisp Molasses Cookies, and On-the-Fence Molasses Cookies. Something for everyone. Clearly, I chose to go with the Chewy ones. Just imagining how they would taste was making my mouth water…
Following my own advice, I gathered up all the ingredients I would need to make my cookies. Since this recipe is not mine, I don’t feel comfortable posting it, but when a recipe IS mine, you can be sure I will share!
Many baking recipes start the same way: “Cream butter and sugar until light and fluffy.” Well, that’s pretty easy to do when a) your butter is soft enough, and b) you have an electric mixer. Sadly, I didn’t prepare well for this expedition, and my butter was therefore hard as a rock. Many of you will say, “Just throw it in the microwave for a few seconds.” Easier said than done my friends. Put that butter in there too long and you get a puddle. Put it in too for too short a time and you’ve got rock hard chunks floating in the puddle-like parts. Thankfully, however, I hit it just right this time. Soft enough to mix, not too melty. The other problem with this part of the recipe is the fact that I don’t have an electric mixer. I can see the incredulous looks on all your faces right now. Yes, I bake a lot. No, I don’t have a mixer. I had two mixers, and after breaking them both in the same day, I sort of gave up, at least for the time being. For now, I use an over sized Fiestaware serving fork. It’s a lot of work, but at the moment, better than spending $40 on a mixer. That’s pretty fluffy even without a mixer, don’t you think?
After sufficiently mixing all of the ingredients (at which point my arm felt like it might never be useful again), I was left with a caramel colored, extremely sticky dough. At first I was pretty disappointed in the color. In my mind, molasses cookies should be as dark as their namesake, brown and decadent. But I decided not to get too upset until I tasted them. In the end, it doesn’t really matter what color they are if they taste the way I want!
Remember what I said earlier about making sure you have all the ingredients before you start? I’m going to add something to that: read the ENTIRE recipe and all the steps to making the goodie before starting as well. After finishing the dough, I discovered that this recipe requires that you chill the dough for an hour before baking. I’m an instant gratification sort of girl, so I HATE to wait for things like chilling cookie dough. I used the time to clean up the kitchen. Not fun, but a very important part of the baking process. Plus, cleaning up before I had to bust out the baking sheets means I had a lot more work space. Sometimes, I even start working on another goodie while one is chilling… I’m a master multitasker
So after the interminably long chilling process, I was ready to get started baking in earnest. There are some essential baking tools that I think everyone should have, and Essential Baking Tool #1 is parchment paper. You wanna talk about multitasking, parchment paper does it all. Put this stuff on your baking sheets, and you have a nonstick surface the helps your cookie bottoms cook and brown more evenly, and guess what? You don’t have to wash the cookie sheets after! They are pristine. You can use the same sheet for multiple trips into the oven. Parchment paper also serves as a great surface for rolling doughs-lay it out, flour it up, and when you’re done, pick it up and toss it–no mess on your table or counter top. And it’s pretty inexpensive-about the same as you’d pay for a roll of waxed paper. Try it and love it. You’ll never go without again.
So I lined my lovely half sheet baking trays with parchment, and busted out Essential Baking Tool #2: the cookie scoop. Now, I refer to this lovely little tool as my “cookie pooper.” Inappropriate, I know, but that’s what it does! You scoop up a perfect little ball of dough, then press the silicone part at the bottom of the scoop and it “poops” out a perfect little ball of dough. It’s fun, and it helps to keep the size of your cookies much more uniform, so they all bake evenly.
This recipe calls for rolling the balls of dough in granulated sugar. Now I ask you, what could be better than putting sugar on your sugar? The easiest way to accomplish this task is to fill a shallow dish or bowl with sugar. Then scoop up your dough, roll it between your palms to round it out, and toss it in the sugar, rolling it around to coat it completely. This was my favorite part!
After getting all my lovely little dough balls pooped out, rolled in sugar, and lined up, I followed time and temperature instructions that we’re all pretty familiar with: “350 degrees for about 10 minutes.” After about 5 minutes, my apartment started to fill with the luscious scents of molasses and cinnamon. Yummmmmmmmm. When I took the first batch out of the oven, I was surprised to find that they were pretty puffy and smooth, not at all what I expected.
However, after they had cooled some, they settled into the flatter, crackly shapes that I have come to know and love. The color was still all wrong, but hey, like I said, if they taste good, who cares?
A word about cooling cookies: wire cooling racks are pretty awesome. Maybe not an Essential Baking Tool, but close. I might change my mind on that. Using a cooling rack ensures that your cookies keep the texture you want. Trapped heat can create soggy bottoms, and nobody wants a soggy cookie!
Finally, it was time for the taste test. I have to say, I was very apprehensive. I didn’t want to get my hopes up and have them dashed by a sub-par molasses cookie. I love them so dearly, I’d just be crushed if it wasn’t what I was expecting…
Not too bad. I’d say this recipe would definitely benefit from a better, darker molasses like a blackstrap. Something with oomph. Curse me for being cheap! They’re pretty sweet and not as spicy as I would like, but they are delightfully chewy, and reminiscent enough of the Archway cookies I love so much that I will definitely make them again, probably with a few tweaks.
Next time, I promise to make a tasty treat that you can make too! A recipe that’s not copyrighted, so I won’t get my butt sued by posting someone else’s property on the interweb. But there you have it. I hope you enjoyed my molasses cookie adventure, and I hope you check out my next foray into the wide world of sweets!
Baking has always been my thing. From the first forays into cutting out sugar cookies with Mom before Christmas as a kid, spilling red and green sugar crystals everywhere, to learning that if you put too much frosting in the pastry bag, it’s gonna poop frosting all over your hand, I’ve loved every minute. I bake when I’m tired, bored, or nervous, when there’s a special occasion coming up, or just because I want some cookies to take in my lunch bag. I love the process of making the treats almost as much as I like eating them! For those of you who know me, you know I have an incurable sweet tooth.
I recently moved to the Boston area and was fortunate enough to land a full time job fairly quickly. I started bringing my excess treats in to work, both to do something nice for my coworkers, and to save myself and my boyfriend from going into diabetic shock on a regular basis. The folks at the office are caught somewhere between delight and dismay over all of the sugar they consume. The department director is a particular fan, dropping by my cube every once in a while to inquire whether I’ve done any baking lately. One day, I poked my head into his office to let him know I’d made “Ultimate Chocolate Chip Cookies.” He nearly knocked me down in his rush to get to them, and that’s when I decided that maybe I should share my goodies with the world.
I’ve never had a public blog before, so it might take a while to work the kinks out, but I’m mostly interested in documenting my adventures in baking, and sharing some great recipes and tips with those who share my love of homemade goodies. I promise that I’ll get cooking soon!