Easy Sopapilla Cheesecake

Happy Cinco de Mayo! Living in Arizona, the holiday is celebrated by our resident Mexicans and Mexican-Americans. I’ve never been one to take part of “Cinco de Drinko,” as that’s not why the holiday is celebrated. The holiday marks the anniversary of the Mexican Army’s victory against the French in 1862. It is not Mexican Independence Day.

In the US, Cinco de Mayo is a celebration of Mexican-American culture. Mexico has a rich, diverse food culture outside of the “Tex-Mex” often mistaken for true Mexican food. Though tacos, burritos and the like have Mexican counterparts, I wanted to make food that incorporated traditional Mexican foods.

Sopapillas are a popular dessert in northern Mexico and Latin America, the result of Spanish influence. Sweet dough is fried into a pillowy pastry that is then covered in cinnamon and sugar. I’m still not quite comfortable with frying, so I found this recipe for a faux-sopapilla cheesecake.

Ingredients:

  • 1 box (2 sheets) frozen puff pastry, thawed
  • 2 8 oz. bricks of cream cheese, room temperature
  • 1 + 1/4 cup granulated sugar
  • 1/4 cup sour cream
  • 2 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1 egg
  • 1 Tbsp ground cinnamon
  • 4 Tbsp unsalted butter, melted

Notes about Ingredients: Frozen puff pastry takes about 30-45 minutes to defrost. For the best results in your baking, your ingredients (egg, cream cheese, sour cream, and butter) should be at room temperature.

Instructions:

1) Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Spray a 9×13 in. baking dish. Lay the first sheet of puff pastry flat in the bottom of the dish. Do not trim any extra dough. Gently press the pastry to the sides of the dish.

2) Poke holes in the puff pastry with a fork. Bake for 15 minutes.

3) Beat the cream cheese and 1 cup of the sugar. Add the egg, sour cream, and vanilla. Be careful not to overmix.

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4) Remove the crust from the oven. Let it sit for 5 minutes, especially to deflate. Pour the cheesecake mix over the crust.

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5) Top the cream cheese mixture with the other sheet of puff pastry. Gently tuck or press the sides of both sheets together. Brush this pastry with the melted butter.

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6) Mix 1/4 cup sugar with cinnamon.  Sprinkle over the melted butter on the pastry sheet.

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7) Bake 20-25 minutes. Remove from the oven and let cool for 20 minutes at room temperature. Place the cheesecake in the refrigerator overnight.

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Final Thoughts: I’m not 100% sure this counts as sopapilla cheesecake, but it was tasty. It was less appealing once it had cooled, but it was sweet and tasty. Once I took the first piece, people were more willing to try (because it “looked weird”). By the end of our potluck, the entire cheesecake was gone.

 

Easter “Garden” Cups

Easter is a time for brunches and family dinners, but it’s also a time for candy and sweets straight from the Easter bunny! When you’re going to see your friends or family for a party or dinner, you should always bring something with you. Here’s a sweet treat you can bring for dessert without too much frantic effort. Plus they’re adorable! Happy Easter! Enjoy these cute Easter dirt cups.

Ingredients:

“CARROTS”

  • Fresh strawberries, rinsed and patted dry
  • Bag of orange candy melts (from Michael’s or Jo-Ann Fabrics)

PUDDING CUPS

  • Crushed Oreos
  • 1 large box chocolate pudding
  • 3 cups milk

Instructions:

1. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper or a silpat.

2. Melt the bag of candy melts, except for about 15 discs.

I used the microwave to melt the chocolate discs. I put it in a small glass bowl for 1 minute. Then repeat in 30 second intervals, stirring each time.

3. Grab the strawberries by the stem. Dip both sides in chocolate, then place on the parchment paper. Repeat with all the strawberries.

4. Put the strawberries in the fridge until the chocolate hardens.

5. Take a sandwich bag and cut the tip of it off. Melt the rest of the discs. Pour the melted chocolate into the sandwich bag. Close the bag and twist it. Drizzle over the strawberries. Let sit.

6. Make the chocolate pudding according to the instructions on the box.

I made the pudding first so it could sit in the fridge while I worked on everything else.

7. Put some crushed Oreos on the bottom of some clear cups. Pour pudding over top of them.

8. Top with more crushed Oreos. Press a strawberry into the center.

9. Refrigerate until you’re ready to serve/bring them to the party!

Final Thoughts: Mine turned out a little differently. I didn’t drizzle the strawberries with more chocolate, and I didn’t put Oreos on the bottom of the cup. These were a hit at the Easter party at work! And they are so incredibly adorable. A big group of them together is like a little garden!

Pecan Pie

Each Thanksgiving I try to take charge of something new or something more complicated. So far I’ve made side dishes (med), cornbread stuffing (yummy), cranberry sauce (disastrous), and several pies. She and I have our own fair share of failures. Last year her pecan pie was over-baked. My apple pie was under-baked.

Pecan pie is a staple for Thanksgiving or Christmas dinner. My mother is the only person who eats pecan pie at Thanksgiving. Usually she bakes a whole pie for herself to enjoy for the entire week. While many recipes include alcohol, I went for an old-fashioned recipe.


Ingredients: 

  • Pie crust dough (store-bought or homemade)
  • 3/4 stick unsalted butter
  • 1 1/4 cups packed light brown sugar
  • 3/4 cups light corn syrup
  • 2 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1/2 tsp grated orange zest
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 3 large eggs
  • 2 cups pecan-halves (You can find these in the baking aisle. You don’t have to split them.)

Instructions:

1) Preheat oven to 350 F.

2) Roll out the pie dough onto a lightly floured surface. Trim and crimp crust as desired. Lightly prick the bottom of the crush with a fork. Chill for 30 minutes in the fridge.

3) For the pie filling: melt butter in a small heavy saucepan over medium heat. Add brown sugar, whisking until smooth. Remove from heat and whisk in corn syrup, vanilla, zest, and salt.

4. Lightly beat the eggs in a medium bowl. Whisk into the corn syrup mixture.

Be really careful! If you mixture is too hot, your eggs will scramble! Mine was just a little too hot so there were some heated egg whites. I strained these out with a sieve and it was fine.

5) Put pecans in the pie shell and pour the corn syrup mixture over evenly.

6) Bake until the filling is set (50-60 min.) Cool completely.

Final Thoughts: I’ve never been a big fan of pecan pie, but I stole a bite and loved it! It was fairly easy to make, despite needing a tiny bit more effort than a pumpkin pie. Now that I’ve checked off apple, banana cream, pumpkin, and pecan, which pie should I try next?

Pumpkin Chocolate Chip Cake

The pumpkin craze continues! I saw this design in a magazine and thought to myself, “I could make that!” A pumpkin chocolate chip cake seemed perfect for a pumpkin-shaped cake. This monster cake is a perfect centerpiece for a big Halloween party. Since it’s technically two cakes, make sure there are enough people to eat it!

Ingredients:

CAKE

  • 3 cups flour
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1 1/2 tsp baking soda
  • 1 tsp cinnamon
  • 1/2 tsp nutmeg
  • 1/2 tsp cloves
  • 1 cup vegetable oil
  • 1 1/2 cup sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 1/3 cup pumpkin puree
  • 1 1/2 cup chocolate chips (I used Ghiradellhi’s bittersweet)

FROSTING

  • 4 oz cream cheese
  • 1/4 cup butter
  • 2 1/2 cups maple extract
  • 1 tsp maple extract
  • 1-2 Tbsp water or milk (I used milk)

Instructions:

I made 2 of these bundt cakes, prepared and baked separately. The instructions below are only for one cake.

1) Preheat oven to 350. Grease a 10 in. bundt pan.

2) Combine flour, salt, baking soda, cinnamon, nutmeg, and cloves in a bowl. Whisk until combined.

3) Combine oil and sugar in another bowl and mix well.

4) Add the eggs, one at a time, into the sugar-oil mix.

5) Add the dry ingredients alternatively with the pumpkin, beginning and ending with the dry ingredients.

6) Fold in the chocolate chips.

7) Bake 60-65 min. or until a toothpick inserted comes out with a few crumbs.

I use a lighter colored pan, so 55 minutes did the trick.

8) Remove from the oven. Cool in the pan for 10 minutes, then remove to a wire rack to cool completely,

9) Make the icing. Beat the cream cheese and butter until smooth.

10) Add the powdered sugar and maple extract. Mix.

11) Add 1-2 Tbsp of water or milk.

This is to get the right consistency. I felt I had the right consistency without any additional liquid, but the milk really helped cut down on the sweetness of the maple frosting.

12) Decorate once the cake is completely cool.

This keeps the frosting from melting off of the cake.

Now to make your pumpkin masterpiece! I froze the two cake that I made, because who has the time to bake 2 cakes, level and carve them, make and dye frosting, then decorate a cake all in one day?

1) Level the bottoms of both cakes.

My cake was still moist even after freezing, so take it slow so you don’t take chunks out of your cake by accident. PS this is a great step for tasting.

2) Place one bundt cake upside down. Place the other on top of the first bundt cake. Use a knife to carve into a smooth shape.

3. Dye your frosting orange (or use pre-made orange frosting). Frost between the two cakes, then cover the rest of the cake.

I really wish that I had made more frosting, or done a light crumb cake layer. There were some patches later on where you could see the dark cake below the icing.

4. Take an ice cream cone and place it in the center hole. Frost this with green icing. Pipe green frosting vines and leaves. Enjoy!!

Final Thoughts: Usually I don’t like to bake cakes that use oil as their source of moisture, but it worked out because of how often I was freezing the cakes while decorating. I didn’t think I would like the maple flavor paired with pumpkin, but it was a nice subtle addition to the flavors. Next time I might cut down on the sugar as it was quite sweet in comparison. I’ve heard milk powder can help thicken frosting without adding sugar.

Pieced Together Lemon Cake

Though this recipe is for a simply delicious lemon cake, I felt it was important to bring it from my old blog. Mistakes happen. I have shared my “foodie fails” on my blog in the past. I can be a perfectionist, who gets frustrated about the slightest problems.

Learning to cook and bake means that I have to embrace the mistakes. The great part about food is that it can often be forgiving. No one cares if your cake is a little messy as long as it tastes good. If it doesn’t taste very good or it’s rendered inedible, you’ll know for the next time you try. The important part is that you don’t give up!

 

 

Would you have guessed that one of the layers of this cake fell apart? This isn’t an episode of Chopped. While you may disappointed, no one is going to kick you out of the kitchen. My coworkers enjoyed the tasty cake even with its flaws.

Ingredients:

THE CAKE

  • 2 sticks unsalted butter, softened
  • 2 1/2 cups sugar, divided
  • 4 eggs
  • 3 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 tsp baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp baking soda
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 3/4 cup lemon juice
  • 3/4 cup buttermilk, at room temperature
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract

CREAM CHEESE FROSTING

  • 8 oz cream cheese, softened
  • 1/2 cup butter, softened
  • 4 cups powdered sugar
  • 1 tsp vanilla
  • 1 Tbsp lemon juice

 

Instructions:

1. Preheat the oven to 350. Grease 2 9-inch baking pans.

To “grease” pans you can use sprays like Pam. I prefer to use butter, then lightly coat the pan with flour, tapping out any excess.

2. Beat together the butter and 2 cups of the sugar. Mix in the eggs, one at a time. Add the lemon zest.

 

3. Mix the dry ingredients together in a separate bowl: flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt.

 

4. Add the dry ingredients, 1/4 cup lemon juice, buttermilk, and vanilla to the mixer. Mix well.

5. Divide the batter between the pans. Bake for 30-35 minutes, until a toothpick comes out clean.

 

6. While the cake is baking, make the simple syrup. Over medium-high heat, mix 1/2 cup lemon juice and 1/2 cup sugar until the sugar dissolves. Set aside.

Syrups and reductions seem to be one of my weak points. They never seem to get quite thick enough. Fortunately, this will brushed onto the cake so it doesn’t need to be thick like maple syrup.

7. Make the frosting. Beat together the cream cheese and butter. Add the powdered sugar, one cup at a time. Mix in vanilla and 1 Tbsp lemon juice.

 

8. When the cake has finished baking, poke holes in the top. Divide the simple syrup between the two layers and pour over the top.

 

I kept the cakes in the pans to avoid making a mess. I also brushed the syrup over top to avoid saturating one part of the cake more than another.

9. Once the cakes have cooled COMPLETELY, assemble the cake and frost. Keep refrigerated 1 hour prior to serving.

Okay here’s where the fail happened. Do not rush the cooling process. The simple syrup makes the cake much softer. If it doesn’t cool, well then you end up with this…

 

With a little magic…

 

Final Thoughts: See what I was talking about? The first layer came out fine, but the simple syrup moistened the cake and my second layer fell apart. I placed the broken layer on the bottom, piecing it as flat as I could (aided by a layer of frosting to pull everything together). The whole layer went on top. By the time I finished, you couldn’t tell it had broken unless you cut inside! Even better, the cake was delicious. Lemon is one of my favorite flavors. This cake had sweet lemon-y goodness in every bite.

Black Bean Brownies (GF)

A lot of people try gluten-free or vegan treats as a healthier alternative to desserts and sweet treats. I don’t know if it makes them healthier, but it’s good practice for friends and family with food allergies or dietary restrictions. I made brownies for a coworker, so another coworker requested an additional pan of black bean brownies. The idea is that the beans make the ingredients “stick” instead of flour. It’s a gluten-free option that keeps the brownies moist.

 

Ingredients:

  • 1 15 oz. can black beans, drained and rinsed
  • 3 eggs
  • 1/4 cup butter, melted
  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 1/2 cup cocoa powder
  • 1 tsp vanilla
  • 1/2 cup chocolate chips

Instructions:

1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Grease an 8×8 baking dish.

2. Place all ingredients except the chocolate chips in a food processor (or blender) and process until smooth. Scrape the batter into the baking dish and level the top.

 

 

Honestly there’s nothing easier than shoving everything into a food processor. If you’d like, taste it and see if it needs a bit more cocoa.

3. Sprinkle chocolate chips over the top of the batter. Bake for 25-27 min.

4. Let cool for at least 30 minutes before slicing.

If you don’t let them sit, they’ll be too soft to cut and just fall apart.

Final Thoughts: This was a 50-50 dessert. It’s easier to make than regular brownies, plus it’s gluten-free with extra protein! While I enjoyed the dense texture, it’s obvious it’s made with beans. About half of the people who tried mine really disliked them. The other half went crazy for them! To each their own, I guess. Which one do you guys like better – regular or black bean brownies?

5 Ingredient Strawberry Breakfast Pastries

When I first started cooking I began listening to the advice of the pro chefs. There’s a general disdain for products like pie crusts or processed cheese. I made my own pastry crusts, my own chicken broth, and tried to make everything from scratch. Naturally this led to several #foodiefails .

One day while watching Jacques Pepin’s cooking show on TV, I saw that he was using Sara Lee pound cake from the freezer section. He was cooking with his granddaughter. They made a lovely fruit compote from scratch to go with it. Since then I’ve questioned my prejudice toward more convenient options, especially when you’re just getting started in your cooking journey.

I will never shut up about how amazing recipes with less than 10 ingredients are for beginners. There’s less prep, fewer preps, and lower cost. Everything about these recipes is easier, and often you don’t sacrifice flavor. Puff pastry is available in the frozen food aisle. It is incredibly difficult and time consuming to make from scratch.  On a particularly productive Sunday morning, I bought some pre-prepared puff pastry for these strawberry breakfast pastries. It’s almost like making homemade toaster strudels.

Ingredients:

  • 1 sheet puff pastry, thawed
  • 1/4 cup cream cheese, at room temperature
  • 1 Tbsp strawberry jam
  • 1 1/2 cups sliced strawberries
  • 1 large egg
  • powdered sugar (optional)

Instructions:

1. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper or a Silipat (re-usable silicon baking covers for pans).

2. Cut the puff pastry into 6 rectangles by following the folds in the dough. First, cut the sheet into 3 long rectangles, then cut each rectangle in half.

3. Transfer the pastries to the baking sheet, about 1 inch apart.

4. Lightly score a 1/2 inch border around the edge of the dough. Prick the center of the pastry with a fork.

Scoring means lightly marking the dough with a knife.
5. In a small bowl, stir together the cream cheese and strawberry jam. Place a dollop of the cream cheese mixture in the centers of the pastry and spread it. Top with slices of strawberry.

 

Make sure your cream cheese is close to room temperature or else the cream cheese and jam will not mix easily and consistently.

6. Whisk together the egg with 1 Tbsp of water. Brush the edges of the pastry with the egg wash. Bake for 15-17 minutes, until golden and puffed.

 

I think it might be easier to put on the egg wash before the cream cheese. Also, I didn’t use all of the egg wash.

7. Remove the pastries from the oven. Dust with powdered sugar over the pastries if desired.

 

The best way to deal with powdered sugar is to use a sieve. Pour it in, then lightly tap the sieve over the pastry. It spreads a light layer with less mess.

 

Final Thoughts: These were a lovely sweet treat that I would consider serving for brunch or breakfast with friends or family. The best part is they look so fancy! They may not taste like the most incredible pastry in the world, but I was still impressed with the results. I would recommend these be eaten within a few hours of being baked.