Pumpkin Swirl Cheesecake

The hardest part of Halloween is always finding the perfect costume.

In my household growing up, Halloween costumes were never purchased from the store. I remember being a pumpkin, a princess, a puppy dog—all costumes which were either handmade or created using items we had around the house. However, when I was in first grade I received a Strawberry Shortcake costume which had been passed down from my cousin. I was ecstatic. In my mind, this was going to be the best Halloween costume ever.

Enter the Halloween blizzard of 1991. It starts to snow throughout the day and it progressively gets worse and worse. My mom and I drive home from school and the commute takes twice as long as it should have. By the time we get home, it’s a full blown blizzard. Now by this point it is clear to my mom that I will not be able to wear my cute Strawberry Shortcake costume, as I trek through 9 inches of snow to get candy. I will note that I had clearly not come to this realization yet. My mom being the wonderful mother that she is, suggests that I could instead be a “rainbow girl” for Halloween. What, I’m thinking to myself… NO, this is not what I want to do.

Now my mother is a smart woman. I happened to have a rainbow snowsuit when I was in first grade (and yes, it was cool). Masterfully planned, my rainbow girl costume consisted of dressing me up in my rainbow snowsuit and using face paint to draw little rainbows on my cheeks. I’m sure somewhere there is a picture of me sullenly posing in my rainbow girl Halloween costume amidst the drifts of snow with a big bag of candy in my hand.

So if you don’t have your costume planned for tonight, put on a rainbow shirt, draw some rainbows on your face and consider yourself a rainbow girl- it’s timeless, really.

Although my pumpkin swirl cheesecake isn’t strictly a Halloween dessert, I baked it for our work Halloween party today. It’s really simple and the swirls make it look like you put more effort into baking it that you really did. Enjoy!

Pumpkin Swirl Cheesecake

Ingredients
1 1/2 cups ginger crisp cookies
1/4 cup butter, melted
3 (250 g) packages cream cheese
3/4 cup sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla
3 eggs
1 cup canned pumpkin
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1 dash ground cloves

Directions
Heat oven to 350 degrees F. Combine cookie crumbs and butter. Press onto bottom of 9 inch springform pan. Beat cream cheese, 1/2 cup of the sugar and vanilla with electric mixer until well blended. Add eggs, one at a time, mixing on low speed after each addition just until blended.

Remove 1 cup plain batter; place in small bowl. Stir remaining 1/4 cup sugar, pumpkin and spices into remaining batter. Spoon pumpkin batter into crust; top with spoonfuls of reserved plain batter. Cut through batters with knife several times for marble effect.

Bake 45 minutes or until centre is almost set. Cool completely. Refrigerate 4 hours or overnight. Store leftover cheesecake in refrigerator.

Heather’s Helpful Hints
It’s easy to over-bake your cheesecake mainly because cheesecakes continue to bake after being removed from the oven. In addition, baking times are not always exact due to variations in ovens. As a rule of thumb, the center of the cheesecake should be just slightly moist when it is ready to be removed.

Vanilla Cupcakes with Fondant Icing

Hurricane Sandy is in full force, but as long as I have power I’ll be baking up a storm!

Okay, okay, I’m sorry for the terrible pun, but I couldn’t help myself. Today was one of those days when it was great to be tucked inside. It was one of those— I want to put on a big comfy sweatshirt, curl up with a good book, and drink some hot tea—type of days. When I got the notice that the federal government was closed on Monday and Tuesday, I felt like a kid that just found out they had a snow day. I got all giddy and wondered what I was going to do with all my extra time. Easy question. Assuming I still had power and gas, I was going to have a baking extravaganza!

For the longest time I’ve wanted to work with fondant (the fancy frosting you find on lots of wedding cakes) but I thought it was just too time intensive, and quite frankly beyond my abilities as a baker. Today I decided to scale my expectations down from a full-fledged wedding cake and try to tackle a fondant cupcake recipe. To my surprise the process was still pretty time intensive. I had to bake the cupcakes, glaze them, make ganache, cover them, let them dry, make fondant, and finally decorate them. Sigh… what a project! However, being that I had some extra time, I thought it would be the perfect project to take on.

Vanilla Cupcakes with Fondant Icing

Cupcake Ingredients
1/2 cup softened butter
3/4 to 1 cup sugar
2 eggs
2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
2/3 cup cold milk

Ganache Ingredients
16 ounces white chocolate, chopped fine
2 cups heavy cream

Fondant Ingredients
2 tablespoons gelatin
1/2 cup corn syrup
5 teaspoons glycerin
2 1/4 pounds pure confectioners’ sugar
2 drops flavor extract

Directions
Place a rack in the middle of the oven and preheat to 350 degrees F. Place liners in 12 muffin tins. In a large bowl, cream the butter and sugar. Add eggs 1 at a time, beating after each addition. Stir in vanilla. In a separate bowl, stir together all dry ingredients. Add to butter mixture and stir in milk. Place in oven and bake for 18-20 minutes.

For the ganache, put the chocolate pieces in a large bowl. Put the cream in a saucepan and bring to a boil. Pour the cream over the chocolate and mix with a hand whisk until the ganache is smooth. Allow to cool completely and then leave to set overnight. Using a knife spread 2 1/2 teaspoons of ganache across the top of each cupcake. By the time you have ganached your last cupcake your first cupcakes should be ready to “hot-knife”. Place a long knife in a pan of boiling water and leave for a few seconds. Glide the knife over the surface of the ganache using even pressure. Let the cupcakes sit until the ganache has set hard before you start decorating them.

To make the rolled fondant icing, sprinkle the gelatin over 3 tablespoons of water in a small bowl. Leave until the gelatin is spongy. Place the bowl over a saucepan of hot water and stir until the gelatin has dissolved. Add the corn syrup and glycerin and stir until melted. Sift the confectioners’ sugar into a large bowl, make a well in the center and pour in the gelatin mixture. Mix until it becomes too difficult to stir with a spoon. Tip the mixture onto the counter, add the flavoring if using, and knead with dry hands into a smooth and pliable dough. Add food coloring if you wish to dye the frosting at this point. Roll out the icing to 1/8 inch thick using a rolling pin. Cut out circles of different sizes using a round cutter. Feel free to get creative with the colors and shapes you use- that’s the fun part of working with fondant!

Heather’s Helpful Hints
Cupcakes dry out very quickly. One way to prevent this is to treat them with syrup. With a fork, make some holes in the top of the cupcakes and then brush fairly liberally with syrup (1/3 cup of apricot jam and 6 tablespoons of boiling water whisked together).

Pumpkin Sugar Cookies

I spent 35 minutes in the checkout line at the grocery store today… ugh.

At moments like this, I simply surrender myself to the fate that awaits me, take a deep breath, and find an interesting magazine to read. I joined the back of the line, which stretched all the way to the back of the store, and pondered buying a pork loin for dinner after staring at it for a good 10 minutes.

Yes, let it be known… Washingtonians are preparing themselves for the wrath of hurricane Sandy. And apparently this means stocking up on all the peanut butter, canned beans, and toilet paper that one can find. Looking in people’s carts you might think that we were preparing for Y2K all over again. Yet here I was in line with my eggs, confectioners’ sugar, food coloring, and butter. I was preparing for Hurricane Sandy in my own special way—I was getting supplies for a weekend baking extravaganza.

I’ve wanted to bake some sugar cookies lately after purchasing a pumpkin cookie cutter at Hill’s Kitchen, one of my favorite baking stores in the district. I decided this weekend was the perfect time to put it to use. These cookies are fairly simple to make—they’re the old fashioned rolled sugar cookies. And the frosting comes together in a pinch. Feel free to get creative with the decorations. I actually purchased some white sanding sugar and used food coloring to make it green for the stems. If you’re not feeling adventurous, you can simply buy some green sprinkles at the store.

Cookie Ingredients
1 1/2 cups butter, softened
2 cups white sugar
4 eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
5 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon salt

Frosting Ingredients
3 cups confectioners’ sugar
1/4 teaspoon cream of tartar
2 egg whites, beaten

Directions
In a large bowl, cream together butter and sugar until smooth. Beat in eggs and vanilla. Stir in the flour, baking powder, and salt. Cover, and chill dough for at least one hour (or overnight). Preheat oven to 400 degrees F. Roll out dough on floured surface 1/4 to 1/2 inch thick. Cut into shapes with any cookie cutter. Place cookies 1 inch apart on ungreased cookie sheets. Bake 6 to 8 minutes in preheated oven. Cool completely.

In a bowl, sift together confectioners’ sugar and cream of tartar. Using electric mixer, beat in 2 beaten egg whites for about 5 minutes or until mixture is thick enough to hold its shape. Add desired food coloring to frosting and transfer into a piping bag for decoration.

Heather’s Helpful Hints
Make sure your rolled dough produces cookies that are uniform in thickness. If some cookies are thicker than others, they will take longer to cook on the baking sheet.

Pumpkin Sheet Cake

Baking something for dinner guests is always nerve racking.

Wouldn’t you agree? You want to make something impressive and delicious, but at the same time you want to keep things simple and minimize the potential for disaster. Last night Matt and I went over to his mentor’s house and prepared dinner for him and his wife. We did some cooking in advance and then brought the food over. Matt cooked an Ethiopian dinner (complete with doro wott, masir, and alechi) and I finished it off with a dessert.

I chose a safe recipe. One I had tasted before and knew would be delicious—pumpkin cake. The recipe comes from my friend Liz who prepared it for a book club meeting a few years ago. She used the recipe to make cupcakes and they were the perfect fall dessert. The pumpkin makes the cake so moist and the frosting is an added treat! I asked Liz for this recipe so I could share it on my blog. It’s a no fuss recipe that’s sure not to disappoint. Enjoy!

Pumpkin Sheet Cake
Recipe from Liz Drilias

Ingredients
1 cup oil
4 eggs
2 cups pumpkin puree
2 cups sugar
2 cups flour
2 tsp baking soda
1 teaspoon baking powder
2 teaspoons salt
2 teaspoons cinnamon
2 cups powdered sugar
1 – 8 oz package cream cheese
1/2 cup margarine or butter
2 teaspoons vanilla
Chopped pecans for garnish

Directions
Place a rack in the middle of the oven and preheat to 350 degrees F. Grease a 9×13 baking pan.

In a large bowl combine oil, eggs, pumpkin, and sugar. In separate bowl mix flour, baking soda, baking powder, salt, and cinnamon. Combine the dry mixture with the pumpkin mixture. Pour into greased baking pan. Bake cake for 35 minutes. Remove from oven and let cool completely on a wire rack.

For frosting, bring cream cheese and butter to room temperature. Combine cream cheese, butter, and vanilla in a bowl and mix until frosting is smooth in consistency. Spread frosting over cooled cake. Sprinkle with pecans for garnish if desired.

Heather’s Helpful Hints
This recipe works great for muffins also! Simply pour batter into greased or lined muffin tins and bake for 20-24 minutes.

Pumpkin Butterscotch Muffin Tops

Why does switching your cell phone number feel like such a life changing event?

Seriously though, this is exactly what I was thinking as I stood in the AT&T shop with my boyfriend this afternoon. We’ve been discussing joining our plans for months. After making spreadsheets of our usage, talking on the phone with countless representatives, and pouring over the various plan options, we had finally made our decision. So why was I having a mini breakdown in the store?

I’ll tell you why. After being wedded to the same number for the past 10+ years, it has become a part of me. It’s seen me through college, trips overseas, graduate school, my first job, even a move across the country. It’s a piece of my Minnesota identity wherever I might be in the world. And for a moment, when I thought about giving up this number, it suddenly felt like I was giving up a little piece of myself.

Was I overreacting? Definitely. But that didn’t stop me from having my sentimental moment. Regardless, we agreed to visit the store the store tomorrow to finalize everything and get our new (smart) phones. What all this means is that later this week I’ll have a different number and will get to begin the process of making new memories with this number.

After tackling the cell phone shop Matt and I went on a fall drive to enjoy some of the autumn leaves in Ann Arbor. We came home and baked some delicious pumpkin cookies. They are soft and remind me of a muffin top almost more than a cookie. Packed with butterscotch chips and pumpkin, these are the perfect fall treat.

Pumpkin Butterscotch Muffin Tops
Adapted from Joy the Baker

Ingredients
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
2 eggs
1 cup sugar
1/2 cup vegetable oil
1 cup canned pumpkin
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 cup butterscotch chips

Directions
Place a rack in the middle of the oven and preheat to 325 degrees F. Butter baking sheets or line them with parchment paper and butter the paper.

Stir the flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, cinnamon, and nutmeg together in a medium bowl and set aside. In a large bowl, beat the eggs and sugar until smooth and lightened in color. Mix in the oil, pumpkin, and vanilla until blended. Add in the flour mixture to incorporate it with the liquids. Fold in the chips.

Using an ice cream scoop with a 1/4-cup capacity, scoop mounds of the dough onto the prepared baking sheets, spacing the cookies at least 2 1/2-inches apart. You can also simply use a 1/4-cup measuring cup if you don’t have a scoop. Use a spatula to smooth and flatten the rounds.

Bake the cookies one sheet at a time until the tops feel firm and a toothpick inserted in the center comes out dry, about 13-16 minutes. Cool them on the baking sheet for 5 minutes, then use a wide metal spatula to transfer the cookies to a wire rack to cool completely.

Heather’s Helpful Hints
Be sure to cool your baking sheets between baking batches of cookies. A baking or cookie sheet should be either cool or at room temperature when the cookie dough is place on it. If the sheets are still hot when you add more dough, the cookies can start to melt and spread before they even get in the oven.