Cheesecake-Filled Pumpkin Cupcakes with Cream Cheese Frosting

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Halloween is a time for ghouls, ghosts, goblins… and why not a pumpkin too!

Last Halloween I shared a post about my Strawberry Shortcake costume that I was so excited to wear until my plans were foiled by the infamous Minnesota Halloween blizzard of 1991. I figured why not stick with the tradition, and share another fun costume story with you this year!

In our household growing up, Halloween costumes were never purchased from the store. Instead, they were creatively crafted from whatever items you could find around the house. Growing up in Minnesota, Halloween comes at a time of year that is pretty chilly. Therefore, you definitely don’t want to be parading around the neighborhood in shorts or a t-shirt.

My mother, being the smart woman she is, decided that she would create the ultimate Halloween costume for me one year. It fit the criteria of being both homemade and warm. We went to JoAnn fabrics and bought some orange fabric and some accompanying fabric paint. We came home and she crafted a giant pumpkin costume complete with eyes, a nose, and a mouth. All that one had to do was slip on the costume and fill it up with insulation of your choice (which ranged from newspaper to balloons). The look was completed with some orange face paint and some green sweatpants with a turtleneck. This costume was such a classic that I wore it for several years!

Continuing with the pumpkin theme of this post, these cupcakes are pumpkin all the way. The center is a pumpkin shaped cheesecake and the cupcakes themselves have canned pumpkin in them. This recipe can easily be split into two days which makes them pretty easy to pull together. Since there is already quite a bit of prep work, I cheated and used box cake mix—you should too without any guilt!

Cheesecake-Filled Pumpkin Cupcakes with Cream Cheese Frosting
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Mini Cheesecake Ingredients
butter, to coat the inside of your pumpkin molds
16 ounces cream cheese, softened
2/3 cup sugar
1/3 cup heavy whipping cream
2 large eggs
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
orange and green food coloring
silicone pumpkin molds

Cupcake Ingredients
1 package (2-layer size) spice cake mix
1 cup sour cream
1 can (15 oz.) pumpkin
1/4 cup oil
3 eggs

Frosting Ingredients
1 cup butter, softened
1/2 cup solid vegetable shortening
1 pound cream cheese, softened
1 tablespoon clear vanilla extract
3 1/2 pounds sifted confectioners sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
orange food coloring
sprinkles for decoration

Mini Cheesecake Directions
Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Butter the cavities in your pumpkin molds.

Combine cream cheese, sugar, heavy whipping cream, eggs, and vanilla in the bowl of a food processor, pulse until smooth. Alternatively, mix cream cheese and sugar together until well blended. Add whipping cream, eggs and vanilla and mix until smooth. Remove about 2 tablespoons of filling and color it green. Color the remaining filling using orange food coloring.

Paint the green filling into the stems of 40 cavities. The filling is pretty thick and should stay in place nicely, but just to be safe, pop these filled molds into the freezer for 5 minutes before filling with the orange cheesecake.

Set silicone pumpkin mold on a baking sheet. Fill the pumpkins with orange cheesecake filling. Leave a small amount of room in each mold for the filling to expand while baking (about a 16th of an inch.)

Bake 12-14 minutes until the tops look set but the cheesecake pumpkins are still jiggly. Allow to cool for 30 minutes at room temperature, then place in the freezer for at least 1 hour. You can, at this point, wrap the mold well and store them in the freezer for up to several weeks.

Remove the molds from the freezer, turn the mold upside down and press the pumpkin cheesecakes out. I set mine on a non-stick baking mat just to be sure they wouldn’t stick later once they thawed. It will be easiest to move these now to a serving platter or dessert plates.

Cupcake Directions

Heat oven to 350ºF. Beat cake mix, sour cream, pumpkin, oil, and eggs until blended. Place cupcake liners in cupcake pan. Pour a thin layer of batter into each of the cupcake liners.

Remove the Mini Cheesecake Pumpkins from the freezer. Un-mold them, and stick 2 cheesecakes together (put their backsides together) then place them in the center of each cupcake liner. It is very important that you know which way your cheesecake pumpkins are facing. Later when you cut into a cupcake to reveal the pumpkin, you want to cut across the front not the side.

Fill the cupcake liners up over the cheesecake pumpkins. I felt it was easiest to put my batter in a large disposable pastry bag and pipe it into the cups. Once all the cups are filled allow them to sit at room temperature for about 20 minutes. While you are waiting, preheat your oven to 350 degrees.

Bake the cupcakes for 20-22 minutes until they are set around the edges and puffed in the middle. As the cupcakes cool, they will sink a bit in the center. Allow them to cool completely.

Frosting Directions
Cream butter, shortening, cream cheese and extracts. Gradually add confectioners sugar and salt. Beat on low speed until nice and creamy. This recipe is for a stiff consistency. For a thinner consistency, use 3 pounds of powdered sugar instead.

Heather’s Helpful Hints
To make the perfect cream cheese frosting, your cream cheese must be at room temperature. You can ensure this happens by letting it sit out overnight. Butter should be at room temperature, but still a bit cool (try leaving it out for 2-3 hours before making the frosting). The butter shouldn’t be completely soft and mush in the package. It should be soft, but still hold its cube shape.

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Classic French Croissants

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There is little better than biting into a flaky and buttery croissant that is just fresh out of the oven. Although several pastries try to pass themselves off as croissants, few would be worthy of gracing the shelf of a French patisserie. In fact, I think the essence of a croissant is best captured in a quote by the Association of French Bakers. They included this description in a letter to Kanye West after he lambasted French cuisine, and specifically the croissant, in one of his songs.

The croissant is dignified — not vulgar like a piece of toast, simply popped into a mechanical device to be browned. No — the croissant is born of tender care and craftsmanship. Bakers must carefully layer the dough, paint on perfect proportions of butter, and then roll and fold this trembling croissant embryo with the precision of a Japanese origami master.

One of my baking goals this year was to tackle the pastry making process. I’ve always been intimidated by the combination of yeast, dough, and rolling pins. My first foray into the pastry world was when I made mini choux buns earlier this year. With the technique for making choux pastry under my belt I decided it was time to graduate to the next level.

I signed up for a baking class with Zingermans Bakery. For those who aren’t familiar, Zingermans is a gourmet food business headquartered right here in Ann Arbor. Their slogan is: “You really can taste the difference,” and they offer baking classes to educate consumers about the products they sell. My four hour class was called Ohh La La Croissants and was complete with demonstration, in-class participation, culinary education, and a final taste testing. After class, I was sent home with 15 croissants and some dough that I could either refrigerate and use right away or stick in the freezer.

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If you’d like to make some croissants, be sure to set aside some time for yourself. These delicious morsels take some TLC to see through to completion. Croissant dough is layered with butter, rolled and folded several times in succession, then rolled into a sheet, in a technique called laminating. The process results in a layered, flaky texture, similar to a puff pastry. While making these is fairly time consuming, the results are truly worth it. You’ll never want another store bought croissant again!

Classic French Croissant Recipe

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Poolish Ingredients
1 1/2 cups whole milk at room temperature
3 tablespoons honey
2 teaspoons instant yeast
2 1/4 cup all purpose flour

Dough Ingredients
2 teaspoons of salt
2 1/4 cups bread flour

Butter Block Ingredients
1 1/2 cups unsalted butter at room temperature
1/2 cup all purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
1 tablespoon lemon juice

Egg Wash Ingredients
1 large egg
1 large yolk
1 tablespoon water

To Make the Poolish
In large mixing bowl, combine the milk, honey, yeast, and flour. Stir to dissolve. Add 1 1/4 cups flour and mix to combine. Beat until smooth. Cover with saran wrap and let rise for 1 hour. Mixture will double in size, therefore the container you use for the poolish should be 2 times as big as the amount of poolish. The poolish is ready after about one hour. You can then refrigerate if you want, but must use within 24 hours.

Creating the Dough
To the poolish mixture, add the salt and remaining 2 1/4 cups flour and mix using a wooden spoon. Mix until incorporated. Be careful not to over mix. Press on the dough to force the moisture into it. Remove from bowl and fold over a couple of times. If you pull on the bread dough, it should rip. Form dough into a uniform square. Wrap in plastic wrap, refrigerate for at least 1 hour before enclosing the butter into the dough.

Forming the Butter Block
Dice butter into 1 inch cubes and put in a bowl. Add the flour and salt to the butter and mix well until completely incorporated into butter. Add lemon juice to mixing bowl; beat with a wooden spoon until the butter is softened and the lemon juice is absorbed. Remove the butter from the bowl. Place on plastic wrap and form into a 6“ x 6” square with a plastic scrape or spatula. Wrap and chill for 1 hour.

Enclosing and Folding Dough with Butter
Remove the dough from the refrigerator; remove the plastic wrap and place on a lightly floured surface. Cut a cross in the top of the dough and roll out the ball of dough in 4 places (left, right, up and down) so that it looks like a 4 “petal” flower. Need to leave a mound or lump in the center of dough. Note: Every time you roll out the dough, use a pastry brush to brush away the extra flour that has clung to the dough.

Place the chilled butter square on the center of the dough. The butter and the dough should be at the same temperature. Fold the 4 “petals” over the butter, from left to right and from top to bottom, to enclose butter completely. Make sure the corners are pinched so that the butter does not ooze out.

On a lightly floured surface, start the rolling process by tapping the center of the enclosed dough with the side of the rolling pin from the center out. Center to right and then center to left. Using the same technique, tap the dough from the center to top and center to bottom. This helps the butter move with the dough without tearing. Roll the dough into a rectangle about 8“ by 20”. Brush off the excess flour from the surface of the dough. Square up the corners of the dough as you roll. With the roughest side of dough up (this will help hide any imperfections), fold the dough into 4ths (book fold) and wrap in plastic and chill for at least 30 minutes to relax the gluten in the dough.

Remove the chilled dough from the refrigerator and place on a lightly floured surface. With a rolling pin, lightly tap the dough to start the rolling process. Roll the dough into a rectangle about 10“ x 24”. Brush off any excess flour on the dough. Fold the dough into thirds (letter fold) and wrap in plastic and chill. The dough will be ready to roll to the final thickness for the finished croissants.

Shaping the Croissants
On a lightly floured surface, roll the dough into a 10“ by 24” rectangle 1/8 inch thick. Note: It is important to get the rectangle very thin. Lift the dough gently (or aerate it) to keep it from shrinking. Take care not to spoil the shape of the rectangle. Brush excess flour from the top and bottom of the dough. Trim the edges of the dough to square it.

Starting 2 inches in from the left side on the bottom edge, with a ruler and a pastry wheel cutter, mark every 4 inches across the bottom of the dough for a total of 6 marks. You will have a scrap piece from each side. Using a pastry wheel cutter, cut into triangles, each with a 4 inch base. Cut a 1/2 inch slit in the center of each base (the wide end of the dough piece). Place the triangles in a single layer on a clean work surface.

To shape croissants, place the dough triangle on the work surface with the long point nearest to you. Stretch the case of the triangle to enlarge the slit. At this point, you can add either small bars of chocolate up by the base end, or a rounded teaspoon of almond filling.

Fold the slit toward the outer sides of the triangle, covering the filling of your choice. Press down to seal. Roll the base of the triangle up and towards you, stretching the dough slightly as you roll. Tucking the center point underneath the croissant. Turn the two ends together to form a crescent.

Arrange the croissants on a parchment lined baking sheet and brush lightly with the egg wash. Proof for up to 2 hours covered with plastic wrap. Croissants should have doubled in size. Bake in a preheated oven at 400 degrees for 12-15 minutes. Remove from oven and cool to room temperature for 20 to 30 minutes on a cooling rack.

Heather’s Helpful Hints
This is probably the most complex recipe that I’ve posted on Sweet Precision. I truly believe that the process is best learned through instruction, which is why I signed up for the baking class. I found a video on YouTube that does an excellent job of walking you through the process step by step. So before you break out your rolling pin, be sure to take a quick look here!

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Happy One Year Anniversary!

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Today is a special day! It’s the one-year anniversary of my blog. As you can see, I had a private party last night and celebrated this occasion. Since it was our anniversary, I decided that for a change I wasn’t going to bake anything. Instead, Matt picked up two cupcakes from the Cupcake Station which is an amazing cupcake shop here in Ann Arbor. We lit a candle, ate our cupcakes, and celebrated my first year of blogging.

It’s hard to believe an entire year has gone by since I first decided to work up the courage to start my blog. At the beginning it was an intimidating process. I didn’t know if anyone would care what I had to say, or let alone take the time to look at my pictures or try the recipes. Now a year later, I’ve joined a wonderful community of bloggers and enjoy the release that comes with baking, photographing, and writing. In honor of my one-year anniversary, I’m taking a look back at the past year and have picked my top five recipes to share with you.

1. These Girl Scout Samoa Cookies were by far my favorite recipe of the year. Inspired by my goal of recreating these classic Girl Scout cookies, this recipe was a hit once I posted it. In fact, I’m hesitant to buy real Samoa cookies ever again!

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2. My Fourth of July Cake Pops were a vision that I had for a long time. Finally, when my parents came to visit me in DC we put that vision into action. I might have been late to the cake pop craze, but it was fun making these beauties.

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3. The recipe for my Classic Pound Cake comes from my grandma Rachel. The recipe and baking instructions are simple, but sometimes there’s nothing better than a moist and buttery pound cake. Sometimes the classics really are the best.

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4. This was the year of my Amish Friendship Bread baking challenge. This Rosemary Lemon Amish Friendship Bread was by far my favorite recipe. So often we limit ourselves to the traditional cinnamon loaves, but this recipe takes things up a notch by using lemon and rosemary in mini bundt shaped pans.

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5. These Christmas Pinwheel Cookies won third place in the Epicurious Christmas baking challenge. When Matt sent me an email saying that I should enter something, I was hesitant to say the least. But after some encouraging from him I entered these cookies and was surprised to have a winner on hand. These cookies kicked off my 12 days of Christmas baking challenge.

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Thank you for joining me on the adventure of my first year of blogging. I enjoy each and every comment and interaction that I have with you. The part that makes blogging so worthwhile is YOU, my readers!

Here’s to another year of mixing, measuring, and baking in the Sweet Precision Kitchen!