Thursday, November 16, 2017

You Had Me at Pumpkin

Well, it's time to face reality--Thanksgiving is almost here, and once it's passed, the season of pumpkin will come to a close. I'm a seasonal flavor baker...citrus belongs in the summer, pumpkin in the fall, peppermint in the winter, and everything green in the month of March. Literally the only thing I eat year round dessert-wise is ice cream. I love the stuff so much that if I could only eat one dessert for the rest of my life, that would be it. And considering how much I eat dessert, my calcium intake would be off the charts. Bones so strong they're indestructible! ...thus fulfilling my lifelong dream of becoming a Terminator. But, luckily for you guys, that'll never happen. And also luckily for my husband, the final pumpkin dessert of the season is here. If I baked with pumpkin as often as I wanted to, I'm fairly certain he'd have left me a long time ago, citing irreconcilable differences (a.k.a., my wife uses an obscene amount of pumpkin spice). I definitely wanted this baking season to go out with a bang, so I came up with a low-cal dessert guaranteed to wow everyone at your Thanksgiving festivities next week: pumpkin cheesecake lasagna.
Epic taste lies within!

All the best things have layers. Fall outfits, ice cream cakes, my this pumpkin cheesecake lasagna fits the bill in both the scrumptious and seasonally appropriate categories. Considering the original Tasty recipe was full of all of the fats, I knew I had to come up with a way to make this low cal. There was no way I was going to be able to write off something called pumpkin cheesecake lasagna. Those are three of my favorite things all combined into one blissful dessert experience. I was able to get clever and managed to bring the calorie count down to a respectable 205 calories a slice for 12 slices. If you went for smaller slices, you could go for 15 slices at 164 calories a pop. No pumpkin pie in the world can say the same, and they don't even have layers. Amateurs. Considering I am all about the "bake ahead" when it comes to Thanksgiving, this dessert demands it! It's best if you make it the night before you want to serve it, so this definitely frees up space in the kitchen on Turkey Day.
Just don't forget the caramel. Because I have for like two nights in a row, but we didn't even notice because this is just that good.
The ingredients are also incredibly simple. You don't have to beg a health food store to sell you specialty ingredients for less than fifty bucks a pound or anything. All you need is:
  • 1 brick of 1/3 less fat cream cheese at room temp
  • 2 heaping TBS of Truvia Baking Blend
  • 1 1/2 cups of Cool Whip Free
  • 2 cups of skim milk
  • 2 large (1.5 ounce each) packages of sugar free instant vanilla pudding
  • 1 tsp of pumpkin pie spice
  • 3/4-1 cup pumpkin puree(I used 3/4 cup because it was what I had left in the fridge, but it was definitely plenty)
  • Reduced fat cinnamon graham cracker sheets (14 1/2 sheets total)
  • Optional: caramel for drizzle, pecans for topping
Start by mixing the cream cheese and Truvia in a stand mixer for a few minutes until fluffy. Then spoon in the Cool Whip Free and blend on low until well mixed. Set this aside.
Oh pumpkin, I shall miss you most of all.
 In a medium mixing bowl, dump the pumpkin spice, pumpkin puree, and both instant pudding packages. Then add in all of the milk--this will be very stiff (perhaps less so if you use the full cup of pumpkin), so mix until everything is incorporated:
And definitely looks of pumpkiny goodness.
 Now, get a glass 9x13 baking pan. I say glass because you want to be able to ooh and ahh at your lasagna layers. Hold on to your butts--it's time for a crappy photo montage!
To secure your graham crackers, put a thin layer of the cream cheese mixture on the bottom of your pan.

Then lay out your graham crackers. I fit 7 and 1/4 sheets on my bottom layer. I am nothing if not precise.

You stiff, delicious bastard.
 I wasn't kidding when I said the pumpkin mixture was stiff. I had to hold down my graham crackers while I initially spread the pumpkin mixture over them to keep them from flying around everywhere. You can try heating things up in the microwave to thin them out, but this didn't make a huge difference to me. Had I had a full cup of pumpkin puree leftover, this probably would've been way easier, but I couldn't justify opening a new can to only use a 1/4 cup and then get thrown away due to pumpkin season termination. You only want to use HALF of your pumpkin mixture at this point. Spread it as evenly as you can with a rubber spatula...perhaps a heated metal/angled spatula might make this process easier.
Thankfully, the cheesecake layer is much nicer.
On top of the pumpkin layer, add a layer of HALF of the cheesecake mixture. Smooth out as best as you can. I used a separate rubber spatula for this so I wouldn't have to wash my pumpkin spatula over and over because I am insanely lazy. I've been known to buy everything in twos because of this. Cost effective? Nope. Super efficient? Yep.
Not pictured: the break I needed to take from smoothing out pumpkin mixture to give my arm some rest.
 On top of the cheesecake layer, add the remaining graham crackers. Top the graham crackers with the rest of the pumpkin mix:
After this, you get to lick the spatula!
 And finish off your lasagna layers with the last of the cheesecake mixture:
After this, you get to lick the OTHER spatula!
 Laziness has its benefits. Two spatulas equals twice the taste testing. I sprinkled some additional pumpkin spice on top of my cheesecake layer because a) I like sprinkles and b) I have a pumpkin spice problem.
But it's a pretty way to finish off the lasagna. Think of it like the sprinkling of oregano on top of a regular lasagna. +1 for presentation!
Smooshed layers are still delicious!
 Cover your pumpkin cheesecake lasagna with foil and place in the fridge to set overnight. If you licked your spatulas clean, you already know what greatness will await you for Thanksgiving dessert. You may even want to start a new tradition where you eat dessert first and then pick at the bird. I'm not judging you--I think it's the best idea I've ever had. I say, make it the cheatiest of cheat days! Of course, you're not really cheating when dessert has fewer calories than your sweet potato casserole.
But it is still pretty orange either way.
 After you've let your dessert set overnight, keep it in the fridge until you're ready to serve. You don't want soupy cheesecake lasagna. I'm sure there's a lasagna soup recipe out there, but I can guarantee you it doesn't belong in the dessert category. Serve with a drizzle of caramel sauce, and if you love pecans, throw some of those on top, too! Dream big! It's the best eating day of the year.
Thank you for being you, Thanksgiving.
 When my husband has the rare opportunity to take a bite of a dessert before I do (hi, I'm a glutton and inhale my food) and his first reaction is that "yum" noise (you know the one), I know it's a great dessert. So imagine my surprise when this totally pumpkin concoction elicited said "yum" noise from my husband--whose feelings about pumpkin spice are just "meh." He loved it. I'm trying to come up with a new word for how I feel about this dessert because the word "love" simply doesn't suffice. I would eat the entire pan in one sitting if given the opportunity. Whatever the combination of love and obsession is, that's how I feel about this pumpkin cheesecake lasagna. Each layer really stands out--you get the smooth cheesecake mixing with that nice, thick layer of pumpkin spice pudding, and the graham crackers add a nice cinnamon zip. Not to mention the few times I have remembered to add caramel on top, it perfectly encapsulated the flavor that most of us associate with fall. While I'm incredibly sad pumpkin season has ended in this house, I'm ecstatic that fudge and peppermint season is almost upon us. I hope everyone has an amazing Thanksgiving. Take time to appreciate the Big Four F's: family, friends, food, and football. 'Til next time, my fellow eaters!
Less than 12 months until you're back in my life, pumpkin spice!

Tuesday, November 7, 2017

A Cookie Should Be Two Things: Simple and Tasty.

I haven't made cookies since I spent an entire day working on those bewitching swirl Halloween cookies on October 1. It took forever, and quite frankly, my brand of perfectionism is of the lazy variety. I won't have a tombstone one day, but if I did, it would read, "Worked Smarter, Not Harder." I won't be lacking in the tombstone department because I've found the secret to immortality; I just want to be cremated, thus bringing my work smarter, not harder mantra full circle. Anyway, spending ten hours baking cookies just isn't something I was interested in doing again anytime soon. And I'm not gonna lie, when I think hand-held desserts, I typically go immediately to cupcakes. Taking a full-scale cake and bringing it down to bite-sized deliciousness without the need for a fork? Yep...once more, working smarter. So I needed a dessert that was quick, worked with staple pantry items, and for the sake of my husband's sanity, didn't involve an ounce of pumpkin spice (don't worry, it'll be back in the next blog). Along came a cookie I thought I'd ground test for holiday baking season: the cranberry white chocolate chip cookie.
It's a perfect "After Food Coma" cookie for Thanksgiving or Christmas!
Don't worry, I kept burgeoning waistlines in mind. Because when you sit down to eat a cookie, this weird thing always happens where five minutes later you've suddenly realized you ate six cookies at once. The original recipe I found had insanely high calorie content...over 200 calories for one cookie. That's a hearty slice of delicious roasted bird and some! Naturally, when I want to make something happen, I find a way. I adapted the pants off of the original recipe using some tried and true (and super easy) calorie-cutting methods. Did I mention I like working smarter and not harder? I may have. In this case, I lowered the calorie content to 95 calories a cookie (more than halved the original amount!) so I wouldn't have to work harder with a Jillian Michael's boot camp. Never underestimate the power of a fit girl who wants dessert.
May or may not be buying my Craisins in bulk and adding them to literally everything this month.
Now, I know some people love fluffy, soft cookies and others love crunchy, flatter cookies. I'm Team Fluffy (there's definitely a missed joke opportunity in that), but I am going to divulge how to make these if you're Team Crunchy, too. Sorry, the only thing I like crunchy is my pizza crust, so you're never going to convert me. But in either case, you'll need:
  • 1/4 cup butter at room temp
  • 1/4 cup of unsweetened applesauce
  • 1/4 cup Truvia Baking Blend
  • 1/4 cup Truvia Brown Sugar Blend
  • 2 tsp vanilla
  • 1 egg
  • 2 TBS heavy cream (you can use skim milk to cut more calories, but I had heavy cream leftover I needed to use!)
  • 1 3/4 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1 1/2 tsp baking soda
  • A pinch of salt
  • 1 cup of white chocolate chips
  • 1 cup of 50% less sugar Craisins
  • Optional:
    •  I felt like a tsp or two of orange zest would've taken these cookies to the next level and complemented the cranberries so, so well. Definitely trying this next time!
    • If you hate white chocolate: replace with dark chocolate, semisweet chocolate, or cinnamon chips...all these flavors complement cranberry, so dealer's choice!
Now, if you're on Team Crunchy, preheat your oven to 350 and line a few baking sheets with Parchment paper lightly misted with cooking spray. My fellow Team Fluffy folks, don't preheat your oven yet. Regardless of your cookie texture preference, start by creaming the butter, both Truvias, and the applesauce for a few minutes in your stand mixer (use the paddle!). Scrape down the bowl before adding anything else. Things are going to look a lot like oatmeal when they're all mixed:
I promise you, it doesn't stay like this.
 Next, add in the egg, vanilla, and heavy cream/milk. Blend well, scraping down the bowl once mixed. Once well mixed, add in the flour, baking soda, and salt. Blend on low so as not to cause an explosion of flour all over your kitchen. Fun times.
I didn't lie--it looks like perfectly normal cookie dough now!
At this point, I definitely sampled the wares. I had yet to bake with the brown sugar Truvia, so I was sampling in the name of science. Things tasted perfectly normal to me, and I haven't grown a third arm or anything weird, so I say, use it.
Mmm, Craisins.
I won't lie--not the biggest fan of white chocolate. I really only like it in cookies. I once had a white chocolate macadamia nut cookie so good, it converted me into both a white chocolate chip and a macadamia nut lover. But my personal eating history aside, now you'll want to add in the cup of chips and the cup of dried cranberries. Blend on low. Your mixer will sound like it's either dying or trying to become sentient to kill you for making it mix so many chips. I may have watched Maximum Overdrive recently.
Resisted the urge to eat a dough ball.
Once mixed, grease a tablespoon or a cookie scoop. This recipe should yield you 32 little balls of cookie dough, so scoop away and place on the prepared baking trays. To make them look even more delicious, add a few chips and cranberries on top (baker's secret...I do this with all my chip-based cookies). Okay Team Crunchy: at this point, you will want to bake your cookies 8-12 at a time on your prepared baking tray at 350 for 10-11 minutes or until golden on the top rack of the oven. By not freezing your dough, it will flatten out a lot during baking, so leave plenty of space between cookies. Let your cookies cool on the sheet for 5 minutes before removing to a cooling rack. Team Fluffy: cover your cookies with plastic wrap and place in the freezer for 30-45 minutes.
Partially frozen little disks of Heaven. Like a CPK freezer pizza.
By freezing the dough, you're preventing the cookies from getting thin. Take your dough out of the freezer, and slightly flatten them from ball to disk like pictured above. You will cook your cookies at 350 for 9-10 minutes on the top rack of the oven (no burning bottoms this way! I have dark baking sheets). I under bake a tad to ensure my cookies are super soft in the middle once they've cooled. Am I worried about Salmonella, you ask? I live life dangerously. Well, danger adjacent. Sigh...this is probably the most dangerous thing I do these days. Bake your cookies 8-12 at a time; they won't expand too much, but do leave space between cookies. They'll be done when they're just barely turning golden.
My middle name is Cautious.
Let your cookies cool on the sheet for 5 minutes before removing to a cooling rack for your viewing pleasure.
Stackable! Portable! Edible!
Aren't they cute? They're also scrumptious. They are so sweet and so soft...pillowy even. I feel like they simply melt on my tongue when I eat them. They're packed with tart cranberries, smooth white chocolate chips, and they took no time at all to make--this is everything I'm looking for in a cookie. It's always wonderful when I can bake something that both looks and tastes amazing in the amount of time it takes me to watch one baking show on Food Network. Yeah, I'm one of those people. I'm addicted to baking shows. But luckily for you guys, I'm not so full of myself that I started naming things in French or using super complex terminology. I mean, I admit I still eat cookie dough out of the bowl. If that's not relatable, I don't know what is. Just make the cookies and tell me you don't eat half the dough along the way. If you can hold out though, the end results are positively perfect for your next holiday bake off. 'Til next time, my fellow eaters!
Yep, still using Halloween napkins. Bring it on, Christmas!

Thursday, November 2, 2017

Your Next Thanksgiving Dessert has Arrived! favorite month of the year has come to a close, and I'm back to my usual ho-hum self. Well, slightly ho-hum because I do still have all my Halloween decorations up to fill me with dark and spooky glee (cue evil laughter). I'd like to become the anti-Hobby Lobby and keep them up for months on end, really. I'm willing to bet Hobby Lobby doesn't even wait until November 1 to start decking the halls in store anymore. It's like there's not a single holiday in between Halloween and Christmas. You know, except Dia de los Muertos, Veteran's Day, and that pesky little thing called Thanksgiving that no one ever celebrates. But speaking of Turkey Day and reasons to be thankful--we're two days in to November, and you know what that means? PUMPKIN EVERYTHING! Well, some of us basic white girls have been adding our drug of choice, pumpkin spice, to anything we can get our hands on since September (Hi, I'm Kate, and I have a pumpkin spice problem). But now that it's November, it's a socially acceptable addiction. I defy you to find someone who doesn't partake in some form of pumpkin goodness this month. In fact, I'm here to shake things up with a non-pie-related dessert that's perfect for the Thanksgiving dessert table: pumpkin angel food cake with cinnamon chip glaze.
Also, it is kind to your turkey and stuffing rations by being low cal!
Look, I'm pretty sure even men will eventually start donning yoga pants on Thanksgiving as a means to allow optimum eating and comfort levels. I wanted to try a pumpkin angel food cake on for size (see what I did there) because angel food cake is so nice and light. After eating ham, sweet potatoes, and enough stuffing for two turkeys, I sometimes completely skip dessert on Thanksgiving because pies are so heavy. Also, I absolutely hate pumpkin pie. I know, I'm a walking contradiction, but even though it is full of pumpkin, it just has a gross texture to me. But since D and I are riding out Thanksgiving solo, I'm thinking of focusing more on dessert and less on the bird. I make fantastic life choices. In all seriousness, this makes 12 slices of cake at only 230 calories a slice--even just looking at a dish of Thanksgiving eats is even more calories than that.
Another blog, another time I forgot to picture the vanilla extract.
This recipe is also insanely simple. Mix it and forget about it simple. The hardest part is getting your angel food cake out of your bundt pan because you don't have anymore kitchen space for an actual angel food cake pan. If you do have an angel food cake pan, you're in even better shape than I am. Gather up:
  • 1 box of angel food cake plus the water it calls for on the back of the box
  • 2 tsp pumpkin pie spice
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1 cup of canned pumpkin
Start by preheating your oven to 350 and placing a rack on the lowest level of your oven. If you have a bundt pan, fold a paper towel into quarters and spray it with cooking spray. Rub the inside of the pan with this a few times until things are slightly greasy, but no so greasy that the angel food cake won't be able to "climb" the sides of the pan while baking. In a stand mixer, mix the water, angel food cake mix, pumpkin spice, and vanilla extract for about 90 seconds. Once mixed, slowly fold in the cup of pumpkin with a rubber spatula by hand.
10 of 10 could, would, and did taste test batter.
Pour into your angel food cake or bundt pan. Place into the oven on the lowest rack and bake for 35-45 minutes. A toothpick should come out clean, and your cake should have a gorgeous tan. Seriously:
Not even of my best of days have I ever been able to achieve this color.
Once your cake is finished baking, place on a rack while still in the pan to cool for an hour. Come back in with a long angled spatula or long butter knife and gently loosen the cake from the sides and the middle of your pan. Place a plate on top of your pan and invert your pan so the plate is back on the bottom where it should be. Gently tap until you feel the cake release from the pan. I had to come in three or four times with my angled spatula until the cake was completely loose. Place this in the freezer for at least 30 minutes so the cake is not only cooled, but chilled, for your glaze.
Queen of Sprinkles!
I had every intention of making my glaze an actual ganache, but I didn't have time to let it set long enough before risking forgetting about it completely while we tended to trick-or-treaters since I made this on Halloween night. I knew I was going to need cake to cope with my post-Halloween sadness. To make the glaze or the ganache you need:
  • 1/2 cup of cinnamon baking chips
  • 4-6 TBS of heavy cream
  • Optional but potentially necessary due to the season: Wilton leaf and acorn sprinkle mix
If you want a thin glaze, use all 6 tablespoons of heavy cream. If you want a thicker ganache, use 4 or 5 tablespoons of heavy cream. Bring your heavy cream to a boil over medium-high heat in a small sauce pan. Simultaneously, melt your cinnamon chips in a bowl in the microwave. Nuke for 30 seconds at a time on 50% power. Once the chips are melted and the cream is boiling, slowly pour in a third of the heavy cream into the bowl with the melted chips. Stir away; things will get a little thick and weird, and then it's time to add in another third of the heavy cream. Stir again until things get smooth, then stir in the last of the cream. Remove your cake from the freezer at this point. If you're going for a ganache, let it rest and thicken up for a few minutes before you pour it on the cake. If you want a glaze, pour it on top of the cake while it is still thin in consistency.
Thin, but soooo full of flavory goodnees.
I seriously can't get over these sprinkles. Sprinkles for every season!
 I own a massive amount of decorative sprinkles, from skulls for Halloween, shamrocks for St. Patty's, peppermint chips for Christmas, bubble pearls for New Year's, and practically every color of the rainbow. This is potentially why I don't have room for an angel food cake pan. Worth it. Especially with the addition of these fall sprinkles. Thanks, Amazon!
And thank you, cinnamon glaze.
I have a new favorite dessert as I am completely addicted to this cake. It is so light and airy, but it packs a nice, smooth pumpkin flavor without it being overwhelmingly pumpkin-spicy. And the cinnamon chip glaze...Dear Lord. This is practically a transcendental dessert experience if there ever was one, and minus the frantic hoping and bargaining with the baking gods that my cake would come out of the pan, probably the easiest thing I've baked in over a month. This perfects the problem I have with pumpkin pie. The texture here is perfect, and the flavors all balance out so well. If anything could take on the Thanksgiving dessert table and win, it is definitely this cake. Don't believe me? You're just going to have to bake it yourself to find out. Because I am soooo not sharing any of mine. Except with my husband since I am trying recipe by recipe to turn him into a pumpkin addict, too. 'Til next time, my fellow eaters!
I wish we still had this much cake left.

Sunday, October 29, 2017

Bewitching Brownies with Captivating Cream Cheese Swirls!

I am positively atwitter with excitement as Halloween festivities are in full swing at Casa de Crazy Foxes (or Casa de Zorros Locos si habla espaƱol). Last night, Derek and I continued the tradition of couple's costumes that don't make you want to barf as we donned creepy skeleton makeup and spooked unsuspecting piano bar patrons with our friends. I sincerely enjoy that my husband is becoming quite the costume aficionado (I mean, he let me paint his face with makeup, if that's not commitment, I don't know what is). We're looking forward to scaring small neighborhood children together on Tuesday night, and yes, we have already decided what we're going to be for Halloween next year. I enjoy this season so much not just because my macabre attitude goes along with it perfectly but also because the creative side really comes out of everyone when they construct clever costumes (read: not just slutty "insert generic costume here" or bed sheet ghost). It's fun, it's creepy, and it truly makes me happy. As a creative mad genius, I simply shine during the month of October into Dia de los Muertos. But as with all good things, they will soon come to an end. So it's only fitting I have one last ghastly dessert to help me cope:
Naturally, it's full of cocoa.
These sinfully chocolatey brownies with a heavenly cream cheese swirl are so fudgy and so delicious that you'll hardly believe their secret: they're only 150 calories a piece for a pan of 9 brownies, or to cut down calories even further, 112 calories a piece for 12 brownies. I didn't have to summon a demon and sell my soul or anything supernaturally devious to make it happen (I'm saving that for eternal youth, obviously). With Truvia Baking Blend, all things are possible. After baking that massive chocolate cake for my mom's birthday, I wanted to see how Truvia would hold up in a fudge brownie recipe alongside some other healthier swaps. Turns out, absolutely fantastic. I'm not sure how long this stuff has been around, but it is now a must-have as far as I'm concerned. It may seem counter intuitive, but you really can trust the skinny baker on this one. I'm all about having my cake and eating it, too. Except in this case, it's a brownie. And it's so low cal that I also get to top it with ice cream. I always did dream big, and by dream big, I mean dare to try to eat ice cream daily.
It's fall, the applesauce switch seemed appropriate.
I've adapted these from an old tried and true brownie recipe that makes a nice 8x8 pan of seriously fudgy brownies, so if you like dry, cake-style brownies, these are not going to be what you're looking for. If I can't taste all of the chocolate melting on my tongue when I take a bite, what's the point of having a brownie? A fudge brownie is as close to a hug in food form as it gets, so to make these spectacular (and spooky!) swirled brownies, gather up:
  • 1/2 cup of Truvia Baking Blend
  • 1/2 cup of All Purpose flour
  • 1/2 cup of unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 1/2 tsp of baking powder
  • 2 eggs
  • 1/2 cup of unsweetened applesauce (used in lieu of vegetable oil)
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • Black gel dye
Start by preheating your oven to 350 and lining an 8x8 pan with Parchment paper or foil (spray lightly with cooking spray). In a large bowl, mix the Truvia, flour, cocoa powder, and baking powder with a whisk until combined. Then, add in the eggs, unsweetened applesauce, and vanilla extract. Whisk until just combined. Batter will be very thick (and very delicious). If you're making spooky Halloween brownies, be sure to add in a little black gel dye to get things to optimum creepy level--so black Spinal Tap members would be satisfied.
Could be none more black.
Reserve 1/4 cup of brownie batter, and then smooth your brownie batter out into your prepared baking pan. Set this aside, and get ready to make cream cheese magic.
It is sweet, and it is tangy.
With the Truvia Baking Blend, this cream cheese layer is definitely more on the tangy, tart side, but it does pair nicely with how rich the brownie layer is. If you want a sweeter cream cheese layer, add more Truvia and vanilla at small increments. I used:
  • 8 ounces of 1/3 less fat cream cheese at room temp
  • 2 TBS of Truvia Baking Blend
  • 1 egg
  • 1 tsp of vanilla
  • Green gel dye
Whip the cream cheese in the bowl of a stand mixer until smooth, then add in the Truvia, egg, vanilla, and gel dye. Mix on medium high until everything is smooth.
And greener than a neon highlighter.
 Very carefully smooth your cream cheese layer on top of your brownie layer. Then take a small spoon and drop dollops of the 1/4 cup of reserved brownie batter randomly over your cream cheese layer:
At this point, it looks like an unfortunate lab culture gone wrong.
To make the swirls, take a chopstick or butter knife and carefully draw S shapes back and forth over your batter:
I was going for a melted Wicked Witch of the West look.
 Once swirled, bake at 350 for 35 minutes, or until a toothpick comes out of your layers mostly clean (there will be a little build up of batter since the brownies are fudgy).
You'll know they're done when they look even greener than you thought possible.
These were so vivid and vibrant they almost hurt to look at directly. To me, this means they'd be the best addition to a Halloween dessert table because they're like a flashing neon sign of deliciousness. Let your brownies cool for an hour or two before slicing.
What, of course I have skull sprinkles.
Do you see that fudginess? It is mouth watering. We have positively chowed our way through these brownies because they are such a satisfying mix of dense chocolate and light cream cheese topping. And they're super festive. You could always go orange instead of green or split the cream cheese and dye half green, half purple, and mix in the brownie batter swirls for an impressively insane Halloween trifecta. Either way, they will get eaten, and they will get eaten fast. Be sure to keep these in the fridge (if they last that long) and reheat for 30 seconds in the microwave to get that straight-from-the-oven goodness that fudge brownies are known for...
They also make a really good ice cream plate.
When they're only 150 calories, you can make all of the ice cream happen on top of these for minimal guilt or potential gut-bomb hauntings. We like Breyer's No Sugar Added Vanilla with a (large) drizzle of sugar free chocolate syrup. Still under 300 calories for a massive amount of dessert, so those Halloween costumes will still fit like a glove. Was a little jealous of a guy I saw in a blow up Sumo Wrestler costume last night, because that would be an excellent way to hide the fact that I'd like to eat an entire pan of these brownies all at once. Either way, enjoy your Halloween, and know that I'm already coming up with ideas for next year's baking extravaganza. See you back here soon with your regularly scheduled pumpkin-filled desserts. 'Til next time, my fellow eaters.
I'm dying for some pumpkin spice...

Monday, October 23, 2017

A Birthday Cake Fit for the Queen of Halloween

We just spent a wonderful weekend with my parents to celebrate my mom's birthday. We took them to the traveling Cirque du Soleil show, Crystal, yesterday. I was in absolute awe of the talent and performance of the entire cast, while simultaneously being very much so aware of the fact that I have difficulty communicating with my left foot what my right foot is doing at the same time. I may never be able to perform acrobatics while suspended from the air (or the ground) or be able to complete a triple axle on ice (or even in my imagination), but what I can do is bake and decorate cakes so good they'll leave you speechless. I may be a little sad that as a baker no one ever gives me a standing ovation for my creation/performance, but I'm also extremely introverted and turn into a statue when a group of more than 5 people are paying attention to me directly, so I suppose it's all for the best. But I knew I had to make my mom a birthday cake fit for the Queen of Halloween and the woman who spent countless hours always ensuring my birthday cakes were absolutely perfect. I am fortunate that both her creativity and attention to detail were passed on to me, as well as that flair for the dramatic where Halloween is concerned. This meant my cake needed to be as scrumptious as it was spooky, and I thought it the perfect chance to test out two styles I've been dying to use: a semi-naked cake oozing with ganache dripping down the sides.
I was also pretty stoked to make my own swirled chocolate bark.
This is a variation of my dark chocolate cake recipe with a chocolate amaretto buttercream frosting, a chocolate amaretto ganache, and swirled chocolate bark. It was gothic but chic and delectable while full of Disaronno. For those of you looking for calorie content, I will say that this 3-tier, 6-inch cake yields 12 servings at about 312 calories a serving, and that does include all of the full-sugary goodness that is buttercream frosting. I ended up barely using any frosting save for in between layers, and I used less than half of the ganache I made, so this helped. Knowing I have a large Tupperware full of amaretto buttercream in my freezer is both tempting and terrifying, but I'll find another use for it (read: will eat it by the spoonful when I'm bored). I was actually able to cut a veritable buttload of calories by trying out what I shall now refer to as Kate's little helper: Truvia baking blend.
Yes, I used my family as guinea pigs, but I trust their opinions on dessert more than anyone else.
I ate a small amount of Truvia baking blend all by itself to make sure it had no weird aftertaste or wouldn't make me die of dysentery or sadness. It tasted fine, and I am obviously not dead (although I will probably find a way to blog in the afterlife because I am delightfully weird). I will offer you a few tips about using this stuff: you will need to add more baking soda (1/4-1/2 tsp) so that things bake evenly. I did not know this until after I was horribly shocked by how uneven and domed my cakes became in baking (don't worry, I leveled them and ate the remaining evidence). You also lose some bulk, but since this was a 3-tiered, 6-inch round cake, I didn't require a ton of bulk to my recipe. If you wanted to yield two 8-inch cakes at full size, swap out some or all of your recipe's butter for vegetable oil or applesauce instead. Applesauce will make it wayyyy healthier, but sometimes you just need to go calorie crazy to yield a cake worthy of applause (I'm still angling for the standing ovation). To make this version of my dark chocolate cake, gather:
  • 1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
  • 3/4 cup + 2 TBS Truvia baking blend
  • 1/4 cup Hershey's dark cocoa powder
  • 1/2 cup Hershey's regular cocoa powder
  • 2 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 2 eggs at room temp
  • 3/4 cup buttermilk at room temp
  • 1/4 cup sour cream at room temp
  • 1/3 cup vegetable oil
  • 2 tsp vanilla extract
  • 3/4 cup boiling water
Super important that your buttermilk, eggs, and sour cream are at room temp so they don't cook and curdle respectively when you add boiling water to them later. Start by preheating your oven to 350 and greasing three 6-inch pans. I only had two, so I had to bake my last layer after I was done using my pans the first time around.
It was very hard not to eat the batter from the cake layer that got left behind.
Mix together the flour, Truvia, cocoa powders, baking powder, baking soda, and salt on low in your stand mixer until blended. Then add your eggs, buttermilk, sour cream, vegetable oil, and vanilla extract. Blend on medium-high for about two minutes, until things have come together nicely. While this is mixing, boil 3/4 cup of water. Turn your mixer off and add the boiling water. Blend slowly and carefully until fully mixed. I turned out about a cup and a half of batter into each prepared pan and baked for 35 minutes.
Not pictured: the evidence I ate.
Let your cakes cool in the pan for 10 minutes and then remove to a cooling rack to finish cooling. If you have uneven tops, wait until your cakes are mostly cooled and then use a cake leveler to even out the tops of your cakes. You want each layer to sit perfectly on top of one another with a naked cake because all flaws aren't easily covered by frosting with this technique, so don't skip on leveling. Once cooled and leveled, wrap in plastic wrap and let freeze overnight or at least for a few hours. Scraping frosting down for the naked cake technique is hard on your cake, so you want it to be a dense cake recipe (a.k.a., no box mixes need apply) and you want it to be mostly frozen (like my demeanor).
Yes, I have a holiday bottle of Disaronno that has lasted since before Christmas 2016.
Disaronno is my beverage of choice when I run out of wine. But since I never run out of wine (the horror), this stuff tends to last me for the better part of a decade. I did a lot of adding and experimenting with this frosting, so keep in mind what I used, you only need about 1/4-1/3 of for a semi-naked cake. If you're frosting a full 2-tier 8-inch or 9-inch cake, you will need about the full recipe (with several spoonfuls leftover for "taste testing"):
  • 1 1/2 cups of butter at room temp
  • 1/4 cup Hershey's dark cocoa powder
  • 1/2 cup Hershey's regular cocoa powder
  • 6 cups of powdered sugar
  • 2 teaspoons of vanilla extract (I literally never remember to take a photo of this ingredient)
  • 6-8* tablespoons of Disaronno
  • Dark purple gel dye
*For a naked cake, you want a thinner consistency frosting that is easier to swipe off the cake, so use more Disaronno. For a thicker frosting you can smooth and pipe with, use less Disaronno.

Whip the butter in your stand mixer for a few minutes until fluffy, then add in the cocoa powders, vanilla extract, 2 TBS of Disaronno, and 2 cups of powdered sugar. Blend slowly until mixed, then add in 2 more TBS of Disaronno, 2 more cups of powdered sugar, blend, and repeat this step until you've used all the sugar and Disaronno you need for the right consistency of frosting. If you're dying your frosting (it will be a light brown shade), add in a darker gel dye. I wanted my color to be a chocolate cherry hue, so I used quite a bit of dark purple gel dye to achieve this.
The circle of life.
 Remove your cakes from the freezer, unwrap, and place the first layer on top of a prepared cake round (place it upside down so the top of the cake is facing the cake board). I always pipe a little frosting on my cake board so my bottom layer stays put. For a naked cake and even layers in between each tier, I used a large round tip (Wilton 1A) and piped a circle around the outer edge of my bottom layer. I then piped inside of this circle and smoothed things out with an angled spatula:
There will be overhang, and this is good.
 Now, take your next layer, and once again, place it face down on top of your first cake layer:
Like a giant, delicious Oreo.
 By putting your layers upside down, you're ensuring each layer has an even and flat surface. Remember, much like when you're naked, it's pretty difficult to hide flaws sans clothing, and this cake follows that same principle without a lot of frosting to cover it up. Repeat the outer-circle with your piping bag of buttercream, fill it in, and smooth. Then place your final layer (upside down again) on top:
Is a triple-stuffed Oreo a thing yet or should I patent that?
 Place a large blob of frosting on top of the final layer and smooth out with an angled spatula. You will have lots of overhang, and again, this is good. Take more frosting and spread it in varying thickness all over your cake. It should be pretty much covered for a semi-naked cake. For a mostly naked cake, don't use as much frosting on the sides.
Got a few spots poking through, but this was mostly covered.
 Now, take a bench scraper and run it around the sides of your cake like this video shows you at the 4:00 minute mark. Clean off your bench scraper after each pass, and continue scraping frosting off the sides of your cake until you have it as naked as you want.
I loved the amount of dark chocolate peeking through here, so I stopped.
Do whatever you want with copious amounts of leftover frosting that you've scraped off, like eating it with a shovel or using it for another baked good. Use an angled spatula to even out any weirdness you see on the top of your cake after scraping. If you're ganaching the top of the cake, freeze it for a few hours so your buttercream stays firm. While it's setting up, you can make your chocolate bark.
Not pictured: the vegetable oil you will definitely need.
 Melted chocolate is a fickle nightmare. It seizes up at the slightest sign of moisture, so when you're trying to dye it a different color, you're gonna need vegetable oil. I recommend making life easier for yourself by buying chocolate melts in whatever color you want your swirled bark to be. If I had purple chocolate melts, my bark would've turned out better because I wouldn't have spent precious time adding oil into my dyed chocolate to get it smooth again, all the while my dark chocolate was firming up to the point where swirling the two colors together was a small nightmare. The things we do for our mothers... ;-)

For the bark:
  • 2/3 cup semisweet chocolate chips
  • 1/3 cup white chocolate
  • Dark purple gel dye
  • 1-2 teaspoons of vegetable oil
Place Parchment paper down on a baking tray. Melt your semisweet chips following package directions (usually 30 seconds at a time on 50% power in the microwave, stirring after each time). Using an angled spatula, smooth out the melted chocolate onto the Parchment paper to form a large rectangle:
Like so.
 Then, melt your white chocolate melts and add in the purple dye and vegetable oil. Stir well, then drop dollops on top of the semisweet chocolate layer:
Not much rhyme or reason to my dolloping.
 Had I used purple chocolate melts, things would've swirled together better since my semisweet layer was hardening fast by the time I finished mixing my white chocolate, dye, and oil. I was able to swirl with a chopstick somewhat, but it didn't mix as well as I had hoped. Moral of the story: colored chocolate melts are your best friend here. Set your tray in the fridge to firm up for a half an hour. Then simply chop into triangles:
Nice, stabby, pointy triangles.
Set this back in the fridge until you're ready to ganache the top of your cake. I did a lot of reading to test out adding booze to a ganache after the nightmare that was adding gel dye to melted chocolate earlier. I was determined to make adding liquid to a melted chocolate work, rules be damned!
Otherwise this Disaronno wasn't going to see any action again until like 2019.
To make the amaretto ganache, you need:
  • 1 cup of semisweet chocolate chips
  • 3/4 cup of heavy whipping cream, with 1 tablespoon removed
  • 1 tablespoon of Disaronno
Basically, when you want to add booze, you need to keep the liquid level at the same amount. So if you wanted two tablespoons of Disaronno, remove two tablespoons of heavy cream from your 3/4 cup. Melt your chocolate using the method described above while bringing your heavy whipping cream to a boil over medium-high heat. Once the chocolate is melted, pour the the heavy whipping cream on top of it 1/4 cup at a time, blending very, very well in between additions. Once completely smooth, add in the tablespoon of Disaronno and blend well again. I used a strainer to remove any air bubbles from my ganache.
Hello, gorgeous.
 Remove your cake from the freezer, place it on a cake plate, and then spoon ganache on top of your cake. Use an angled spatula to smooth out and allow the ganache to run down the sides of your cake:
This moment was positively divine.
 So if you don't want as much of a drip, don't use as much ganache on top. I only used about half of my ganache. While the ganache is still soft, remove your bark shards from the fridge and gently secure them in the top of your cake with a bit of pressure.
Arrange however you like--I was going for "Halloween crown."
 Place everything into the fridge at this point so your ganache can set up for a few hours.
It will be hard to take your eyes off this beauty, but no one wants to eat an unset ganache.
 It's pretty much like just eating chocolate syrup straight out of the bottle at this point, so give it time. I also found some glittery purple candles to complete the look:
I didn't put them in until after the ganache had firmed, so this was an interesting experience.
 Birthday song was sung, presents were opened, and cake was had. And oh how gloriously delicious it was. I didn't tell anyone until after we were done drooling over it that I used the Truvia. Everyone agreed it still tasted exactly like dark chocolate cake should. And since it was covered in booze-laden frosting and ganache, it was still plenty sweet all around. The first bite hits your taste buds with chocolate and finishes with that sweet cherry flavor from the Disaronno. This chocolate amaretto buttercream is probably the craziest frosting combination I've concocted to date, but it works oh. so. well.
Seriously, you just have to try it.
 Most importantly of all, my mother loved it. It was wonderful to give her a cake that is probably only half as good as anything she's ever baked for me, but to know how much she enjoyed it and appreciated my efforts made all the tiny heart attacks that occurred during baking and chocolate melting worth it. I may not ever be a Cirq performer with my two left feet and an intense avoidance of the spotlight, but I know how to say "I love you" with cake and the steely determination only a Type-A introvert can have. So happiest of birthdays to my biggest fan and best friend--love you, Mom! I'll be back this weekend with one final Halloween delight. 'Til next time, my fellow eaters!
P.S., I'm bringing the bottle of Disaronno with to Christmas, or it'll never get finished.