Thursday, January 19, 2017

Sweet (Cheesecakey) Relief

Welp, this blog post finds me another week into my thirties, and I still know how to use a computer! I only on occasion have referred to myself as Grandma, so I think I'm adjusting pretty well. Because you know what I have? A gift for baking myself any coping mechanism my taste buds desire. You can't be sad about being older when you're eating chocolate. This is just plain true. I decided after inhaling all that creme soda birthday cake that I wanted my next dessert to be mostly chocolate, but I also wanted some added sweetness and saltiness (I've got a complicated coping mechanism). The other trick in this hankering was, of course, that I could shovel said dessert into my mouth with reckless abandon because calories weren't an issue. I spent so much time coming up with a dessert that met all of these criteria only to be reminded by my husband that what I was actually craving was a chocolate-covered pretzel. Gotta hand it to men and their ability to simplify practically every convoluted thought process that spews out of the mouth of their wives. At least this is the case with my husband anyway. When the Thought Train starts rolling out of the station and makes its way to Mouth Central, my ideas are usually so complex that hidden within them is a functioning plan for world peace, so I need to be reminded that sometimes, the easier, the better. But if I had explained myself upon first dessert craving, I never would have come up with the following chocolatey, sweet, salty dessert: mini chocolate-covered cheesecake bites!
Don't let their size fool you; they are big on flavor.
Oh yes, that ooey gooey center is cheesecake filling, surrounded by a wall of chocolate with sea salt sprinkles (everything needs sprinkles. If you've read even just one other blog post of mine, you'd know this is my baking mantra). And no, I'm not lying when I tell you one cheesecake bite comes in at only 130 calories. Call it sorcery, witchcraft, or just my sheer will to eat dessert every night and still fit into my swimsuit, but I made sure it was possible to eat two of these bad boys at once without topping 300 calories. I'm seriously taking that with age comes wisdom bit in stride. I'm not going to lie to you, making your own chocolate candy is messy. But in a good "lick your fingers and reap the tastiness" kind of way. Will things be sticky? Most likely. Will they be melty? Most assuredly. Will it be drool worthy? Most definitely.
Bonus: you already have these things in your pantry!
When I said I spent forever coming up with a recipe for something chocolate, salty, and sweet, I mostly wanted to use a brick of cream cheese that had been staring me in the face every time I opened my fridge. Sometimes I'm not as complicated as I like to think I am. The ingredients here are quite basic:
  • Half an 8 ounce brick of reduced fat cream cheese at room temp
  • 2 TBS sugar
  • 1/2 tsp lemon zest
  • 1 tsp lemon juice
  • 1/2-1 tsp vanilla extract (I opted for 1 because I like a sweeter and less sour cheesecake)
  • 2 1/2 cups semi sweet chocolate chips, divided
  • Sea salt
  • Optional: *2 tsp veggie oil to make the chocolate melt smoother. I didn't use it because, well, calories.
Now, you will also need a mini muffin pan, mini cupcake liners, and a paintbrush safe for using with food (a.k.a., not dripping with lead paint or anything). I've always been bothered by the fact that it's called a mini muffin pan, yet the liners are called cupcake liners. Shouldn't it be a cupcake pan? Or muffin liners? Maybe not the latter because that sounds like it's bordering on NSFW. Anyway...start by lining the cupcake pan and then measure out 1 1/4 cups of chocolate chips. Place in a microwave safe bowl and heat for 30-second bursts at a lower power level like 5 or 6. Stir after each interval until chocolate is smooth and no lumps remain. *If you are using the vegetable oil to help you smooth out the chocolate, be sure to add it in at the beginning of the microwaving process.
Since I'm just now mentioning this a no-bake recipe, I suppose I could clue you in on the upcoming crappy photo montage.
Take a 1/2 a teaspoon (literally, use a 1/2 teaspoon scoop)  of the melted chocolate and plop it into the bottom of one cupcake liner. Then, using the paintbrush, paint the chocolate up the sides of the liner until it reaches the top. Try to work in batches so you're efficient, speedy, and don't need to reheat the chocolate to get it melty and risk burning it. Chocolate is as temperamental (seriously) as it is delicious. I poured chocolate into 4 cupcake liners at a time, then I came back in and painted the chocolate up the edge of each cup.
Repeat this process until all 24 liners have a bottom and sides brushed with sweet, sweet chocolate.
 Now, take your pan and place it in the freezer for a half an hour. You want the chocolate to be completely set before adding in the filling and placing more melty-hot chocolate on top.
But by all means, use this time to make filling so you can lick the spatula.
 To make the filling, simply take the cream cheese, sugar, lemon zest, lemon juice, and vanilla, and mix together in a medium bowl. Place this filling into a piping bag or plastic baggy. Snip the very tip of the bag and then set aside. Piping will be easier if you keep this filling at room temperature while the chocolate shells cool.
So smooth. So beautiful. But wait, don't eat these yet. We need to make it even dessertier.
Still not done making it more dessertier.
 Once the shells are completely solidified, pipe a small mound of cheesecake filling into each chocolate liner. Things will be a bit of a shapeless mess, but a solid tap or two on your kitchen counter with the pan will even things out:
Like so.
 Now, take the remaining 1 1/4 cup of chocolate chips and melt using the technique I mentioned above but am too lazy to type again.
So swirly. Kinda makes me want a chocolate dip cone from DQ. Texas problems.
 Once your chocolate is melted, take the 1/2 teaspoon scoop and plop 1/2 a teaspoon of chocolate on top of the cheesecake filling. Again, it is easier to work with these 4 at a time. Use your 1/2 teaspoon scoop to spread the new layer of chocolate completely over the top. You can finish up by swirling the teaspoon toward the center to create a nice little flair. Once you've swirled the tops of 4 chocolates, sprinkle with sea salt to your liking. I went with a level of sea salt best described as, "I want it to taste like chocolate and french fries at the same time." Repeat on all remaining candies until done!
Chocolate and salt: because if you've never dipped your fries at Wendy's into a frosty, you've never really lived a day in your life.
This is a little time consuming since you have to work so quickly and with so much chocolate. But once you've topped all your cheesecake bites, place them back into the freezer for an agonizing 30 minutes (unless you have those chocolate-covered pretzels to tide you over).
It's going to be the longest half an hour of your life.
 Once the chocolate has totally set, pop these out of the pan and place into a Tupperware. You will want to keep these in the fridge for their very short lifespan (you're going to devour the entire batch of 24 mini cheesecake bites in a startlingly swift amount of time). I recommend letting a few sit out at room temp for 10 minutes before eating so the chocolate isn't too hard and the filling is just starting to get gooey. And now you know how to make your own chocolate candies with assorted filling! I actually first tried out a chocolate candy recipe but with dulce de leche filling when I was still back in Clovis last year:

Back when I had poor plebeian Formica counters.
If memory serves me, I didn't want to share these with my husband. Or apparently anyone else because I completely forgot to blog about them. I just wanted them all to myself. So you see, you can choose whatever filling in the world you want, maybe a mini Reese's cup, some egg-less cookie dough, the tears of your's a winning chocolate candy recipe no matter how you shake it. But as for me, right now the cheesecake filling is hitting all the right taste buds. I've got my chocolate, sweet, salty trifecta, and boy do these babies ever make chocolate-covered pretzels look rather silly (but I'd totally still eat them, too). Leave those little logs of chocolatey pretzel for holiday gifting; you've got an ace up your sleeve, now. 'Til next time, my fellow eaters!
And that ace is filled with cheesecake.

Sunday, January 8, 2017

Twenty-Nine for the Second Time!

Imagine my surprise when I awoke the morning of my thirtieth birthday to find my hair had not turned completely gray, my girls were not sagging slightly above my navel, and my retinol creams were still working at keeping evil wrinkles at bay. After several brief once overs in the mirror (a typical morning for my level of narcissism) and a realization that it was definitely time to touch up my roots, I accepted that I'm okay with turning 30 as long as I still look 29. Much like a child who finally succumbs to taking a nap after spending an awkward and annoying amount of time resisting, I too have have stopped fighting the fear of turning 30. I spent my early twenties being a total hot mess of blonde hair and really poor fashion choices (ugh, mid 2000's trends--looking at you body glitter), and my mid-twenties cultivating who I wanted to be when (or if) I finally grew up. So now I actually get to be that adult. Or adult adjacent. I still laugh at fart jokes and wear ridiculously fuzzy and usually unmatching socks, so some parts of me will always maintain a youthful jubilance. But once you've been regularly filing your own taxes and held a mortgage payment and non food service related employment, it's simply time to realize age is not really the number itself, but how you feel. Kind of like mileage on a car--there's city miles versus highway miles, and while my city miles may be racking up, my highway miles are barely registering. And even though I had this enlightening epiphany about age and life, I'm still insanely self-deprecating and needed to make a birthday cake to poke fun at the moratorium on my 20s. I've literally been planning this cake since the moment I turned 29, and now that I've done it, I can clearly say I put up a damn good fight while finding the most morbidly original way to deal with the death of my youth:
Buried in this cake is a ridiculous amount of booze. Because the best way to deal with turning a new decade involves both cake AND alcohol.
Only I could ensure my youth's final resting place is made of cake. See, I told you, I lack the ability to become a serious, credentialed member of adulthood (although still looking into AARP...). Even though this was a monumental (see what I did there) cake and birthday, I still wasn't willing to throw caution to the wind and invite all the calories to slumber beneath this tombstone. I created a yellow creme soda cake with amaretto buttercream frosting that clocks in at only 293 calories per slice (15 slices total). I know, a slice of cake for under 300 calories almost seems too good to be true, like all those wrinkle creams resting in the bottom of my bathroom drawer, mocking me, but it really does taste like cake. More importantly, it tastes like Disaronno...because classy 30 year old's drink things like Disaronno on the rocks. And less classy 30 year old's eat things like Disaronno buttercream frosting because childlike joie de vie simply can't allow them to not eat all the cake. But thanks to my recipe tweaking, I'm at least attempting to wrangle that exultation for dessert into a mere mild excitement regarding baked goods. Thirty year old's should know how to compromise, I suppose.
Ah yes, Shasta and eggs, a traditional Southern combination.
Y'all, I haven't made an actual cake since Halloween. HALLOWEEN. It has been MONTHS. I've made cookies, cupcakes, assorted desserts, but no full-fledged caking has taken place since we left Albuquerque. Perhaps I was protesting my ability to accept I was homesick for a state that usually smells like cattle, and I was expressing this by my refusal to really get creative. I mean, they say with age comes wisdom, but damn, I am really firing on all cylinders since hitting the big 3-0. I have always been (a) wise (ass). It felt good to throw together a cake and prepare for decoration, so if you're in a funk might I recommend scooping up a box of yellow cake mix, a slightly chilled can of diet creme soda (measure out 10 ounces), and two egg whites at room temp. Throw all of these together and mix for 2 minutes while you preheat your oven according to box instructions and grease a pan of your choosing.
There will be bubbles thanks to the soda's effervescence, so don't break your counter top slamming the pan to try to get the bubbles out.
 For a tombstone cake, use a 9x13 pan, greased very well. The soda will help everything bake faster, and the egg whites will help the cake remain springy. I ended up baking this cake for 20 minutes until a toothpick came out clean, so start testing your cake about 5 minutes before the box instructions say it should be done. Remove from the oven and let cool in the pan for 10 minutes before removing to a cooling rack.
Be gentle, as these cakes seem to crack quite easily compared to a dense, dairy-heavy cake. But when you're done frosting, this cake won't weigh sixteen pounds, so that's nice.
Prepare a cake board while your cake is cooling on the rack, and the place the board on top of the cooling cake bottom and flip the rack over so you have the top of the cake now facing you. Place into the freezer so trimming it into tombstone shape is easier. While it is cooling, prepare for a crappy photo montage and gather up:
Three piping bags, small round tips (I used a 3 and a 5), leaf tips (I used a 352), black gel dye, green gel dye, and edible rose decorations. No one makes these in black, and I wasn't going to do it myself because I do, sort of, have a life outside of cake decorating.

Oh Disaronno, you are simply my favorite.
Once you've got your materials ready, you can start making your frosting. This frosting is SWEET with the addition of amaretto, so while I made a full recipe, I probably barely used 2/3 of it, if even that much, so this is reflected in the calorie count. If you use it all, you'll have a 4-inch layer of frosting on your cake, making it a double decker of awesome, but also, calories. Boo. Feel free to adjust as needed, but throw together:
  • 1/2 cup room temp butter
  • 1/2 cup of Crisco 
  • 1 TBS vanilla
  • 4 cups powdered sugar
  • 4-5 TBS Disaronno
You could cut this recipe by a third and probably still have a little leftover. But blend the butter and Crisco until well mixed and then add in the vanilla, half the sugar, and half the Disaronno. Blend well and add in the rest of the sugar and Disaronno until you get a smooth consistency.
Such an appetizing color.
 At this point, get out two small bowls and add about a heaping 1/4 cup of plain white frosting to one of them. Now, dye the remaining frosting still in the stand mixer gray by adding a dollop of black gel dye until you get the shade of gray you like. I didn't use much at all. Then take another heaping 1/4 cup of the gray dye and plop it into the other bowl. Add another smidgen of black dye to this to make it a shade or two darker than the base frosting. This will be for the tombstone's engraved message. Cover these two bowls with dampened paper towels, and get ready to be slapped in the face with another montage!
Note to self, use thicker towel on cooling rack to avoid dreaded cake lines. Take your cooled cake and trim the edges to achieve a tombstone shape.

Then add a very thin crumb coat. Take an angled spatula and run it under HOT water. Like, steaming hot sauna water. Wipe it dry, but use the heated spatula to spread frosting easily on those crummy areas that resulted from shaping the cake like a tombstone. This will save you a lot of time if you spread using a heated spatula, so reheat it after you finish crumb coating section by section. You can also use the steam to open your sinuses! Bonus! Place your cake back into the freezer for 15 minutes/the amount of time it takes to do a load of laundry. That's my scientific measurement, anyway.

Using the heated spatula trick, add a final thin layer of frosting. Let set in the freezer for 15 minutes, and then use the Viva paper towel trick to smooth out your frosting. But honestly, keep it a little messy. It's a tombstone, so you want it to look a little rough. I mean, if your cake looks like a tombstone from the Middle Ages, keep smoothing. Think Roaring 20s gangster tombstone--slightly riddle with holes but not entirely dilapidated.
Using a toothpick, scrawl your message out on your cake to act as a guide.
Then load up a piping bag with a #5 tip and the darker gray dye you set aside earlier. Slowly and carefully trace the outline and write out your message.
You can leave it plain, or get creative and add scrolling or a cross to your tombstone in any blank space.
Then take another piping bag and add the leftover gray frosting you used to frost the actual cake with. Fit it with a #3 tip. Now you can add "cracks" to your tombstone by taking the #3 tip and burying it in your frosting layer. While keeping it buried in the frosting layer, squeeze frosting out of the bag while slowly wiggling and drawing lines/cracks of various length and shapes into your cake. I focused on creating most of my cracks at the edges where they would occur on an actual tombstone. Trust me, as a Halloween expert, I know what I'm talking about.

Now, take a few roses and pipe a small glob of frosting on the bottom. Press them gently into the cake to adhere.
Take that bowl of plain frosting we forgot about years ago and hopefully didn't eat. Dye it green--tip, add in a little brown dye if you have it so the green is duller. Take this frosting and place into a piping bag with the #352 tip. Now, to pipe leaves, hold the tip sideways and let a mound of frosting continue to pipe out. It will pretty much automatically make a leaf shape, but for further instruction, check this video out.
Add in the remaining roses on the bottom of the cake and finish piping leaves as you like around them. You could stop here, but if you want to, follow my instructions below for further tips.
Use the rest of your green frosting to create blades of grass and leaves on the sides of your tombstone. Use the same technique, just pipe UP the side of the cake instead of out.

Take the bag of regular gray frosting and continue the cracks you started down the sides of your cake as well to really finish the look of decay and macabre to truly mirror how you feel about turning 30.

Additional photo of leaves because they turned out so fantastically. I'm a leaf tip idiot, so finding this 352 tip to make foolproof leaves has been a lifesaver. 
I am honestly not sure there has ever been a time when I was happier with how a cake turned out. In true OCD, Type-A fashion, I sketch out every cake before I make it. This cake turned out even better than the sketch, so on some level, it gave me the will to turn 30 simply so that I could post this tutorial (and so that I could dazzle you with my wit and creativity. Narcissism is a real diva. The Mariah Carey of flaws.). But as happy as I am with the decoration, I am truly slapping myself upside the head every time I take a bite--WHY did I never think to add amaretto to cakes?!? This is the true hidden gem and best birthday present I could ever give myself. I love Disaronno so much that simply drinking it isn't enough. I must find all ways possible to ingest amaretto. This frosting is so delectably sweet that a little really does go a long way, but it pairs perfectly with a creme soda cake (ahem, and also in liquid form with creme soda. I had to taste test, you know). I'm thinking a naked cake made of Disaronno is going to happen really, obnoxiously, I-can't-believe-I'm-already-making-another-cake soon. If this is what turning 30 involves, bring it on new decade because I got a head full of crazy cake ideas, and I'm only getting started. Thanks to all of you that reached out to me yesterday to wish me a happy birthday (if you didn't, you get a pass for reading my blog). I had a wonderful day filled with love, laughter, bitchin' presents, and tons of joy (and sequins. Thanks, Rent the Runway!). 'Til next time, my fellow eaters!
Just wait til you see what I have planned for my fortieth birthday cake...