strawberry shortcake mini-cheesecakes

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If my typing seems a little stiff and awkward, I apologize; it’s probably because 3/4 of my body is covered in cheerful, peeling sunburns.  It’s been a stressful few weeks – money is tight, the future is kind of generally uncertain, and it’s been hard not to be a little grumpy here and there.  My chronically studious/obsessively productive side told me to find more work to do; my do-as-I-say-not-as-I-do boyfriend* told me to take advantage of his parents’ Baltic cruise and lay out in their backyard.  You can probably guess which option I chose.

*Please tell him it’s his turn take a vacation.

graham cracker crumbs for crusts

Despite my apparently pitiful sunscreen application techniques, my five-day staycation (thanks, Memorial Day) was exactly what I needed.  If you’re not a freelance writer with a flexible schedule, however, that may be difficult to pull off – which is why I bring you these strawberry shortcake mini-cheesecakes.

press into muffin cups

These are summer in a muffin tin.  They’re delicious, with a flavorful graham cracker crust, soft pound cake, and tangy cheesecake, but what really does it is that strawberry swirl.  I don’t care what mood you’re in or how much money you don’t have; I defy you not to smile at that jaunty little splash of red.

chop up pound cake

For freshness and aesthetic purposes, I recommend making these the day you’re planning to serve them, but they can be made a day in advance.  If you want to really amp up the cuteness factor, try them in mini muffin tins and start checking for doneness a few minutes early.

Strawberry Shortcake Mini-Cheesecakes

2 cups graham cracker crumbs

1/2 cup flour

1/4 cup sugar

1/2 teaspoon salt

8 tablespoons (1 stick) butter, melted

3 tablespoons sugar

16 ounces (2 packages) cream cheese, room temperature

1 cup sugar

2 eggs

1 tablespoon vanilla extract

1/2 package frozen strawberries, thawed and pureed

1 recipe pound cake, below, cut into 1/4- to 1/2-inch squares

Powdered sugar, for sprinkling

Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.  Line two muffin tins with paper or aluminum liners.

Place graham cracker crumbs, 1/4 cup sugar, flour, salt, and melted butter into a mixing bowl to combine.  Press a few spoonfuls of crumbs into each muffin tin, pressing up the sides about half an inch.  Bake 5 minutes, or until just browned.  Remove from oven.

In the bowl of a stand  mixer, beat the cream cheese with the sugar until smooth.  Add eggs and vanilla, beating until combined and scraping the sides of the bowl occasionally with a spatula.

Place two pound cake squares in each muffin cup, then top with 1/2 teaspoon strawberry puree.  Fill each cup with cheesecake batter to about 1/4 inch below the top of the cup.  Top with another 1/2 teaspoon puree.  Swirl slightly with a knife; repeat.

Bake 25 minutes, or until cheesecake edges are just beginning to brown and centers are almost set.  Remove from oven and let cool completely, then refrigerate.  Sprinkle with powdered sugar before serving.

Pound Cake 

1 stick butter, at room temperature

3/4 cup flour, plus more for dusting the pan

1/4 teaspoon baking powder

Pinch salt

2 eggs

Scant 1/2 cup brown sugar, packed

1 tablespoon vanilla

Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.  Grease and flour a loaf pan.  Stir dry ingredients together; set aside.

In the bowl of a mixer, beat butter and sugar until creamy.  Add vanilla.  Beat in eggs.  Slowly stir in flour mixture; pour into prepared pan.

Bake 30 to 45 minutes, or until a toothpick stuck into the center of the cake comes out clean.  Cool in pan 10 minutes, then invert onto cooling rack to cool completely.

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dark chocolate candied pecan tart

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Brown sugar.  Dark chocolate.  Candied pecans.  Want a tart?

melt the chocolate

pouring chocolate into the crust. it's like the opening scene of willy wonka

sprinkled with pecans

finished.

 

Dark Chocolate Tart with Brown Sugar Crust and Candied Pecans

Crust:
1 ¼ sticks butter, at room temperature
¾ cups powdered sugar, sifted
¼ cup chopped candied pecans
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1 large eggs
1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour

Filling:
12 ounces semisweet chocolate, chopped
1 cup heavy whipping cream
2 large egg yolks
1 large egg
1/4 cup brown sugar
2 tablespoons all purpose flour
scant teaspoon vanilla extract
1 tablespoon

About ½ cup coarsely chopped candied pecans

For crust:
In the bowl of a stand mixer, beat butter until creamy.  Add powdered sugar, then pecans, salt, and vanilla, and beat well.  Add egg; combine thoroughly.  Mix in flour until just barely combined.  Wrap dough in plastic wrap; chill 30 minutes.

Preheat oven to 350˚F.  Press dough evenly onto the bottom and about 1 inch up the sides of a 10” springform pan.  Line crust with aluminum foil or parchment; fill with uncooked beans or rice to weight it.  Bake 20 to 25 minutes; cool completely.

For filling:
Melt chocolate and heavy whipping cream in heavy medium saucepan, whisking over low heat until mixture is smooth and combined. Remove from heat. Whisk egg yolks, egg, sugar, and flour in together until combined.  Slowly whisk chocolate mixture into egg mixture until smooth. Pour filling into crust.

Sprinkle coarsely chopped candied pecans around edges of tart.

Bake about 30 minutes, until filling is set and puffy around edges and jiggles only slightly in center. Transfer to rack. Cool in pan 20 minutes. Gently remove sides of springform; chill.

 

 

apple pie

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If you frown upon the consumption of raw pie dough (no eggs, don’t worry), close this page now.

Frankly, I'd be okay with just the sugared lattice, but I guess people like fillings in their pies. Go figure.

Honestly, I didn’t even know I was a fan.  My sister used to nibble on  it when she would make pies years ago, but I always thought it was kind of gross.  Butter and flour, with a pinch of salt and sugar mixed in?  Sorry, I’ll wait for the cookie dough.  I didn’t even know I could make a pie crust with any competence until last week, when I, well, did.  And then ate half of it.  Sigh.

The uneaten sections of dough went into a pretty successful apple pie.  A lot of people seem to be intimidated by pie, and while I shared the feeling for the bulk of my baking “career,” it’s nowhere near as difficult as it seems.  Apple is one of the easiest kinds – if you can peel and slice, you’re good to go.  And, may I say, there’s little as delicious as apples tossed with a bit of sugar, flour (stay with me), cinnamon, salt,  lemon juice, and water.

As for the crust, take it from a former doubter: there’s nothing to fear here.  The most common mistake is over-processing; just remember that the little clumps of butter and/or shortening are what will make your crust flaky and tender.  The dough won’t be uniform until you press it all into a disc to chill.  That’s another thing: Be stingy with the water you add, and make sure it’s ice-cold.  Only add enough to make the dough stick to itself when you press a few bits together.

One last note:  You can certainly use a food processor to make this, but honestly, I prefer to just do it by hand – a knife or two will work just fine.  It gives you more control, and more importantly, it’s less to clean.  Cleaning a food processor sucks.

I hope that didn’t sound too arduous or complex!  I promise pie dough is much easier than you think.  Next time I’ll get pictures of the dough in its various stages.  I’ve included the recipe for the dough and filling, with my changes.  Just give it a shot!  It’s got butter and sugar – there’s no way you can go wrong.

this could be yours.

 

American Pie Dough for Lattice-Top Pie (Non-Lattice Directions in Parentheses)

Adapted from – where else – Smitten Kitchen

3 cups unbleached all-purpose flour (2 1/2 cups, non-lattice)

1 teaspoon salt

2 tablespoons sugar

7 tablespoons all-vegetable shortening, chilled (8 tablespoons, non-lattice)

10 tablespoons unsalted butter, chilled, cut into 1/4-inch pieces (12 tablespoons, non-lattice)

10 tablespoons ice water (6 to 8 tablespoons, non-lattice)

1. Pulse flour, salt and sugar in a food processor fitted with steel bald until combined. Add shortening and process until mixture has texture of coarse sand, about 10 seconds. Scatter butter pieces over flour mixture; cut butter into flour until mixture is pale yellow and resembles coarse crumbs, with butter bits no larger than small peas, about ten 1-second pulses.  Turn mixture into medium bowl.  Alternately, in a medium bowl, scatter butter and shortening pieces over flour, salt, and sugar.  With two knives (I was fine with one), cut butter and shortening into flour mixture until mixture has the texture of coarse sand.

2. Sprinkle 8 tablespoons ice water over mixture. With blade of rubber spatula, use folding motion to mix. Press down on dough with broad side of spatula until dough sticks together, adding up to 2 tablespoons more ice water if it will not come together. Divide dough into two pieces, one slightly larger than the other. (If possible, weigh pieces. They should register 16 ounces and 14 ounces.) Flatten larger piece into a rough 5-inch square and smaller piece into a 4-inch disk; (If for a non-lattice, double crust pie, these pieces should be even in weight and both round) wrap separately in plastic and refrigerator at least 1 hour or up to 2 days before rolling.

[Alli’s note: See instructions for lattice construction here.]

 

Apple Pie

1 1/2 pounds Granny Smith apples (about 3 medium)

2 pounds McIntosh apples (about 4 large)

[Alli’s note: I used all Fuji, with great results]

1 tablespoon juice

3/4 cups (5.25 ounces) plus 1 tablespoon sugar

2 tablespoons all-purpose flour

1/4 teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon cinnamon

1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg

1/4 teaspoon ground allspice [Alli’s note: I used only cinnamon, purely out of laziness]

1 egg white, beaten lightly

1. Adjust oven rack to lowest position and heat rimmed baking sheet and oven to 500°F. Remove one piece of dough from refrigerator (if refrigerated longer than 1 hour, let stand at room temperature until malleable).

2. Roll dough on lightly floured work surface or between two large sheets of plastic wrap to 12-inch disk. Transfer dough to pie plate by rolling dough around rolling pin and unrolling over 9 1/2-inch pie plate or by folding dough in quarters, then placing dough point in center of pie plate and unfolding. Working around circumference of pie plate, ease dough into pan corners by gently lifting dough edges with one hand while pressing around pan bottom with other hand. Leave dough that overhangs lip of plate in place; refrigerate dough-lined pie plate.

3. Peel, core and cut apples in half, and in half again width-wise; cut quarters into 1/4-inch slices and toss with lemon juice. In a medium bowl, mix 3/4 cup sugar, flour, salt and spices. Toss dry ingredients with apples. Turn fruit mixture, including juices, into chilled pie shell and mound slightly in center.

4. Roll out second piece of dough to 12-inch disk and place over filling. Trim top and bottom edges to 1/2-inch beyond pan lip. Tuck this rim of dough underneath itself so that folded edge is flush with pan lip. Flute edging or press with fork tines to seal. Cut four slits on dough top. If pie dough is very soft, place in freezer for 10 minutes. Brush egg white onto top of crust and sprinkle evenly with remaining 1 tablespoon sugar.

5. Place pie on baking sheet and lower oven temperature to 425°F. Bake until top crust is golden, about 25 minutes. Rotate pie and reduce oven temperature to 375°F; continue baking until juices bubble and crust is deep golden brown, 30-35 minutes longer.

6. Transfer pie to wire rack; cool to room temperature, at least 4 hours.