Cheesecake cupcakes are a decadent treat

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I owe you a recipe. I didn’t post Sunday because I didn’t have anything I felt was suitable for Valentine’s Day. But when my team had its monthly potluck today—the theme was “foods we love”—it was the perfect excuse to bake something. I made my Strawberry Bavarian Pie because it’s one of my favorite things, but also realized that I’d missed a team member’s birthday, and he had specified that cheesecake is his favorite dessert.

I’ve had a hit-and-miss experience with cheesecake. I’ve only made it two or three times. The first time, I overbaked it and it cracked. The second time I was nervous about overbaking it, so I underbaked it. It was frustrating on both accounts. This time around, since I didn’t want to wait for a full cheesecake to bake, I decided to look up cupcake recipes and saw this one. It was really easy to put together, and they were, by far, the best cheesecakes I’ve ever made. They were single-serving-size perfection.

So, if you’re still looking for a recipe for your Valentines, whip up a batch of these. They’re a winner. Happy Valentine’s Day.

Crust
1 cup graham wafer crumbs
1 tablespoon granulated white sugar
4 1/2 tablespoons butter, melted

In a small bowl combine the graham cracker crumbs, sugar, and melted butter. Press a heaping tablespoon of crumbs onto the bottoms of the 12 muffin cups. Cover and refrigerate while you make the filling.

Filling
2 8-ounce packages of full fat cream cheese, room temperature
2/3 cup granulated white sugar
1/8 teaspoon salt
2 large eggs, room temperature
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon grated lemon zest
1/2 cup sour cream, room temperature

In the bowl of your electric mixer (or with a hand mixer), beat the cream cheese on low speed until creamy and smooth. Add the sugar and salt and beat until combined. Scrape down the sides of the bowl as needed. Add the eggs, one at a time, beating until incorporated. Add the vanilla extract, lemon zest, and sour cream and beat until incorporated. Remove the crusts from the refrigerator and evenly divide the filling among the 12 muffin cups.

Bake for about 18-22 minutes or until firm but the centers of the cheesecakes still wobble a little. Remove from oven and place on a wire rack. Let cool and then cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate (a few hours or even overnight).

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Gingerbread that works

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The fourth item in my countdown isn’t a cookie. It’s a gingerbread cupcake.

Gingerbread has never been a seasonal flavor I get excited about. The flavor always tends to be either too harsh or not quite right — at least in cookie form.

A few years ago, I saw this recipe for Gingerbread Cupcakes with Cinnamon Cream Cheese Frosting. I went into it expecting to be disappointed, but was surprised at how much I enjoyed them. Putting the gingerbread flavor into a cupcake resulted in a lighter version of the flavor, one that wasn’t overwhelming. The frosting was really good, too. Together, they made a wonderful pair. If cookies aren’t your thing, I recommend this cupcake recipe for the holidays.

On another note, for those of you looking for gifts for the cooks in your family, check out my Pinterest board. It contains many of my favorite kitchen items, and contains items for any price range. I hope it helps you find the perfect gift.

Cupcakes
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
2 tablespoons ground ginger
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1 1/2 cups unsalted butter (3 sticks), room temperature
1 1/2 cups sugar
3 tablespoons unsulphured molasses
4 large eggs, room temperature
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Adjust oven rack to lower-middle position and preheat to 350 degrees F. Line muffin pan with baking cup liners.

In a large bowl, sift together flour and spices; set aside.

In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream the butter and sugar until light, about 3 minutes. Beat in the molasses until incorporated. Beat in eggs one at a time. Beat in vanilla. Add flour and mix on low speed until just combined.

Fill the cupcake papers three-quarters full, making sure that the batter is divided evenly. Bake cupcakes until a toothpick inserted in the center of them comes out clean, about 30 minutes. Let cupcakes cool on a wire rack 10 minutes, then transfer cupcakes to a wire rack to cool completely.

Frosting
8 ounces cream cheese, softened
3 cups powdered sugar
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
2 teaspoons cinnamon

To make the cinnamon cream frosting: In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, combine the cream cheese and powdered sugar until smooth. Add cinnamon and vanilla extract and beat until combined.

Place frosting into a large decorating bag fitted with a decorating tip and approximately 1/4-inch above cupcake top at a 90° angle to cupcake surface, pipe a spiral of icing, beginning at the outer edge and working inward.

Sandwich cookies suited to a more sophisticated palate

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Cookies are great, but not all adults want the same over-sugared treats that might be made for children. What about adults looking for something sweet and a little more grown-up than your average sugar cookie?

I’m a firm believer that there needs to be something for everyone on the holiday tray, which is why I was thrilled when I found this recipe for Hazelnut-Mocha Sandwiches in the Holiday 2010 edition of America’s Test Kitchen Holiday Cookies magazine.

The chief flavors in these cookies are provided by hazelnuts, espresso and chocolate. There’s no frosting to be found and no decorating to be done. The flavor reminds me of hazelnut biscotti, just in a different form. I’ve made these twice and received rave reviews both times from adults, particularly those who also love coffee.

I hope you enjoy this third cookie in my Christmas countdown.

Ingredients
2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 cup hazelnuts, toasted and finely ground
1 cup superfine sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
16 tablespoons (2 sticks) unsalted butter, cut into 16 pieces and softened
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
2 tablespoons cream cheese
1/2 cup heavy cream
1 teaspoon instant espresso powder
12 ounces milk chocolate, chopped

Adjust oven racks to upper-middle and lower-middle positions and heat oven to 375 degrees. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper. With electric mixer on low speed, combine flour, nuts, sugar, salt and butter and mix until crumbly and slightly wet, about 2 minutes. Add vanilla and cream cheese and mix until dough just begins to form. Finish kneading dough by hand to form large, cohesive mass. Divide dough in half, wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate 30 minutes.

Roll each dough half to 1/8-inch thickness and rechill until firm, 10 minutes. Using 2-inch round cookie cutter, cut out cookies and place 2 inches apart on prepared baking sheets. Bake until edges are light golden-brown, 8 to 10 minutes. Cool 5 minutes, then transfer to wire rack and cool completely. Repeat with remaining dough, gathering and rerolling scraps once.

In saucepan over medium-low heat, whisk together heavy cream and espresso powder. Add chocolate and stir until melted and smooth; cool 30 minutes. Spread heaping teaspoon filling over bottoms of half of cookies; top with remaining cookies. Let sit until firm, about 1 hour.

Seasonal cake worth celebrating

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It’s time to jump on the pumpkin bandwagon. Pinterest is exploding with fall recipes and Starbucks has its Pumpkin Spice Latte back in stores. Two occasions at the end of October provided a good reason to bust out my cans of pumpkin puree. The first was my sports editor’s last day. The second is my dad’s birthday, which falls on Halloween.

My sports editor loves pumpkin-flavored things, so the week before she left I started brainstorming about what to make for her. I came across this recipe for pumpkin-spice cake and knew it would fit the bill. The problem was that I hadn’t yet successfully made cupcakes at high altitude. Every time I previously tried, the tops sank in or didn’t rise, or I had to cook them longer to see if they would get there, and then the outside would be overcooked. But, it was about time to give it another go, so I put on my apron and got to it.

I only wanted to make a dozen cupcakes, so I cut the original recipe in half. I made all the alterations based on the adjustments that I’ve learned work at high altitude. I used a bit more flour, less of the leaveners and more salt. It worked. The cupcakes had a beautiful crumb and rose exactly as they should. They are, by far, the best cupcakes I’ve made at high altitude, and definitely make the top five of all time.

Since the cupcakes were such a hit with my staff on my sports editor’s last day on the job, I decided to also use the recipe to make my dad’s birthday cake. A while ago, I saw an idea on Pinterest for a pumpkin cake. Upon closer examination, I realized they used a pumpkin pan, but I decided to play off that creation by making two smaller bundt cakes and turning one on top of the other. It is one of the best cakes I’ve ever made — though, to give credit where it’s due, my best friend came up with the idea on how to create the pumpkin-like ridges in the frosting, and he drew the leaves. Decorating is not my thing, but it can be fun to learn a trick or two.

This dessert has a double dose of pumpkin, as both the cake and frosting contain it. But it isn’t overwhelming, and neither are the spices in the cake. The flavor is balanced, which is why I enjoyed them so much.

I’ve provided the cupcake recipe at high altitude and the cake recipe at regular altitude. However, if you want to make a cake at high altitude, double the cupcake recipe below. If you want to make one dozen cupcakes at regular altitude, cut the cake recipe in half. Or, if you want to make two dozen, leave it as is.

Happy Halloween, everyone. Happy birthday, dad!

2pumpkincake102713One dozen cupcakes (at high altitude)
1 2/3 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoons ground cinnamon
3/4 teaspoon ground cloves
1/2 teaspoon ground allspice
1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1 teaspoon salt
1 1/3 cups granulated sugar
1/2 cup vegetable oil, plus more as needed
2 large eggs
1/2 of a (15-ounce) can pumpkin purée

Heat the oven to 350 degrees F and arrange a rack in the middle. Line a 12-muffin pan with paper liners and coat the liners with vegetable oil or cooking spray; set aside.

Place the sugar and measured oil in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment. Beat on medium speed until the sugar is incorporated, about 1 minute. Stop the mixer and scrape down the sides of the bowl and the paddle with a rubber spatula.

Return the mixer to medium speed and add the eggs 1 at a time, beating well after each addition, about 1 1/2 minutes total mixing time. Reduce the speed to medium low, add the pumpkin, and beat until just combined, about 30 seconds. Stop the mixer and scrape down the sides of the bowl and the paddle with a rubber spatula.

Add the flour, baking powder, cinnamon, cloves, allspice, nutmeg and salt and beat slowly until almost completely incorporated, about 1 minute. Remove the bowl from the mixer and fold in any unincorporated flour at the edges with a rubber spatula, making sure to scrape to the bottom of the bowl.

Fill the muffin wells three-quarters of the way (about a heaping 1/4 cup per well). Bake for 15 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in a cupcake comes out clean.

Meanwhile, make a half batch of frosting (recipe below).

Place the pan on a wire rack and let cool for 5 minutes. Remove the cupcakes from the pans and cool completely on the racks. Frost.

3pumpkincake102713Cake (at regular altitude)
3 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1 1/2 teaspoons ground cloves
1 teaspoon ground allspice
1 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon fine salt
2 3/4 cups granulated sugar
1 cup vegetable oil, plus more as needed
4 large eggs
1 (15-ounce) can pumpkin purée (not pie filling; about 1 3/4 cups)

Heat the oven to 350 degrees F and arrange a rack in the middle. Grease and flour one regular-size bundt pan — or two, if you have them.

Place the flour, baking powder, cinnamon, cloves, allspice, nutmeg, baking soda, and salt in a large bowl and whisk to aerate and break up any lumps; set aside.

Place the sugar and measured oil in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment. Beat on medium speed until the sugar is incorporated, about 1 minute. Stop the mixer and scrape down the sides of the bowl and the paddle with a rubber spatula.

Return the mixer to medium speed and add the eggs 1 at a time, beating well after each addition, about 1 1/2 minutes total mixing time. Reduce the speed to medium low, add the pumpkin, and beat until just combined, about 30 seconds. Stop the mixer and scrape down the sides of the bowl and the paddle with a rubber spatula.

Turn the mixer to low speed, slowly add the flour mixture, and beat until almost completely incorporated, about 1 minute. Remove the bowl from the mixer and fold in any unincorporated flour at the edges with a rubber spatula, making sure to scrape to the bottom of the bowl.

Put half of the batter into the bundt pan. Bake the cake for 40-55 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the center of the cake comes out clean.

Let the cake cool for 5-10 minutes, or until you are able to remove the cake from the pan cleanly. Let cake cool on a plate or wire rack. Leave the oven on and let pan sit for another 5 minutes, then grease and flour pan again and put remaining half of batter in it. Bake the cake for 40-55 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the center of the cake comes out clean.

Meanwhile, make frosting (recipe below).

Once cakes have cooled, turn so the part of the cake that was facing up when it was baked is once again facing up. Using a bread knife, cut convex part off, so top becomes flat. Set cake scraps aside. Repeat on other bundt.

Put frosting on the flat side of one bundt. Top by turning over the other bundt and placing it on top. Fill the hole in the middle with the scraps. Spread frosting all over cake. To achieve effect shown in photo, drag the back of a spoon from the bottom to the top of the cake. Repeat around entire cake. To create leaves, add about 10 drops of green food coloring to remaining frosting. Use a knife to make leaves. Use a piping bag or plastic bag filled with frosting to draw tendrils.

Pumpkin-and-Cream-Cheese Frosting
4 cups powdered sugar, sifted
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground nutmeg
12 ounces cream cheese, at room temperature
8 tablespoons unsalted butter (1 stick), at room temperature
1/3 cup pumpkin purée (not pie filling)

Place the sugar, cinnamon, and nutmeg in a medium bowl and whisk to combine; set aside.

Place the cream cheese and butter in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment and beat on medium speed until fully combined and smooth, about 1 minute.

Reduce the speed to low, slowly add the powdered sugar mixture, and beat until fully incorporated and smooth, about 3 minutes. Stop the mixer and scrape down the paddle and sides of the bowl with a rubber spatula.

Turn the mixer to medium speed, add the pumpkin, and mix until fully incorporated and smooth, about 1 minute. Use immediately.

A recipe to ‘wow’ your guests

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Red Pen Recipes turned 1 year old on Friday. This time last year I was nervous about whether I’d have enough time to try new recipes often enough to write a new post each week. I’m happy to say this blog has kept me doing what I hoped it would: writing for pleasure and keeping me trying new things in the kitchen.

Of the 52 recipes I wrote about in the past year, the Rum Raisin Rice Pudding was one of my favorite new discoveries, and homemade applesauce was a close second. They’re both Barefoot Contessa recipes I hadn’t tried before.

To celebrate the one-year mark, I decided to reformat my blog. I chose this format for its cleaner look and to showcase the photos a little more. I hope you enjoy the new look.

While Friday marked the first anniversary of Red Pen Recipes, it also marked the final day for one of my staff members. One of my reporters accepted a new job in Santa Fe, N.M., so I wanted to bake something special for her before she left. I flipped through some of my cookbooks and considered a few different items before I remembered the Red Velvet Cheesecake Brownies recipe a friend gave me a few years ago.

This recipe is something I save for special occasions, when I really want to “wow” someone. It combines three desserts a lot of people enjoy, and has yet to disappoint. Cheesecake, red velvet cake and brownies can each require a rather involved process, but this three-in-one treat is pretty simple to make — you just have to use three bowls to combine different ingredients before putting them together.

Thanks for reading. I look forward to bringing you more recipes in the coming year.

Ingredients
1/2 cup unsalted butter
2 ounces dark chocolate, coarsely chopped
1 cup sugar
2 large eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 1/2 teaspoon red food coloring (or six drops red food gel)
2/3 cup all purpose flour (use 1 cup at high altitude)
1/4 teaspoon salt (use 1/2 at high altitude)
8 ounces cream cheese, room temperature
1/3 cup sugar
1 large egg
1/2 tsp vanilla extract (use 1 teaspoon at high altitude)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Butter the bottom and sides of a 8-inch square baking pan. Put a long piece of parchment paper in the bottom of the pan, letting the parchment extend up two sides of the pan and overhang slightly on both ends. (This will make it easy to remove the bars from the pan after they have baked.) Butter the parchment.


In a small, heatproof bowl, melt butter and chocolate together in the microwave. Put it in 3 seconds at a time until soft enough to stir. Stir until combined and very smooth. Set aside to cool for a few minutes.


In a large bowl, whisk together sugar, eggs, vanilla extract and red food coloring. Add chocolate mixture and stir until smooth. Add flour and salt and stir until just combined and no streaks of dry ingredients remain. Pour into prepared pan and spread into an even layer.


To prepare cheesecake mixture, beat cream cheese, sugar, egg and vanilla extract in a medium bowl until smooth. Distribute the cheesecake mixture in eight dollops over batter in the pan. Swirl in with a knife or spatula.


Bake for 35-40 minutes (it could take up between 45 and 50 minutes at high altitude), until brownies and cheesecake are set. A knife inserted into the cheesecake mixture should come out clean and the edges will be lightly browned.


Let cool completely in pan on a cooling rack before lifting out the parchment paper to remove the brownies.