Monday, August 29, 2011

Individual Dulce de Leche Cheesecakes

Individual Dulce de Leche Cheesecakes
The caramel just ooozes out.  Mmmmm...
I love eating cheesecake at the Cheesecake Factory.  I know whichever one I select will probably be the best thing I EVER ate.  Their dulce de leche cheesecake happens to be one of my top pics.  It's just magical.  It's a light, sweet, smooth and creamy experience with a little crunch from the toffee topping they sprinkle on top.  Simple, but fantastic.  Although I could never achieve what they do, I think I've come close enough with this.

I have already posted the recipe for a full dulce de leche cheesecake, but since I was going to make this individual version for a family potluck at Clive Elementary School, I figured I might as well blog it up.  So, here's the recipe for what I am currently calling "the best thing I've ever baked."  Creamy, sweet, vanilla caramel goodness.  Too bad I can't claim it's only 100 calories per serving.  Mmmmm...

Individual Dulce De Leche Cheesecakes

Prepare one day in advance and refrigerate overnight for best results.

You can prepare the caramel a day or two ahead of baking.


  • 2 cups white sugar
  • 1 cup water
  • 1 cup heavy cream
  • 4 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 2 tablespoons light corn syrup
  • pinch of salt
  • seeds scraped from one vanilla bean
1. Bring the cream, butter, vanilla, salt, and corn syrup to a simmer over medium high heat in a small saucepan.  If you’re using a vanilla bean, cut the bean lengthwise and scrape seeds out with the back of a knife.  Put the scraped seeds into the cream and whisk to distribute the seeds.   Set aside.
2. Combine the sugar and water in a heavy-bottomed 2-quart saucepan, pouring the sugar into the center of the pan to prevent the sugar crystals from sticking to the sides of the pan.  Cover and bring the mixture to a boil over high heat.  Once boiling, uncover and continue to boil until the syrup is thick and straw-colored, about 7 minutes (it will register 300° on a candy thermometer).  Reduce the heat to medium and continue to cook until the sugar syrup is golden and just begins to smoke, 1 to 2 minutes (it will be 350°).
3.  As soon as the sugar syrup reaches 350°, or it reaches that golden color & begins to smoke, remove it from the heat, pour about half of the cream mixture into it, and let the bubbling subside.  Add the remaining cream mixture and whisk until the sauce is smooth.  If using vanilla extract, add it now.
Move caramel to a heat-proof container and allow to cool.  If you're doing this ahead of time, once it's cooled, cover and refrigerate until ready to use in the cheesecake.

Preheat oven to 350°

  • 1 1/2 cup graham cracker crumbs
  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • 1/4 cup melted butter
I usually crush my graham crackers in a gallon sized zip top freezer bag.  (1 1/2 cups is equivalent to about 12 large graham crackers, or 1 pkg + 3 more crackers.)  Then mix the sugar into the crumbs inside the bag.  Add melted butter, zip the top and smoosh around until butter is thoroughly mixed in.  Line 36 muffin cups with cupcake liners.  Place about one tablespoon of graham cracker mixture into each cup.  Using the bottom of a shot glass or end of a small rolling pin, press the crust mixture somewhat firmly into the bottom.  Set aside while you prepare the filling. 

  • 4 8oz. cream cheeses @ room temperature
  • 4 large eggs @ room temperature
  • 1 cup caramel (recipe above)
  • 3/4 cup heavy cream
1. Cream cream cheese until smooth.  Add caramel &  mix until smooth.  Add eggs & mix until smooth.  Add cream and mix until smooth.   
2. Now, there are a few ways you can get the cheesecake batter into the muffin cups:
A. Pour batter into a spouted container, like a large Pyrex measuring cup or a pitcher, and pour into muffin cups; B. Use a 1/4 cup measuring cup to scoop batter in; or C. (my favorite) Pour batter into a gallon-sized zip top bag, cut a 1/4 inch corner off and carefully pour/squeeze batter into muffin cups.
3. Since I like to bake in the middle of the oven, I baked mine in two batches.  Do what works best for you and your oven.
4. Bake at 350° for 15-16 minutes, until cheesecakes are puffed and center is set.
5. Allow to cool for about 10 minutes, and then take cheesecakes out of the pan to cool on a wire rack.  When completely cool, transfer to a refrigerator and cover loosely.  Refrigerate at least 24 hours for best results.

Before serving, spoon remaining caramel sauce over the tops of the cheesecakes, about 1 teaspoon per individual cheesecake.

Top with whipped cream (or stabilized whipped cream), if desired.  I also topped these with crushed toffee bits.

Makes 36 individual cheesecakes.

Toppings in process: caramel, whipped cream, and finally the toffee bits.

Saturday, August 20, 2011


Boysenberry Kuchen
The recipe for this awesome dessert comes from my dear friend Debbie Gillentine.  I hope she doesn't mind me giving away her recipe.
When I saw Debbie make this, she used black berries she'd picked herself, and it was AMAZING.  I think fresh berries are really the way to go.  The nuts and bolts of this dessert are quite basic: a shortbread crust & topping (same mixture, divided) and a fruit filling, baked to a definite brown.  The butter flavor and the crispness, along with the sweet fruit filling create some sort of magic.  The recipe Debbie was using was all in German with metric weight measurements, and she said she'd translate it and email it to me.  I had to harass her to just translate it for me and then I went to a baking conversion website for the measurements.  What you see below is what I came up with, and it seemed to work.  My only problem was that my bottom crust was too gooey.  I need to ask Debbie what to do about that.  Nonetheless, it tasted fabulous.  Thanks, Deb!
I also have a recipe for a mini version of this fabulous dessert. Check it out: Mini Blackberry Kuchen.

Kuchen (or Kirch Kuchen)

  • 1 3/4 cups King Arthur Unbleached All-Purpose Flour
  • 1 cup butter, cold
  • 2/3 cup sugar
  • dash of salt
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1 10 oz. jar of Smucker's Simply Fruit (I used boysenberry) OR *cherry filling described below OR ** blackberry filling, also below
Preheat oven to 350°F.  Mix flour, sugar, salt and then cut in cold butter until there are no more chunks of butter & mixture is the texture of damp sand.  Add vanilla in as you are processing the butter.  Put the bowl in the fridge while working on the filling.

Using a buttered springform pan (I used a 9 1/2" pan), gently press about 2/3 of the streusel mixture into the bottom and up the sides.  Spread the the Simply Fruit over the bottom OR pour the hot filling into the baking form (if you've made the cherry filling).  Use the remaining streusel as the topping, sprinkling it in clumps over the top.  I placed my spring form pan on a cookie sheet because I suspected the butter would ooze out, which it did, but I think that may be why my bottom crust seemed underbaked.  Next time I think I will try a sheet of foil under the pan to catch any seepage. 

Bake in preheated oven at 350°F for 45-50 minutes until light brown on top and sides. 
Let it cool completely.  Many German cakes are made in advance and left on the counter until needed. Debbie doesn't refrigerate hers, she just leaves it on the counter for a few days … but she says it never lasts that long.

*Cherry Filling
  • 1 jar of  Morello cherries (sour cherries)
  • 3 tsp  cornstarch
  • 3 tablespoon sugar
  • ½ teaspoon vanilla extract
  • ½ teaspoon almond extract
  • juice from half a lemon

Strain cherries and reserve juices.  Blend the sugar and cornstarch.  Add the cherry juice to a pan and mix in the sugar & cornstarch mixture and the lemon juice.  Bring to a boil to thicken the juices to a pie filling type of consistency.  It gets thicker as it cools later on.  Remove the pan from heat adding the cherries, vanilla extract and almond extract and gently blend. 

**Blackberry Filling
  • 12-16 oz. frozen blackberries
  • 3 tablespoons sugar
  • 2 tablespoons cornstarch
  • 3 tablespoons water
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1/2 teaspoon almond extract
Mix the cornstarch and water in a small bowl.  In a heavy saucepan over medium heat, mix the berries, sugar, and then add the cornstarch/water mixture.  Bring to a boil, stirring almost constantly with a silicone or rubber spatula.  Remove from heat and stir in vanilla and almond extracts.  Allow to cool before using in the kuchen.

Twice Baked Potatoes

Twice Baked Potato: simply delicious comfort food

My son requested ramen noodles and smoothies for his birthday dinner, but I thought our guests deserved something a little more satisfying and mature than that.  So they're getting grilled tri-tip chunks (I need to post that recipe too...), twice baked potatoes,  fresh Iowa sweet corn, and ramen noodles & smoothies.
I love twice baked potatoes because of all of the flavors and textures involved.  I mean, I love potatoes almost any way you can prepare them, but these have so much going on: creamy, salty, stretchy, chewy, crisp, browned.  Some people just eat the filling with these, but I get a fork & knife and eat the WHOLE thing.  Mmmmm...they're so good, I often eat the left overs for breakfast.
I've been meaning to post this recipe for some time, but as with most "regular food" recipes, I don't cook with exact measurements, as I do when I bake.  Even what you see below is a guesstimate, so make adjustments as needed.  If you try these and see that my measurements seem WAY off, please leave a comment, and I will revise.
Twice Baked Potatoes
  • 4 medium russet potatoes
  • 4 tablespoons butter
  • 1/2 cup sour cream
  • 1/4-1/2 cup milk
  • salt & pepper to taste
  • 4-6 oz. cheddar cheese, cut into about 1/4-inch chunks
  • 2 green onion, rinsed, dried, and sliced (optional)
1. Preheat oven to 400°F. 
2. Scrub, trim, and poke potatoes.  Bake at 400°F for about 1 hour, or until they give when you squeeze them with an oven-mitted hand. 
3. While potatoes bake, prepare the cheese and the green onions. 
4. When potatoes are done, remove them from the oven with an oven mitt.  Using a serrated knife, slice each potato in half lengthwise.  Scoop out insides with a spoon, making sure you leave about 1/8 of an inch of potato in each skin, and place potato innards in a mixing bowl (I use my Kitchen Aid for this).  If you scoop too close to the skin, it will rip.  Turn oven down to 375°F.
5. Place skins in a casserole dish, cookie sheet, or glass pan.  Salt & pepper potatoes and mix with a mixer on low speed until potatoes are broken up.  Add butter, sour cream, and 1/4 cup milk.  Mix on low to medium until potatoes are relatively smooth, about 1 minute.  Scrape bowl as needed.  If the potatoes seem really thick, add more milk.  Taste the potatoes & re-season with salt & pepper, if needed.  Mix in cheese chunks and sliced green onion.
6.  Fill potato skins with enough potato mixture to go about 1/4 inch above the rim of the potato skin.  I do not smooth the tops here, because I like how the rough peaks and valleys brown and crisp upon the second baking.  Return filled potatoes to your baking dish/pan.
7.  Bake at 375°F for about 20-30 minutes, or until they are puffed and begin to brown on top.  Remove from oven and allow to cool 5-10 minutes before serving.  Even then, they will be boiling lava hot, so proceed with caution.
Puffed, browned, and ready.
 Makes 4-8 servings, depending on how much you enjoy these.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Pineapple Kolaches

King Arthur Flour Pineapple Kolache

So, I compete in the Iowa State Fair food competition each summer, and I'm always looking for new ways to win. One way is to find classes in the competition that have only two or three entries each year. Less competition, better chance of winning.  It sounds like cheating when I say it like that, but, what can I say? It's worked for me a few times. A couple of years ago, I was perusing the entries in the King Arthur Flour Yeast Roll Competition, and I saw these cute little danish-looking things, that I knew couldn't be danishes because they were too plain, and the dough wasn't laminated. I pulled out my handy dandy premium book for the food competition, and deduced that these were Kolaches. Hmmm. Fast forward a year or so, and I was having a chat with a colleague about food, and she mentioned a Czech pastry called Kolaches. She was kind enough to bring me one from back home in Saint Lucas, Iowa, where they have a Czech festival each year.  It was a cherry Kolache, and it wasn't flat and round like this one, it was a little purse of dough, and there were four little "windows" of cherry filling. So cute. So tender and soft.  Very nice.
So, this year, 2011, I decided to try my hand at Kolaches for the IA State Fair. Since I'd never tried making them before, I just checked the sponsor's website, and of course, King Arthur Flour had a recipe for me. What you see below is pretty much copied and pasted from the website, but I've deleted some of the variations they list.  What I got was a Kolache much sweeter than the one I first tasted, but the dough was the same, and it got me a blue ribbon in the Kolache class. Better yet, they also won second place overall in the yeast roll competition.  
Everyone who tries these loves them, so I'll have to try making them again, just to share.


  • 1 cup sour cream

  • 1/2 cup sugar

  • 1 1/2 teaspoons salt
1/2 cup (1 stick) butter, melted

  • 2 teaspoons instant yeast
1/2 cup lukewarm water
2 large eggs
4 cups King Arthur Unbleached All-Purpose Flour


20-ounce can crushed pineapple, drained (reserve 3 tablespoons of the juice)
  • 1 cup sugar
2 tablespoons cornstarch
  • 2 tablespoons melted butter.

DOUGH: Warm the sour cream gently, and combine it with the sugar, salt, and butter or margarine in a large mixing bowl, the bowl of an electric mixer, or the bucket of your bread machine. Cool the mixture to lukewarm (if it isnt already that temperature), and add the yeast (if youre using active dry yeast, dissolve it in the water first), warm water, eggs, and flour. Mix and knead the dough, using your hands, a mixer, or a bread machine, till its soft and smooth. Transfer the dough to a lightly greased bowl, cover the bowl with plastic wrap, and refrigerate the dough overnight. Note: This dough wont rise much, so dont worry about having to put it in a huge bowl.

Next day, remove the dough from the fridge, and divide it into about 20 pieces, each 1 3/4 ounces, about the size of a golf ball. Place the pieces on lightly greased or parchment-lined baking sheets, leaving about an inch between them. Flatten the balls till theyre about 1/2-inch thick, cover them with a proof cover or lightly greased plastic wrap, and allow them to rest for 10 minutes.

PINEAPPLE FILLING: In a medium-sized saucepan, heat the drained pineapple to boiling. Cool to lukewarm before using.

If youre using cornstarch, mix cornstarch with the reserved pineapple juice. Stir the dissolved cornstarch and the sugar into the hot pineapple, and cook over medium heat, stirring, till the mixture thickens and becomes clear. Immediately remove the filling from the heat, and stir in the melted butter. Let it cool to lukewarm before using.

STREUSEL TOPPING: In a small bowl, mix together the flour and sugar, then add the butter, stirring till crumbs form.

Kolache right before going into the oven.
ASSEMBLY: Using your fingers, make a wide, deep indentation in the center of each flattened dough ball. Dont be afraid of being decisive here; you want to make a deep enough indentation that it doesnt just disappear as the buns rise and bake. Place about 1 tablespoon of the filling into each bun; crumble a little of the streusel on top. Cover the kolaches, and allow them to rise for about an hour; they wont necessarily double in bulk.

Bake the kolaches in a preheated 350°F oven for 15 to 20 minutes, till theyre golden brown. Remove them from the oven, and serve warm, or at room temperature.
Yield: about 20 kolaches.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Caramel & Turtles

Turtle on a bed of wrapped caramels.
Since I had some heavy cream burning a hole in my refrigerator AND some whole pecans, I got it in my head to make some turtles.  Turns out it was half & half, not cream, burning a hole in my fridge, so I ended up having to go to the store for the cream because I'd already gotten myself going on the idea.  I found the caramel recipe at, but of course I had to modify it a little since I didn't want to open a whole can of evaporated milk for the half cup it called for.  I halved the recipe and that's what you'll see below.  Even with just half of the caramel recipe, I was able to make 24 turtles and have 24 wrapped caramels.  The turtle recipe below uses all of the caramel for turtles, so if you want some wrapped caramels too, simply adjust the amounts of nuts & chocolate.

  • 240 whole lightly toasted plump pecans (I bought mine at Sam's Club)
  • 1 recipe of caramel (see below)
  • 1 bag Dove Milk Chocolate Promises, unwrapped, melted, & tempered

  • Caramel
  • Ingredients
  • 1 cup white sugar
  • 1/2 cup packed brown sugar
  • 1/8 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 cup corn syrup
  • 1 cup heavy whipping cream
  • 1/2 cup butter
  • 3/4 teaspoon vanilla extract
Line an 11x 7 inch pan with parchment paper. (I know this is an unusual size for a pan, so an 8 x 8 inch square pan would work too.) Place pan on top of a wire cooling rack.

In a large heavy-bottomed pot over medium/medium-high heat, combine sugar, brown sugar, corn syrup, whipping cream, salt, and butter. Monitor the heat of the mixture with a candy thermometer while stirring. When the thermometer reaches 240 degrees F, remove the pot from the heat. Stir in vanilla. 

Transfer mixture to the prepared pan and let the mixture cool completely. 

For wrapped caramels: When the caramel is cool, lift it out by the parchment paper and place on a cutting board. With a large knife or pizza cutter, cut caramel into 48 pieces.  Wrap individual pieces in 4 x 4 inch squares of wax paper* and/or follow the directions in the next paragraph. (*Note that if you let the caramels sit in wax paper for more than a couple of weeks, the paper will start to stick to the caramel.  I need to find a remedy for this.  When I do, I will post it.)

Makes 48 pieces of caramel

For turtles: While caramel cools, on a parchment lined cookie sheet arrange pecans in fives, sort of in a radiating flower pattern.  Once piece at a time, roll caramel chunk into a rough ball and flatten slightly.  Place each on top of a group of pecans.  Caramel will soften and stick to pecans, so you don't have to press it.  When they're all done, set aside, and then temper your chocolate.

Scoop about one teaspoon of melted/tempered chocolate onto each turtle and use back of spoon to make sure all of the caramel is covered on each turtle.  Place turtles in a cool, dry location for chocolate to set. 

Store in an airtight container or place in individual cello bags to give away.

Makes 48 turtles.
A turtle's underbelly.

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