My Cake Decorating Gallery

Monday, April 27, 2009

Caramel Applejack Cheesecake: Another Daring Baker's Adventure

The April 2009 challenge is hosted by Jenny from Jenny Bakes. She has chosen Abbey's Infamous Cheesecake as the challenge and this was my first homemade baked cheesecake (I've been known to make a few of those no-bake cool whip cheesecakes which are totally different!)

The original recipe for Abbey's Infamous Cheesecake was for a basic graham-cracker crumb bottomed classic cheesecake, and we were all given the opportunity to jazz up the basic formula with whatever flavors and toppings we wanted.

The Husband LOVES any kind of apple-y goodness as a dessert so I decided to go with a Caramel Applejack flavor combination (though I had personally wanted a coconut with dark chocolate 'Mounds' type of flavor for myself!) The applejack combination turned out delicious though, and I have no regrets. The cheesecake recipe is excellent, it was the creamiest cheesecake I've ever had and if I were to ever make another one, I'd make this recipe in a heartbeat.

I searched online for a Caramel Apple cheesecake recipe just to see how they did the toppings and found a Bobby Flay recipe on Food Network, which included an Apple Mixture and Apple Caramel Sauce recipe which I decided to try out. These were delicious! I had thought maybe there would be cinnamon but it was a pure apple flavor which was complimented by creamy caramel. The Apple Caramel sauce recipe and Apple Mixture recipe both called for "Apple Brandy" but what I had on hand was Applejack (an apple whiskey I think). Abbey's Infamous Cheesecake recipe also allowed for the addition of 1 tablespoon of your preferred liquor so Applejack also made its way into the creamy cheesecake as well.

The only other change I made to the cheesecake recipe was to add 1/2 teaspoon of cinnamon to the graham cracker crust. It wasn't overpowering or anything but it was a great match for the creamy caramelly appley goodness going on.

I waited until the last minute to make the cheesecake - I got wrapped up in a movie on Saturday and was out that night so I realized I really had to make the cheesecake first thing Sunday morning and hope that it had enough time to chill before the sun went down Sunday night so I could get some pictures. I didn't even have anything good planned for who to share it with (besides The Husband) but lo and behold, we were invited over to a backyard barbecue to celebrate one of the nicest weekends Michigan has seen so far this spring, so my only concern was if there was enough time to chill it before serving dessert to the family.

I used an alumimum casserole pan as recommended in the recipe (they only had the deep one in a square shape) so that the foil could be cut away before serving. It worked out perfectly. I baked the cheesecake in the water bath without having to worry about any leaks, and let it rest for an hour in the oven, let it cool on the counter, and it had a chance to chill in the fridge for a good 3.5 hours. I know this is far from "chilling overnight" but once we were at the barbecue, I popped it into the freezer for about an hour, and then it chilled for maybe another hour or two. When I cut the foil pan off of the cheesecake, I was happy to see that I had no issues with not having enough chilling time, and I had no cracks. It was a perfect creamy color, no dark brown, and it cut into slices like a charm!

Without further ado, here are the recipes!

Abbey's Infamous Cheesecake
(as noted by Jenny of Jenny Bakes.

2 cups / 180 g graham cracker crumbs
1 stick / 4 oz butter, melted
2 tbsp. / 24 g sugar
1 tsp. vanilla extract
(I also added 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon)

3 sticks of cream cheese, 8 oz each (total of 24 oz) room temperature
1 cup / 210 g sugar
3 large eggs
1 cup / 8 oz heavy cream
1 tbsp. lemon juice
1 tbsp. vanilla extract (or the innards of a vanilla bean)
1 tbsp liqueur, optional, but choose what will work well with your cheesecake
(This is where I used Applejack)

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F (Gas Mark 4 = 180C = Moderate heat). Begin to boil a large pot of water for the water bath.

2. Mix together the crust ingredients and press into your preferred pan. You can press the crust just into the bottom, or up the sides of the pan too - baker's choice. Set crust aside.

3. Combine cream cheese and sugar in the bowl of a stand-mixer (or in a large bowl if using a hand-mixer) and cream together until smooth. Add eggs, one at a time, fully incorporating each before adding the next. Make sure to scrape down the bowl in between each egg. Add heavy cream, vanilla, lemon juice, and alcohol and blend until smooth and creamy.

4. Pour batter into prepared crust and tap the pan on the counter a few times to bring all air bubbles to the surface. Place pan into a larger pan and pour boiling water into the larger pan until halfway up the side of the cheesecake pan. If cheesecake pan is not airtight, cover bottom securely with foil before adding water.

5. Bake 45 to 55 minutes, until it is almost done - this can be hard to judge, but you're looking for the cake to hold together, but still have a lot of jiggle to it in the center. You don't want it to be completely firm at this stage. Close the oven door, turn the heat off, and let rest in the cooling oven for one hour. This lets the cake finish cooking and cool down gently enough so that it won't crack on the top. After one hour, remove cheesecake from oven and lift carefully out of water bath. Let it finish cooling on the counter, and then cover and put in the fridge to chill. Once fully chilled, it is ready to serve. This resulted in 8 hefty servings of delicious cheesecake.

See my notes above about using an aluminum disposable pan and a reduced chilling time which worked out great in my case!

Apple(jack) Mixture
adapted from Bobby Flay's recipes found here

2 cups apple juice
1/4 cup granulated sugar
1 vanilla bean, reserved from the cheesecake mixture
1 tablespoon cold butter
3 Granny Smith apples, peeled, seeded and thinly sliced
3 Fuji apples, peeled, seeded and thinly sliced
1/4 cup apple brandy (recommended: Calvados) -- I used 1/4 cup Applejack

Bring apple juice, sugar and vanilla bean to a boil in a large saute pan over high heat and cook until slightly thickened and reduced to 1/2 cup. Stir in the butter until melted. Add the apples and cook, stirring occasionally, until lightly caramelized and soft. Add the apple brandy and cook until reduced by 1/2. Transfer the apples to a plate and let cool slightly.

Applejack-Caramel Sauce
Adapted from Bobby Flay's recipes found here

1 1/2 cups granulated sugar
1/4 cup water
3/4 cup heavy cream
Pinch salt
3 tablespoons apple brandy (recommended: Calvados) (I used Applejack!)
1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

Place sugar and water in a medium saucepan and bring to a boil over high heat (do not stir), swirling the pot occasionally to even out the color, until amber in color, 10 to 12 minutes.
While the caramel is cooking. Place the heavy cream in a small pan and bring to a simmer over medium heat. Remove from heat and keep warm.

When the caramel has reached the desired color, slowly whisk in the heavy cream and salt and whisk until smooth. Remove from the heat and stir in the apple brandy and vanilla extract. Keep warm.

Notes about Apple mixture and sauce: I had no trouble making these a few hours in advance and simply reheating them in microwave-safe containers right before cutting the cheesecake, and it worked out perfectly.

Top cheesecake with apple mixture and drizzle with caramel sauce, and serve extra caramel sauce on the table for those who want a little extra. I hope you enjoy! Thanks to Jenny for an AWESOME daring baker's challenge, my first real cheesecake!

Note about photos: I tried to do a little better with photos this time around, trying to use daylight and my auto-white-balance option on my camera, and when I tried some new photos again this morning (pink plate) which turned out well, the apple topping was arranged a little prettier. Though it reminded me that I need to put away that Christmas-y table runner! My coworker was the lucky recipient of this photo model, the last piece of cheesecake! He said it was one of the best desserts he's ever had. Thumbs up, Jenny!!

Also, thanks for having us over again Megan, the barbecue was excellent!!

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Moroccan Lemon, Olive, and Chicken Tagine

I've never had Moroccan food before and I'm SOLD on it after trying this recipe. I was looking for a new chicken recipe and came across Jenn, The Leftover Queen's blog post , and realized I had most of the spices and would only need a few ingredients to give this a try. Just looking at the list of ingredients tells you that this is going to be CRAZY in comparison to our normal hum-drum weeknight chicken, and boy it was so awesome!

You must try this recipe! I was a little worried that The Husband wouldn't like it... he likes some exotic foods - middle eastern, ethiopian, thai, but not indian. I decided to go ahead with the recipe anyway, just because it was so different and we all need some variety in our lives. The Husband really loved this, and he took the leftovers for lunch today and said it was just as delicious as last night. Finally a successful new recipe! This is a keeper, and you really need to try it. Oh did I say that already?

Click on The Leftover Queen's link above for her great pictures and great presentation of this dish. A tagine, if you're wondering, is a Moroccan slow-cooked stew braised at low temperatures, and as Wikipedia put it, this results in tender meat and aromatic sauces. A tagine is also the name for the clay vessel used for cooking these stews in. Another fan-tabulous thing about this meal was I got to finally use my brand new LeCreuset pot cast-iron enameled pot (in bright yellow) and it worked out perfectly. I love using new kitchen toys... that's a great pot.

I've also posted the recipe below for your convenience, and a big THANK YOU to The Leftover Queen for sharing this. Now that I know I love this type of food, I can't wait to look up other recipes and try some more tagines! Though I can't imagine topping this one!

I didn't have "lemon peel stuffed olives" or saffron and I used chicken thighs as the meat, but otherwise I followed Jenn's instructions.

Moroccan Lemon, Olive and Chicken Tagine
as noted on Jenn, The Leftover Queen's blog

coarse sea salt
one small chicken cut into 8 pieces(or I had 1.2 lbs of boneless skinless chicken thighs - delish!)
1 TBS white vinegar (I also used apple cider as this is what I had)
2 cups water
5 TBS olive oil
1 large bunch of fresh cilantro finely minced (and maybe save some for garnish)
1 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp real saffron (i left this out because I don't have any)
salt to taste
1/2 lb chopped onions (turns out this is about half of a very large onion)
5 cloves of garlic, chopped
1 tsp cumin
1 tsp ginger
1 tsp paprika
1 tsp turmeric
2 TBS olive oil
1+ large jar of queen green olives (mine were stuffed with garlic, and I also used half a small jar stuffed with onions too..)
1 lemon's worth of lemon zest and/or grated/sliced lemon peel
about 1/4 cup of raisins (or as many as you want)

Here's what I did:

Rub the chicken thighs with the sea salt and then put in a large bowl with a bath of the water and vinegar. Let sit for 10 minutes, while the rub is prepared. The rub took a lot longer than I expected (de-stemming cilantro) so you might want to start it ahead of the chicken bath.

For the marinade, mix together the 5 T olive oil, cilantro, salt to taste, half of the onions, garlic, cumin, cinnamon, tumeric, ginger, and paprika.

Drain the chicken (I reused the same bath bowl for this next step) and dump in the marinade and make sure the marinade is covering all chicken pieces. If your marinade is a little dry, a little water can be added. Let sit for 15 minutes (I may have let it sit for a little less due to it being so late at night).

Heat up your pot with a lit on the stove (I had mine in the oven during preheat, but then read in the directions that it was bad to preheat an empty pot.. oops), and pour in 2T of olive oil. Place the chicken in the pan and scrape in the rest of the marinade. Add the rest of the onions, and also the olives, raisins, and lemon peel. I stirred this a little bit to make sure everything was incorporated. Cover with lid and bake in oven for 45-50 minutes.

Serve over couscous or something else to soak up the delicious sauce! Garnish with cilantro and lemon wedges if you'd like. Try not to devour it all in one night... I hope you try this delicious recipe!

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

A Farm Cake for Jack's First Birthday

I was so excited to have the opportunity to bake a birthday cake for John and Lisa's little bundle of joy - Jack! He's such a sweet little boy and deserved a sweet little cake! I looked through a few ideas online and gave Lisa some options and we all loved the idea of a cute little farm and barnyard cake so we went with that. I saw several excellent examples on and came up with the general plan ahead of time.

I started with creating the farm animals out of fondant on Tuesday night, and then they got a dollup of food coloring painted onto them on Wednesday night. I especially loved the pigs with their squiggly tails and the sheep, which required rolling several small balls of fondant and "pasting" them onto the bodies.

Thursday I had to bake the cakes and I also made the marshmallow buttercream filling, and the rice crispy treats to form the barn and then let everything cool overnight. Friday night was the big night where I made 6 batches of buttercream and got on the crumb coat and top coat of light green icing, and then multiple colors for the details.

I did buy store-bought black icing from Kroger to do the roof of the barn and that worked out really well, I never realized they had that and it's very difficult to get jet black frosting using food coloring but sometimes you do need some black accents, especially with children's cartoon-like cakes.

The rice crispy treat barn got frosted with red, black and white accents, and I stuck a skewer into the horse head to be stabbed into the barn once it was on the cake. This resulted in a little bit of smooshing my barn but oh well.

There was chocolate frosting mud for the piggies to be playing in, and I used dark green frosting for grass accents and the leaf/vine border around the bottoms of the cakes.

Yellow frosting was used for pond weeds and hay and little chicks. I meant to use it for the mane of the horse but I forgot! White frosting was used for the chickens, ducks, and the fence around the sides of the cake.

My frosting handwriting skills aren't that great so I covered it up by putting black polka dots which softened the look a bit. My cow legs were molded separately and I attached them to the bodies with toothpicks which also were dug into the cake for stability.

The cake was french vanilla flavored, with strawberry and marshmallow buttercream filling. The smash cake (the little cake given to the little tot to get messy with while eating) featured a pond scene and a #1 candle, while the main cake was a barn yard scene.

I made sure not to use any fondant on the smash cake as I didn't want anything hard that could pose a danger for a 1 year old. Just buttercream!

Watching little Jack eat the cake was tooo cute, and we had an excellent time with John and Lisa's family and friends at Jack's birthday party.
Too cute!

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Tales of Smoking with the Weber Smokey Mountain

The Husband had been talking about getting a smoker for a while but it wasn't until we went over to our friend Ben's house for some smoked ribs that I realized it was true - a smoker was a necessity for awesome BBQ. You know those ribs from your favorite BBQ restaurant? You can make those at home! (and for a fraction of the price... Costco has babyback ribs - 3 full racks - for $30!)

The Husband researched intensely and finally decided that the smoker to get was the Weber Smokey Mountain Smoker - an upright bullet shaped cooker by Weber which allows you to create old-fashioned BBQ using the "low and slow" cooking method over wood and coal.

The Weber Smokey Mountain (WSM) is pricier than others of its kind (retails $299) but it's leagues ahead of the competition and compared to professional smoker/cookers on the market, it is a bargain in that respect but provides the same quality.

Some professional BBQers use several WSMs lined up in a row during their BBQ competitions across the U.S. There is a website devoted to every detail about the WSM, which was an asset to us while we were getting started in this adventure.

Since our investment, the WSM has been used more than our Weber grill! We've made around 20 racks of ribs, at least 4 pork butts (pulled pork), and three beer-can chickens. I'm never going to be touching that "liquid smoke" crap again, that is for sure. The WSM works in all weather - it's been chugging along on hot August days, rainy summer nights, and in the single-digit temperatures in Michigan's Upper Peninsula .. and the WSM reigns champ and keeping its temperature at a very steady slow burn. The main factor in temperature consistency is wind and the outside temperature seems to barely make a difference, which is excellent for us.. great barbecue year-round!

We of course bought several smoker accessories - Smoke and Spice, a great book of recipes and barbecue history, a sauce mop for sloshing on some spicy goodness, a spray bottle for applejuice spraying, a thermometer for use in the dome of the smoker, welder's gloves for handling the smoker, a Weber chimney starter for quickly getting the coals going, and bags of wood chunks - apple and hickory are some of our favorites.

Thankfully, had very detailed steps with pictures for everything related to this smoker - from setting it up, to preparing meats, accessorizing, keeping the smoker going, correct temperatures and timing, and several delicious recipes for all kinds of smoked food. They also have a forum with tons of information and other smoker fanatics who you can share idea with! I printed out tons of information from this website and we still use it as a reference because it has resulted in perfect smoked offerings every time.

We started out with the simple baby back ribs recipe "Basic Baby Back Ribs" and had friends over to try it out. The ribs were outstanding, and the only thing we noted was that the Magic Dust recipe is a little spicy (hot!) for our taste but the ribs were smokey, tender, and the flavor was delicious! We still use the Magic Dust recipe for our ribs but with a little less cayenne/black pepper and sometimes other fun spices!

We tried ribs one more time with additional friends and they were again, delicious, and then it was time to try a new smoked meat - pulled pork. We would smoke ribs for 4 or 5 hours, until the "pull-test" showed they were perfectly tender, but for smoking 7 or 8lb pork butts, you're looking at maybe 16-18 hours on the smoker.

This was our first adventure into overnight smoking and I must say the first time resulted in less sleep than usual. It was a stormy summer night and we put the prepared pork butts on around midnight or so, and we were nervous about the rain and the smoker maintaining a good temperature (around 225 degrees) so we were waking up almost hourly to check. As it turns out, WSM smoker maintains temperatures awesomely and withstands rain and snow without a problem - we now sleep more soundly for overnight smoking!

We followed the "Renowned Mr Brown" pork butt recipe and cooking procedure, which also included the spicy southern succor rub and using the mop with the Southern Sop.

It was awesome! Since then, we've also tried the "Slathered with Mustard and Rub" recipe which was equally delicious.

You can get a set of two ~7lb pork butts from Costco sometimes, and it is a great deal, around $30. So it is similar pricing as the baby back ribs, however the pulled pork is the most cost effective meal. We figure three racks of ribs will cover about 6 people, while the two pork butts will feed you and a dozen friends, possible more! Still, both are way cheaper than going to your typical BBQ joint, which will rob you for at least $20 for "full" rack (but not as full as the racks you would buy!)

During our fun Germany-American party with Andrea, Jan, and their friends visiting from Germany, we had some pulled pork going but also wanted to try out Beer Can Chicken.

Nothing says "Welcome to America" like this kind of barbecue, and the beer can chicken turned out awesome. Chicken might sound a little boring but when you put on a delicious rub and smoke it, as noted in this recipe on, it turns out so tender, flavorful, and delicious. The smoke is just what the chicken was missing, and say goodbye to dry and boring rotisserie chicken! This recipe was excellent and we've made it again since then.
While just smoked meat may be all you need, there are all sorts of sides and accompaniaments to be had with these delicious entrees. For the pulled pork sandwich, why not try it Carolina style with mustard-based BBQ sauce (my favorite is Sticky Fingers but Shealy's is also delish!) and coleslaw on top?

Or, if you're like my husband, then you'll have to have garlic smashed redskins as a side dish. No recipe necessary - just keep adding butter and pressed fresh garlic and salt and pepper until they are addictive! Another favorite side dish that I've made several times are the classic baked beans - sweet, tangy, with bacon! I found this recipe on and I think you will like it too.

Down Home Baked Beans

1 pound bacon
2 (28 ounce) cans baked beans, drained
1 (12 ounce) bottle chili sauce
1 large sweet onion, chopped
2 cups packed brown sugar

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F (175 degrees C).
Place bacon in a large, deep skillet. Cook over medium high heat until evenly brown. Drain, crumble and set aside.
In a large bowl combine beans, chili sauce, onion, brown sugar and bacon. Pour into a 9x13 inch casserole dish.
Bake in preheated oven for 45 minutes to 1 hour.

Worried that your pork butt will yield too many leftovers? Besides pulled pork making the BEST mexican dishes (quesadillas, tacos, burritos, etc!) Try this recipe which we just enjoyed with leftover smoked pulled pork - a barbecue pork cornbread casserole!

BBQ Pork Cornbread Casserole

2 lbs or several cups of shredded pulled pork
1 cup of your favorite BBQ (or add enough to your liking)
1 onion, diced
1 can of corn, drained
1 package of Betty Crocker cornbread muffin mix (and ingredients listed on back of package)
1/2 of each - green and red bell pepper, diced -- or toss in any other veggie you'd like to have

Preheat oven according to cornbread muffin mix directions. Mix up cornbread batter as noted on package, set aside. Add the other ingredients to a casserole dish and stir to combine. Pour/spread cornbread topping on top of your BBQ and bake in the oven, according to the cornbread muffin directions.

Sorry for the lack of details but I don't have the exact recipe/directions I followed in front of me.

Flower Cupcakes

It is customary for treats to be brought in to work to celebrate birthdays at The Husband's workplace. He ordered some cupcakes, and while my Plan A was to make something lawyer related, that didn't quite pan out.

Plan B was Flower Cupcakes. Not very masculine but after I showed him some ideas, he accepted the offer (darn straight!). I saw some great examples of flower cupcakes online and had some fun making multi-colored flowers by putting in two colors of frosting in the piping bag at a time. The roses were my favorite.

I messed up the colors a bit - the pink was way brighter than I had hoped, but oh well - that's how it works.

The cupcakes were chocolate with raspberry buttercream filling, and topped with buttercream flowers. I made some spikey mum or dahlia-like flowers, some daisey-like flowers, some roses, and some carnation-like flowers.

I was generally happy with how they turned out, but still need some work on my flower making skills.

These were the first cupcakes I had made since Christmas and my first chance to utilize Megan's gift of a cupcake carrying case (and the bottom portion is a baking pan!!) It worked out perfectly, even The Husband couldn't ruin them on the way to work.

Decorating these took an hour and a half, and I finished around midnight which means for dimly lit photographs. Sorry for the dull colors, they were much prettier in person! Here is one photo of one of the rejects from the following day - with a mess of various leftover colors making a messy rose... but at least there was sunlight.

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Ben's Camping Cake

As mentioned before, I have been camping several times with some ex co-worker friends of mine up to Rifle River Recreation area. One of my fellow rustic campers, Ben, was having a birthday recently and having us all over to try out some pulled pork in his new smoker, so I thought it was a perfect chance to surprise him with a great cake.

I asked the other Rustics to see if they had any ideas for a great cake and eventually I came up with the plan - it would be a scene from camping, where the infamous pesky raccoons have come into camp and rifle through all our stuff.

These raccoons were not your average every day raccoons, they were giant raccoons that would peer at us from up in the trees in the darkness, just waiting for us to go to bed as we sat around our campfire. We could see their eyes reflecting in the moonlight!

On a few occasions, the raccoons just went too far. They broke open our coolers (these guys are smarter than you'd think) and ate our tortillas and entire bags of chips and raw bratwursts...... "so you're telling me no breakfast burritos?" It was heartbreaking!

As an attempt to fend off some of the coons, we also tried leaving them spicy foods laden with hot sauce, to try and teach them a lesson. It turns out these raccoons were apparently well accustomed to spicy food as they ate it all and we found them licking the plates.

Anyway, the cake shows a classic tent (though no one has a tent like that anymore do they?) made out of fondant (I dried it in a teepee shape and it held its shape fine), as well as raccoons, the cooler, fire ring, and rocks also made out of fondant. I used powdered food coloring with vodka and a paintbrush to color the tent, coons, rocks, fire ring, and cooler in various colors.

The rest of the cake is buttercream frosting, except for the fake axe and the pretzel "logs." It was great fun to attempt to make raccoons out of sugar paste and I am glad I had a chance to relive some fun times with my friends. Enjoy!