Japanese Cheesecake

I've made a variety of cheesecakes (i.e. Raspberry Swirl, America's Test Kitchen, Bourbon Pumpkin, Pumpkin Spice, No-Bake Nutella, Key-Lime, and Lite-Mixed Berry) in my time but none quite like this: a Japanese Cheesecake. I had no idea what I walking into but the concept sounded fascinating. The best description that I read was it's like a cheesecake and chiffon cake met in bar and had one too many, resulting in this this bundle of joy. I decided to make it for the ultimate cheesecake lover, Brandon

So what's the difference between a Japanese versus a New York style cheesecake? For starters, there's almost a full cup of flour in the batter which accounts for the chiffon feel. Not quite a cake - not quite a cheesecake. It takes away from that trademark texture of being creamy and dreamy. I would almost describe it as slightly dry. So be forewarned: if you are looking for silky smoothness - keep moving.

Another big difference is the amount of sugar. In a New York style cheesecake, there's 1 1/2 cups of sugar while the Japanese version halves the amount! This makes it far less decadent which, depending on your preference, is awesome or a bummer. Personally, I don't like super sweet desserts so this a bonus.  You don't feel the urge to chug a gallon of water after a slice or go to they gym the next day as penance. 

A key element that differentiates these two recipes is the actual baking method. A New York style cheesecake is pretty straightforward - mix all the ingredients, pour into a spring form pan, and bake in the oven in a hot water bath (bain marie). It has a graham cracker crust so there's no need to line the pan. A Japanese cheesecake is a touch more complicated. 

As you can see above - there is no graham cracker crust ergo, the pan needs to be lined with parchment paper so you can safely extract it from the pan. This is one area where I got sloppy! See how my Japanese cheesecake doesn't have perfectly smooth sides? It's all lumpy and bumpy. Well ladies and gentlemen... that's because I did a sloppy job lining the pan, cramming parchment paper against the sides of the spring form. Make sure you cut out a nice smooth sheet and line it against the cake round! : ) 

Also, rather than just mixing everything together, the Japanese version is a two step process. There is the basic mix portion but the second component requires a light meringue. Whip the egg whites with some sugar until it's thick and glossy then gently fold into the cream cheese base. Now it's ready to bake in the oven like any ol' cheesecake! 

I'm not going to lie to you - this variety of cheesecake was not up Brandon's alley and that's okay. B loves the glamor and sin of a full-bodied American cheesecake. He likes the trademark sweetness and creaminess that makes people fall in love with it in the first place. I, however, can only handle cheesecake in small slices for those very same reasons. This is definitely the type of cake you would find in an Asian or European bakery where decadence is not the goal. Top this bad boy with fresh or roasted strawberries (totally vote simple roasted or the fancy kind) - yummy!

The recipe for this Japanese Cheesecake can be found on Baked to the Roots. Again, it's a classy option for those who don't enjoy super sweet desserts.

Cosmopolitan Cake

Right before the New Years Eve shenanigans popped off, I saw this Cosmopolitan Cake from King Arthur Flour and knew it had to be a guest at my girlfriend's NYE party. Carolyn is known for her glamorous, quirky style and throwing some killer soirees. Cake soaked in Triple Sec, lemon-lime curd, and cranberry frosting would fit in perfectly!

Since this was whisked away for the evening, I didn't have the opportunity to take any fancy photos. I didn't use any food coloring so it doesn't have the same vivacious pink as King Arthur's version but it was still just as darling. Plus, a sprinkle of edible stars around the border makes it irresistible!

The cake itself came out a bit dense. I read the reviews and other bakers had similar results; it was implied that it may have been the amount of flour. That being the case, I wish the ingredients were posted with metric measurements rather than "cups." Better safe than sorry! I even baked the cake a second round to troubleshoot with fresh baking powder but alas - same texture. It's not distasteful but it makes halving the two rounds into four impossible. My recommendation: use a fluffy white cake recipe instead and stick with the Triple Sec soak. I love this recipe from America's Test Kitchen! If you're avoiding booze, skip the soak and incorporate orange instead (i.e. orange zest in the batter or orange extract).

As for the frosting and curd, both came out sensational. I never used meringue powder before in frosting but it turned out silky smooth and luscious. If you cannot find undiluted cranberry juice, fret not! Take some regular juice and reduce it on the stove top to at least half to concentrate it.

Overall, I really enjoyed this cake! It's not super sweet - it quite tart and refreshing. Everyone at the party raved about it but when my friend with a wicked sweet tooth had a slice, he said it was too tart for him. That being said, tart is not everyone's cup of tea so know your audience. Happy New Year!

Check out the recipe for this Cosmopolitan Cake at King Arthur Flour!

Soft Chocolate Chip Cookies

The stockings are hung. The tree is up. And my hand is cramping from writing holiday cards. It's that glorious time of year again! It's been a little harder getting in the spirit this go around. Often times my day is calm-  filled with Madison's purrs, Remi's cuddles, and Mike's laughter. Then I turn on the television or catch a fleeting glance on my cell phone of the world outside my own. I cannot help but feel the light in my soul flicker. 

It's important not to dwell. Take a break from watching the news. Give up your Facebook account like my husband. Do what you must to protect your heart and stay in the present. 

But don't give up. Fight back through acts of kindness, i.e. charity, volunteering, or supporting Fair Trade. Heck - just be kind to yourself and others. There's a great line from Faithfully Religionless: "Conflict arises when we want other people to validate our interpretation of the world by seeing it the same way we do. With that mentality, it's easy to see why wars start in the first place, right? The wars outside of us simply reflect the turmoil within. It's therefore inner peace that will lead to world peace, not the other way around." If there is hate in your heart - it will manifest. One by one, let's be the difference!

And so Santa, this year, more than any in the past, I wish for peace on Earth and good will towards all. If you can hook that up old man with the white beard, I will make you these cookies everyday forever. If you cannot, no hard feelings. But I cannot guarantee that you'll get these awesome cookies again!

These cookies are in the top five of my chocolate chip darlings. They're fascinating in that they don't necessarily need time to hang out in the fridge to firm up which means instant cookie goodness. In my paranoia, I still let them chill in the fridge! Old habit. I also added walnuts because they're always a good idea in chocolate chip cookies. For the chocolate chips, I did a mix of bittersweet (because darker is better) and this artisan Guittard semi-sweet chips. Not going to lie - it was like a moth to the flame when I saw the shiny packaging in the baking aisle. 

Note - this recipe uses SALTED BUTTER which I don't use for baking. The first time I made these, I did 3/4 teaspoon salt and the husband said it was too much. Second go was 1/2 a teaspoon and I got the thumbs up.

Also, I would like to throw a quick tip out there for the frustrated cookie bakers. If you want to guarantee that your cookies won't be too thin and spread, try a little (or entirely like this recipe) bread flour. Adding just a tablespoon has an obvious effect in that the dough spreads less thanks to the extra gluten. 

So pour yourself a big cup of almond milk and enjoy some well deserved treats. Try to leave a few for Clause! Whatever you do or do not celebrate - Happy Holidays! Let's celebrate love and life! Sending great big hugs!

For the recipe, check out Pinch of Yum's post for Soft Chocolate Chip Cookies!

Chai Butternut Squash Bundt Cake

Recently, I acquired a smashing little magazine: "Bake From Scratch" (Fall 2016 edition). What lured me in was the cover photo showcasing a lovely chai butternut squash bundt cake. Flipping through the contents, I was delighted by the number of promising recipes. Usually, you get a magazine and there may be one or two items that are appetizing. This edition, however, had pages of tasty ideas. Sold!

The first thing I baked, naturally, was the chai bundt cake. It's a basic bundt mix with the addition of butternut squash for moisture and sweetness. If you cannot find butternut squash, you could use pumpkin puree or sweet potato in a pinch. The real flavor comes from a healthy tablespoon of loose chai tea leaves. I simply took a bag of one of my favorite at-home tea blends from Celestial Seasonings  (thanks Sulava), cut it open, and added the looseleaf mix.

What makes this recipe unique is the swirl of cream cheese in the middle and walnut topping. Personally, I don't think you necessarily NEED these two elements but they do compliment the cake very well. The cream cheese is like a built in cup of milk and creates a latte effect. Personally, I never drink chai tea with straight water - it needs to be made with some form of milk to take the edge of all the spices. 

The topping adds a textural dimension with the crunch of the walnuts. They are coated in a combination of light corn syrup, maple syrup, a little unsalted butter, and vanilla extract. If you don't like walnuts, I would skip this step and simply have some maple syrup on the side.

This is a bundt full of flavors so do not serve to those faint of heart - test it on house guests who love cinnamon, cardamom, and fall fun. We certainly enjoyed it and hope you do as well!

Chai Butternut Squash Bundt Cake
from Bake From Scratch
Makes 1 (10 Cup) Bundt Cake

*Note: I halved the recipe for my 6 cup pan and it worked out perfect

1 Tablespoon (5 grams) loose leaf chai leaves
1 (8-ounce) package cream cheese, softened
2 1/2 cups (525 grams) granulated sugar, DIVIDED
4 large eggs, DIVIDED
2 1/2 cups (350 grams) plus 1 Tablespoon all purpose flour, DIVIDED
1 cup (230 grams) unsalted butter, softened
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 teaspoon (6 grams) baking soda
1/2 teaspoon (3 grams) kosher salt
1 cup (260 grams) cooked and mashed butternut squash
1/2 cup whole milk
1 Tablespoon orange zest

Bake the butternut squash until tender (I like to roast in oven for about an hour and a half in the oven); allow it to cool then mash. Can be made up two days in advance and stored in the fridge in an air tight container. 

In a spice grinder, grind the chai leaves until finely ground; optional if your mix is already ground. Set aside. 

In the bowl of a stand mixer, beat cream cheese at medium speed until creamy. Add 1/2 cup (105 grams) sugar and beat until combined. Add 1 egg and 1 Tablespoon flour. Beat until smooth. Set aside.

Preheat oven to 325. Spray bundt pan with baking spray.

In a large bowl , beat butter, vanilla, and remaining 2 cups of sugar at medium speed until fluffy, 4-5 minutes, stopping to scrape sides of bowl as needed. Add remaining 3 eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition.

In a medium bowl, whisk together tea, baking soda, salt, and remaining 2 1/2 cups flour.  In another bowl, combine squash, milk, and zest. Gradually add flour mixture to butter mixture alternately with squash mixture, beginning and ending with flour mixture. Beat until just combined after each addition

Spoon three-fourths of batter into prepared pan. Make a deep will in the center of the batter with the back of a spoon and pour in cream cheese mixture. Gently spoon in remaining batter on top, spreading until smooth.

Bake until a wooden pick inserted near center comes out with a few moist crumbs, about 1 hour. Let cool in pan for 10 minutes. Invert onto a wire rack and let cool completely. Serve with Walnut Sauce (recipe below).

Walnut Sauce
makes about 2 cups

1/2 cup light corn syrup
1/2 cup maple syrup
1 cup (96 grams) chopped walnuts
2 tablespoons (30 grams) unsalted butter
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

In a small sauce pan, bring corn syrup and maple syrup to a boil. Remove from heat, stir in butter, vanilla, and walnuts. Let cool.

Incredible Vanilla Cake with Swiss Buttercream

It was with a heart brimming with love that I accepted the thoughtful request to make a cake for one of my favorite couples! This was to be no ordinary cake - this cake would serve as the announcement for the gender of their bundle of joy. What an extraordinary mission for any baker and friend!

Truth be told - I wasn't 100% clear on the concept - only that I would know the gender before everyone else. Gender reveal cakes typically involve coloring the cake pink or blue so that when the first slice is cut, the entire party learns at the same time the baby's gender.  It took some undisclosed confusion on my part to realize that not even the parents would know the contents of their latest sonogram. It was coming straight from the doctors office to my house! That's when the gravity of the task at hand dawned on me. 

So let's break it down.

First thing first. The family wanted a vanilla cake which means you need a rock star vanilla extract. Enter the Rodelle Reserve Pure Vanilla  Extract Madagascar Bourbon. It is a total show stopper and makes all the difference when walking that thin line between vanilla and yellow cake. I never thought extract could make such a difference but my goodness this bottle smells like heaven. The flavor is concentrated so for your standard recipe, half the amount to start. I used this extract in everything - from the frosting to the simple syrup.

In terms of the actual cake. I don't like to title posts with lavish praises like, "the worlds best" or "greatest ever." There are so many recipes out there and talented bakers - it's impossible to make such claims. I will say, however, this is one incredible vanilla cake and I am so happy that I found it. It comes from the site "How To Cake It" and is demonstrated in a helpful YouTube tutorial. Be patient with the directions - they're tailored so that you can customize the recipe for any size cake (this Wilton chart helped me).

The cake is strong enough that it can be easily frosted and transported yet moist enough that it will make you weak in the knees. Just look at this beautiful, layered behemoth! To help seal the deal, I added vanilla to the simple syrup.

Rather than add color to the cake batter, we decided to go with the pinata version of the gender reveal cake. Keep in mind that you need a bottom layer and a top layer to help sandwich in the filling! From there, cut out the shape you want to serve as the candy container. Glue the layers together with frosting and pour in the filling, sealing with the top layer. The parents slice into the cake and out pours the color-coordinated treat our your choice. I highly recommend custom M&Ms for their cuteness and quality. If you have a few extra, toss them in between the layers of the frosting or bag them as a souvenir for the parents.

The frosting was, as always, my tried and true best friend for life - Swiss Buttercream from Smitten Kitchen. If that recipe was a drinking game, you would get completely trashed by this blog and for good reason: it's delicious and reliable.

The actual decorating portion of this cake did not go according to plan. I loved the base with it's ruffles and even the rustic top. The cake topper is super duper cute - special thanks to Rustic Daisy Designs. Dust with your choice of food-grade luster dust to add a slight glimmer to frosting after its had a chance to firm up in the fridge.

What I didn't love was the gold fondant stars. I wanted varying sizes of stars and had poor luck finding a set that went as small as I wanted. As I stomped around the house frustrated, my wonderful husband jumped in and made these. It was a last minute decision to use them and though I'm still not that crazy about the overall look- I do appreciate Mike's unconditional support. Thank you, darlin!

At  the end of the day, all that matters was the look on the parent's faces when they learned they were having a son. I've never seen a couple learn the gender of their child and it was honestly a magical moment. I can't really put into words the sparkle in their eyes or how genuine their smiles. This lovely young lady and I have been friends since college, from Ishq Kameena to Costa Rica, and it's an honor to have shared in this experience. Thank you both for trusting me. I love you already little man and cannot wait to meet you!

Incredible Vanilla Cake with Swiss Buttercream
Vanilla Cake from How To Cake It
Swiss Buttercream from Smitten Kitchen
Vanilla Simple Syrup