Apple Cheesecake Tart

I made this tart, which is really a cross between a tart and a cheesecake, for a party. Huge hit! It’s apple season so why not make a rich and creamy dessert that features this most-loved American fruit?

Though this isn’t a true cheesecake, some of the hints in my Cheesecake – You crack me up! post are also relevant here. It is vital that your cream cheese and egg are at room temperature. You will get a lumpy mess if you try to make this without having the foresight to warm up your cream cheese and egg.

Apple Cheesecake Tart
(makes 1 9″ tart, serves about 12)

1 stick unsalted butter, at room temperature
1/4 cup + 1/2 cup sugar
a pinch of salt
1 teaspoon lemon juice
1 cup sifted all-purpose flour
1 pound cream cheese, at room temperature
1/2 cup packed light brown sugar
1 egg, at room temperature
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
2 large apples (I like Honeycrisp but Jonathan or Cortland are also good)
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

In a large bowl, cream together the butter, 1/4 cup sugar, a pinch of salt, and lemon juice. Gently stir in the flour until well blended.

Press the dough evenly into the bottom and at least 1″ up the sides of a 9″ non-stick springform pan. Refrigerate while you work on the filling.

Preheat the oven to 425°F.

In a clean large mixing bowl, beat together the cream cheese and brown sugar. When this mixture is fluffy and there are no lumps, beat in the egg and vanilla. Beat again until smooth.

Peel, core, and cut the apples into 1/4″ slices.

In a large bowl, combine 1/2 cup of sugar and cinnamon. Add the apples and toss to coat evenly.

Place the pan on a rimmed sheet pan (just in case your pan leaks). Pour the cheese filling into the tart shell. Gently cover with the apples, scraping out all the sugar and cinnamon. Move the apples around to cover the filling completely.

Bake for 15 minutes then reduce the oven temperature to 350°F, and bake for another 40  minutes.

Remove from the oven. Run a knife around the edge of the pan to release the crust. Release the springform but don’t try to take the sides off until the tart cools for 10 minutes. It’s just too hot to handle right out of the oven. When you remove the springform, if some pieces stick to the pan sides, scrape them off and put them on the top of the tart. It’s a rustic tart. No one will notice.

Allow tart to cool completely before serving. Once the tart is completely cooled you can remove the pan bottom by running a knife under the bottom crust and then carefully using a large flat spatula to release the crust all the way to the center. Gently slide the tart onto a serving plate. Or not, you can serve it on the pan. I do all the time!

This tart can be refrigerated overnight before serving. Any leftovers (yah, right) can be refrigerated for up to 3 days.

Recipe adapted from Apple Cookbook by Olwen Woodier, Storey Publishing, 2001.

Pecan Shortbread Cookies

pecan shortbread - 1

My daughter loves shortbread. My daughter currently lives in Ithaca, NY (a lovely place; you should visit), toiling away as a grad student. Sunday is her birthday. As the dutiful mom/chef that I am, I had to send her some cookies for her birthday. Shortbread coming up!

You can find the recipe on Epicurious.com. It’s originally from Bon Appetit Magazine.

http://www.epicurious.com/recipes/food/views/pecan-shortbread-cookies-106027

Only ingredient adjustment was to reduce the baking soda slightly for my 5400 ft. altitude. There’s only 1/8 teaspoon in the original, so it probably doesn’t matter much.

I did find I had to bake them longer than the recipe said to get them lightly browned and set. Original says 20 minutes. I’d say 25.

They are delicious! Buttery and light. If you live in a humid climate, eat them quickly because they will get flabby. Still taste great but lose that crisp snap.

They did look a little worse for wear after shipping however. She still ate them. 😉

broken cookies - 1

Blueberry Crumb Cake

blueberry crumb cake - 1

Summertime is about BBQ’s and casual potlucks. I like to bring simple cakes to them because people don’t bake as much as they used to. I’ve found few people who don’t love a treat like this. This cake is simple and delicious. Blueberries are in season now, and this is a yummy way to enjoy them: wrapped up in a butter cake and covered with a crumb topping.

Blueberry Crumb Cake
(makes 1 9″x9″ cake, serves 9)

butter or non-stick spray for greasing pan
flour for prepping pan

Cake batter:
2 cups all purpose flour
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder (use 2 teaspoons if making at sea level)
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 stick (4 Tablespoons) unsalted butter, softened
1/2 cup + 3 Tablespoons sugar (use 3/4 cup at sea level)
1 large egg
1/2 cup 2% or whole milk
1 pint fresh blueberries, rinsed and drained

Topping:
1/2 cup sugar
1/4 cup all purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 stick (4 Tablespoons) unsalted butter, cold and cut into bits

Preheat oven to 375°F with the rack set in the middle. Prepare a 9″x9″x3″ baking pan by buttering or spraying the bottom and sides. Add a couple Tablespoons flour and coat the bottom and sides well. Knock out the excess flour.

Sift together batter dry ingredients: flour, baking powder, and salt. Set aside. Using an electric mixer, cream together butter and sugar. Beat in egg and milk. The batter may clump together; do not worry about it. Add the dry ingredients in 3 batches, stirring until just combined each time. Fold in the blueberries. Scoop into the prepared pan and spread out to level (the batter is thick).

In a medium bowl, mix together the sugar, flour, and cinnamon. Cut in the butter until the mixture looks like coarse meal. Sprinkle evenly over the cake batter.

Bake for 45 minutes, or until a tester comes out of the center clean. Cool in the pan. Can be served warm or at room temperature. Best the day baked but it will keep a couple of days stored at room temperature.

Adapted for baking at 5400 ft. from a recipe in Gourmet, May 1994.

Rhubarb Cake

A simple snacking cake that uses a common garden vegetable: rhubarb. If you have friends with a garden, ask them if they have rhubarb so you don’t have to buy it. Every gardener I know has more than they need. Remember that only the stalks are edible. The leaves contain too much oxalic acid (it’s actually the chemical that gives rhubarb its distinctive tart flavor), making them poisonous to humans.

If you have an electric mixer, you can make this cake.

You can use a food processor to chop the rhubarb, or chop it with a knife.

Snacking Rhubarb Cake
(serves 12)

butter or non-sticking cooking spray for greasing pan
1 ½ cups fresh or frozen and thawed rhubarb, finely chopped
1 stick unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 cup light brown sugar
½ + ¼ cup white sugar
1 large egg, at room temperature
1 cup natural applesauce (little added sugar)
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 cups flour
½ teaspoon salt
¾ teaspoon baking soda (use 1 teaspoon at sea level)
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

Preheat oven to 375°F. Grease a 9″ x 13″ baking dish well with butter or non-stick cooking spray.

Using an electric mixer, cream the butter, light brown sugar, and ½ cup white sugar in a large bowl. Beat in the egg, vanilla, and applesauce until combined. The batter may break (mine did) but don’t worry about it. In a medium bowl, mix together the flour, salt, and baking soda. Add to the batter and mix gently until nearly completely incorporated. Add the rhubarb and stir until it is a uniform batter. Pour into the prepared dish. In a small bowl, mix together ¼ cup sugar and cinnamon. Sprinkle uniformly over the top of the cake. Bake for 35 minutes.

When the cake comes out of the oven, run a knife along the edge to release the cake from the pan. Allow to cool completely before serving from the pan. The cake is very moist and sweet. I don’t believe it needs any embellishment, but some sliced strawberries would be OK.

Tested at altitude from a recipe at http://www.rhubarbinfo.com/cake, a great source for all things rhubarb.

Photo credit: By RhubarbFarmer (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

Easy Upside Down Cake – Use up those peaches stashed in your freezer

Nearly every peach lover I know here in Colorado has a stash of peaches in their freezer. That’s because Colorado grows some truly excellent peaches and they show up by the case almost every summer (sadly, some summers we get very little because Colorado is still a tricky place to grow peaches). I like to make a simple “sauce” with them to put on pancakes or waffles, or in oatmeal.

Without the nuts, you can see the peaches but I like it better with the crunch from the nuts

But sometimes, you need dessert. 🙂 This one is a straightforward spiced cake baked with a sweet topping of peaches and blueberries. It’s the perfect cake for tea, coffee, or an informal dinner party. I brought it to dinner with some friends and it was a huge hit.

Unlike many cakes, you don’t need an electric mixer, but you do need a heavy 10″ skillet, like a cast iron skillet. You will also need a plate larger than the skillet on which to turn out the cake.

Upside-Down Peach and Blueberry Cake
(serves 10)

Topping
1 Tablespoon butter
6 Tablespoons packed dark brown sugar
3 Tablespoons light corn syrup
1 ½ Tablespoons fresh lemon juice
the zest of ½ a lemon (remember to zest it before you juice it)
1 cup fresh or frozen blueberries (if frozen, not necessary to thaw)
¾ cup fresh or frozen peaches, thinly sliced

Cake
1 ½ cups sifted cake flour (measure after sifting)
1 teaspoon baking powder (¾ teaspoon at 5400 ft., Boulder altitude)
¼ teaspoon baking soda
⅛ teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
¼ teaspoon ground nutmeg
⅓ cup vegetable oil (I prefer sunflower oil)
½ cup sugar
⅓ cup honey
1 large egg, at room temperature
1 teaspoon almond extract
⅓ cup skim milk

⅓ cup toasted almond slices for garnish (see Note)

Preheat the oven to 325°F and position an oven rack in the center of the oven.

Melt the butter in a 10″ heavy skillet over medium heat. Add the brown sugar, corn syrup, and lemon juice. Stir until the sugar dissolves, about a minute. Remove the pan from the heat and gently stir in the lemon zest, blueberries, and peaches. Spread into an even layer. Set aside while you make the cake.

In a medium bowl, sift together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, cinnamon, and nutmeg. In a large bowl, whisk together the oil, sugar, honey, egg, almond extract, and milk. Sift the dry ingredients into the wet ingredients and mix together until well blended.

Pour the batter evenly over the fruit in the skillet. Bake for 35-40 minutes until a cake tester comes out clean and the cake is golden.

Cool the cake for 4 minutes on a wire rack. Place a large plate on top of the skillet. Using heavy potholders (that skillet is still very hot), flip over the plate and the pan. The fruit and sauce shouldn’t stick much, but if it does, use a spoon to scrape it out and arrange on the cake. Sprinkle cake with toasted almonds. Cool cake somewhat because it will be too hot to eat the sugary topping right out of the oven. It’s delicious warm or at room temperature.

Note: To toast almond slices, put them in a small baking pan and put in a 300°F oven for about 8-10 minutes, stirring now and then so they brown evenly. Watch carefully because they can burn in a flash.

Adapted from Have Your Cake and Eat It, Too by Susan G. Purdy, William Morrow and Company, 1993.

Chocolate Cream Cheese Pie

Almost the weekend…how about a yummy, rich & creamy chocolate pie? Not sure where this recipe came from. I got it from my mom back in the early 80’s. But, it’s a keeper. Note that this pie contains raw eggs, though many supermarkets now carry pasteurized in-the-shell eggs. They can be used if you are concerned about eating/serving raw eggs.

Chocolate Cream Cheese Pie
(8 – 10 servings)

Crust
1 ½ cup graham cracker crumbs
¼ cup light brown sugar, firmly packed
⅛ teaspoon ground nutmeg
⅓ cup melted butter
1 oz. unsweetened chocolate, melted

Filling
6 oz. semisweet chips
1 8 oz. package cream cheese, softened
½ cup light brown sugar, firmly packed
⅛ teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon vanilla
2 large eggs, separated
¼ cup light brown sugar, firmly packed
1 cup heavy cream, whipped

Prepare the crust: combine graham cracker crumbs, brown sugar, and nutmeg in a medium bowl. Add butter and chocolate. Mix thoroughly. Press mixture into a 9″ pie plate. Chill until firm.

Melt chocolate over hot but not boiling water. Cool about 5 minutes. Blend cream cheese, ½ brown sugar, salt, and vanilla until smooth. Beat in egg yolks, one at a time. Beat in cooled chocolate and blend well. In another bowl, beat egg whites until stiff but not dry. Gradually beat in ¼ cup brown sugar. Beat until stiff and glossy. Fold into chocolate mixture. Fold in whipped cream. Scoop into prepared crust, reserving ¼ of the mixture for decorating. Chill until filling sets slightly. Drop reserved mixture in mounds over top of pie. Chill overnight.

Chocolate Zucchini Cake

Zucchini bread, the classic way to use up too much zucchini from the garden. Or your neighbor’s garden. But, my zucchini plant was chewed up by a squirrel, then yanked up by a deer who didn’t even have the decency to eat the thing. So, definitely a zucchini shortage in my house this summer. A friend of a friend bestowed an overgrown zucchini so I was able to test out a new chocolate zucchini “cake.” I have a recipe that is a bit out of control – too much sugar, too much fat, and too much cake unless you are bringing it to a large gathering. But, I like the concept.

The first time I baked this, I used a loaf pan (see picture above). But, it’s so moist and soft that it really works better in a square cake pan. It also bakes up faster because it has spread out more.

I used Dutch cocoa the first time, which results in a darker color and a richer chocolate flavor. The second time, I used natural cocoa (most commonly seen as Hershey’s cocoa). The color is lighter as is the flavor. Feel free to try it either way. Both are good, as my husband and friends will attest.

If you end up using a baseball bat zucchini, don’t grate up the center part with the seeds. Just use the fleshy outside layer.

If you are baking this cake at sea level (I live at 5400 ft above sea level), increase the baking powder to 1 teaspoon, which is my best guess on the correct amount for you flat-landers.

Chocolate Zucchini Cake
(serves 9-12)

cooking spray

Dry Ingredients:
1 ½ cups all purpose flour
¾ teaspoon baking powder
½ teaspoon baking soda
¼ teaspoon cinnamon
⅛ teaspoon allspice (optional)
2 Tablespoons cocoa
¼ teaspoon salt

4 Tablespoons unsalted butter, at room temperature and soft
2 Tablespoons vegetable oil
¼ cup brown sugar
¼ cup white sugar
2 large eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla
½ cup buttermilk
1 cup shredded zucchini (1 to 2 medium zucchini)
½ cup bittersweet or semisweet chocolate chips

Preheat oven to 350°F. Spray a 9″x9″ baking pan with cooking spray and set aside.

Combine all the dry ingredient in a medium bowl. Set aside.

Beat together the butter, oil, and sugars until smooth and well-combined in a large bowl. Beat in the eggs, vanilla, and buttermilk. Mix in the zucchini and dry ingredients by hand until just combined. Add in the chocolate chips and mix gently to distribute.

Pour the batter into the prepared pan and bake for 35 minutes until a toothpick comes out clean (The chocolate chips may stick to the toothpick so you are looking for no batter sticking, not no chocolate.)

Cool for 15 minutes in the pan on a rack before trying to cut the cake.

This is really tasty with vanilla buttercream, but it’s darn good without any adornment. I had some leftover frosting from another cake so I had to make sure it was OK. It was. 🙂