This post just said it all to me this morning! ☕️ ❤️
Last month we made croissants, which was pretty time consuming. I think Sally took pity on us and assigned a much less cumbersome challenge for May: the classic cheesecake.
If you have ever made a cheesecake, you know that they are not that difficult. There are very few ingredients, the only tricky part is baking it in such a way that you don’t have a giant crack in the center. It is not that hard really. You just need to use a water bath and be sure to avoid over mixing the cheese cake filling.
I didn’t want a huge cake, so I opted for these mini cakes so my hubby could
unload take them to his coworkers! I didn’t need to create the water bath, just had to keep an eye on them while they were in the oven. I also decided to top each with chocolate ganache, which absolved me of any cracking issues 😉
First up, the graham cracker crust. The crushed cracker crumbs were combined with vanilla sugar and butter. Sally used regular sugar, I just prefer to reinforce the vanilla flavor by baking with the vanilla sugar I always keep on hand for dessert preparations.
The result is a sandy, textured mix that is spooned into a paper lined muffin tin.
This recipe makes about 9 cakes, and they were pre-baked for 5 minutes at 350ºF.
While these cooled, I made the filling. This was so fast and easy! Cream cheese, more vanilla sugar, sour cream, vanilla, lemon juice and an egg were placed into the bowl and mixed until just combined.
Try not to whip this! No extra air should be incorporated to avoid cracking while baking and this is a very thick mixture. Just a few tablespoons are needed to cover each of the crusts.
The pan goes into the 350ºF oven for about 20 minutes. The cakes are done when the edges are just set, and the center is still a little jiggly (just like a full cheesecake). Make sure these cool completely by placing them in the fridge for, at least, 2 hours. I actually made the cakes and refrigerated overnight. They will sink a little in the center, but just add a topping of fruit or chocolate and they will be perfect!
So easy and tasty 😋! Another awesome Sally recipe. Try either the full cake, or these minis, for a fast and delicious dessert, and let me know what you think👩🏻🍳 💕
Sally threw down her toughest challenge yet when she went for laminated dough! I have talked about my feelings for laminated dough a few times already. You may remember that I had to make this many times in culinary school and had no desire to revisit those days!
But I have a tough time turning down a challenge! And, Sally has a novel approach to making laminated dough. There are more steps that require longer refrigeration times, but they are quite easy! Check out her site first, she has wonderful videos and tips to help along the way!
We begin by making the dough, which is straight forward.
Butter, flour, sugar, salt, yeast and milk were combined. The dough was kneaded in the mixer and rested, in the refrigerator, for 30 minutes. This allowed the gluten to relax so it could be rolled out in the next step.
The measurements from here on are important. The goal is to encase the butter layer completely within the dough. So, I had to take my time to make sure that this rectangle was exactly 14 in X 10 in. Use your hands, a rolling pin, a measuring stick and lots of flour!
Once the rectangle was the correct size, and the corners were squared off, the dough was ready for its first long rest. The directions were to rest for 4 hours or overnight. I chose to leave this, covered, in the fridge until the next morning.
Lamination and Turns
The next day I made the butter layer.
Three sticks of room temperature butter, and 2 tablespoons of flour, were thoroughly combined. The butter layer was spread onto a parchment paper in the precise measurements of 7 in. X 10 in. This smaller rectangle was cooled in the refrigerator for 30 minutes, until solid. It is important that the butter be cold!
After 30 minutes, the butter layer was laid in the center of the cold dough layer from the day before.
The dough was folded over the butter, completely encasing the butter layer. The dough has now been “laminated”.
Make sure the dough is pinched tight around the butter so that the butter will not ooze out of the edges when it is rolled out in the next series of steps!
The dough was rolled out to 10 in X 20 in this time. When this dimension was achieved it was time to fold the dough. Fold the top third down, then the bottom third up, until you have a smaller rectangle, like the one at the bottom right. That is the “first turn”. You will do this twice more, for a total of three turns. This is what makes the layers of flaky pastry!
If the dough is too warm then refrigerate for 30 minutes in between each turn. In my kitchen, I was able to do two turns and then had to cool the dough for 30 minutes before finishing the third, and final, roll out.
The dough needs to rest again for 4 hours or overnight. Since I did this in the morning, my dough rested for 5 hours before I finished baking the croissants later that evening.
Shaping and Baking
The dough was rolled out again, this time 8 in X 20 in. Cut the dough in half lengthwise, then again three times to make 8 4in X 5in squares. Cut each square diagonally to make 16 triangles.
Gently stretch out the triangles to make the base more centered and the triangle a little longer. Make a small cut at the base of the triangle to make it easier to roll up. Curve the final form into a crescent shape. Let them sit at room temp for 30 minutes to being the final proof. Finish proofing in the fridge for 1 to 3 hours, you want them cold going into the oven. I left mine for 1 hour.
Brush with an egg wash and bake at 400F until golden brown. That was about 30 minutes in my oven 😊
The verdict? They were delicious 🤤 😋 I will be honest, I am not a croissant person and really don’t enjoy eating such a buttery bread. I know I am not “normal” where these are concerned. But I did try one to assess flakiness and taste. I was impressed with Sally’s technique! It was easier than the regular laminated dough process, but does take more time. Breaking it up over a couple days did make it simpler. And, Sally gives some great tips for freezing or making ahead to aid in your planning.
If you have ever wanted to try making croissants but felt intimidated by the process then give this a try! It really is simple, and my family loved them😊💕
Have you heard of naked, or semi naked cakes? 🍰 I am going to be very honest, I am not a fan of this style of cake decorating. It drives my crazy to leave the cake unfinished. I don’t find it “chic” or stylish to see the sides of the cake, must be the control freak in me!
But, that is the point of a challenge, is it not? So, I sucked it up and went for it. Aside from the instructions to not frost the sides, we were free to choose any type of cake and frosting combo we desired. I knew I would be in Seattle the week before our son’s 22nd birthday. So, the choice was easy! Ryan loves funfetti cake with vanilla icing, and has a ginormous sweet tooth.
Sally’s funfetti cake recipe is straight forward, and I was happy that it did not come from a box! It is basically a vanilla butter cake with sprinkles, and came together easily.
Then the sprinkles were folded into the mix
This batter is quite dense and thick. I decided to split this into two, 6 inch baking rounds, with the intent of splitting each to create four layers. It took awhile longer to bake than the times listed in her recipe, as she called for 9 inch pans.
And yes, I did weigh the batter so I could divide it exactly into the two pans (control freak remember, 😜). I let the cakes cool, wrapped them up to be frosted (or not frosted!) the next day.
I made Sally’s vanilla frosting, just as she directed, and started icing, sort of..
This Was Killing Me!!! How can this be a finished cake 😫
I had a small amount of frosting left over and we were allowed to decorate the top. I dyed that remaining frosting blue, and I had no idea what to do with it. So, I put the cake in the fridge and walked away!
I needed a time out! I was making a birthday dinner for my son, daughter and her boyfriend, where the cake was the dessert. I went to Costco and bought some sandals. I went to Soma and bought two new bras (TMI 😂). Then I went to Safeway for some inspiration for this cake!
Since there is an abundance of Easter candy in every grocery store since February 15th, I bought mini robin’s eggs and mini M&Ms. If I cant frost it, then I am going to cover as much as I can with candy 🍭 🍬
I felt a little better, but was still thinking that this is the ugliest cake I have ever made!
Ryan chose those sparkler candles for his cake and I was ready to light this sucker on fire 🔥 🔥 🔥
The funny thing is that the kids loved it!
All in all, it worked out well! I met the challenge, mostly, and Ryan loved his sugar bomb cake 🎂
I hope April’s challenge will let me finish completely! 😳
I made these Chocolate Covered Peanut Butter Eggs last year. My blog was pretty new at the time, so I am guessing most of you haven’t seen that post. I talked about my grandmother as the inspiration for making these decorated eggs. She was rather unique, so if you are interested, take a look at those first couple of paragraphs💕
This is barely a recipe, they are that easy! You can find numerous recipes for homemade Reese’s all over the internet. I followed The Recipe Critics formula. Simply combine smooth peanut butter, powdered sugar, melted butter and a small amount of milk. Mix on low speed with a paddle attachment, the dough will be crumbly and that is ok!
Pull the dough together on a floured board and roll out to, roughly, 1/2 inch thickness. Use an egg shaped cutter to stamp out the shapes. I didn’t have one, so I made templates out of parchment paper. I traced around the circumference of a large egg and cut out the patterns.
I then used the templates, and a sharp knife, to make the peanut butter eggs.
The eggs need to be refrigerated for, at least an hour. This will help with the chocolate dipping process. Melt 1 bag of milk chocolate chips with 1 Tablespoon of shortening. The shortening will give the eggs a nice shine.
I used a fork to submerge the eggs into the chocolate. I did have to use a second bag of chips to have enough chocolate coating for 21 eggs.
Honestly, you could stop right here and devour these after the chocolate sets. There is no shame in that 😋 Your family and friends would be thrilled with them, just as they are!
If you want to go the extra step, this is how I decorated my eggs. I used a royal icing recipe that makes a firm consistency. Some royal icing formulas are soft and have a marshmallow type texture. Delicious, to be sure, but those won’t hold the definition of the piping tips particularly well. You will have softer lines, like the leaves in this picture.
I like Antonia74’s recipe for this project. It is still tasty, but with a stronger consistency.
I made a batch, divided it up and started coloring! The icing was bagged up, with a variety of flower tips, and I was ready to go.
I like to use disposable bags with coupler attachments. I can then change my flower tips to make different colored flowers, lines and flower petals.
It may take a few tries for you to get the look you want. I tend to practice a few times on my cutting board or parchment paper to see how the flowers will look before moving to the eggs. If you do make a mistake, not big deal! Wait for the icing to dry and pop it off the surface of the chocolate!
As I said before, if you don’t have the time for all the decorating, just eat them plain! I want to wish you all a Happy Easter🐰🐥💕!
Chocolate Covered Peanut Butter Easter eggs
Beautiful, festive and with all the taste of a Reese's peanut butter cup! These Eggs will be the highlight of your Easter Buffet
-3 cups Powdered sugar
-1 and 1/2 cup creamy peanut butter
-1/4 cup butter, melted
-2 Tablespoons milk
-1 to 2 bags milk chocolate chips
-1 to 2 Tablespoons vegetable shortening
- Beat together powdered sugar, peanut butter, and butter together. At this point the dough will be crumbly. Add two tablespoons of milk and continue to beat together until the dough softens. If the dough still seems crumbly that is ok.
- On a floured surface, roll the dough out to desired thickness. About ½ thickness. You can use egg cookie cutters or with a knife, shape the dough to look like eggs.
- Place eggs on a cookie sheet and put in the freezer for an hour.
- When you are ready to dip them, add the chocolate and 1 Tbsp shortening in a microwave and melt 30 seconds at a time. Stirring it after every 30 seconds and being careful not to cook the chocolate to burn. Of, melt chocolate and shortening over a double boiler
- Dip each egg in chocolate. I used a fork to help cover in the chocolate. Place them on parchment paper to set.
- If more chocolate is needed, melt the second bag with the shortening. Enjoy!
Antonia74's Royal Icing recipe
-3/4 cup warm water
-5 Tablespoons meringue powder
-1 teaspoon cream of tartar
-1 kilogram (2.25 pounds) of powdered sugar
- In a mixing bowl, pour in the warm water and the meringue powder. Mix it with a whisk by hand until it is frothy and thickened…about 30 seconds.
- Add the cream of tartar and mix for 30 seconds more.
- Pour in all the powdered sugar at once and place the bowl on the mixer.
- Using the paddle attachment on the LOWEST speed, mix slowly for a full 10 minutes. Icing will get thick and creamy.
- When the icing is just sitting on the counter, be sure to cover the bowl with a dampened tea-towel or paper towel, to prevent crusting and drying.
- Tint with food coloring* or thin the icing with small amounts of warm water to reach the desired consistency.
*I prefer gel colors so they will not change the consistency of the icing, and the colors are more intense.
One of my favorite things to do on weekend mornings is to watch cooking shows, mostly on the Food Network Channel. I sleep a little longer and my hubby gets up first. He puts on a pot of coffee and I get up when I smell the brew! I flip on the TV and do my morning stretching/yoga routine, while sipping Starbucks coffee and watching chefs whip up various dishes. I often draw inspiration for my weekly menu planning this way. Last weekend I hit on a great one!
I was watching The Kitchen and Katy Lee demonstrate her recipe for “slow cooker lasagna soup.” What drew me to this was the ease of the slow cooker-I could assemble in the morning and have it ready for the end of the day. Also, I love the idea of controlling the amount of overall carbs and calories! This method would greatly reduce the number of lasagna noodles and amount of cheese in my regular lasagna recipe. Another huge bonus is that not all of my family eats cheese. The traditional lasagna is layered with cheese and noodles making it hard for people who want to avoid the cheese to pick around it. The cheeses are added at the end with this method, and if you want to skip that step all together, you still get all the great lasagna flavor!
I set out to modify my current recipe for this technique. Super easy and tasty!
I started by browning 1 pound of sweet Italian sausage, breaking it up into smaller pieces with a wooden spoon. This was drained to remove any extra grease, which I did not want in the final dish.
While the sausage cooked, I set to work on the slow cooker ingredients. 1 yellow onion, medium diced, went into the crock pot.
From here we just start adding ingredients! Granulated garlic, 2 cloves of fresh garlic, Italian seasonings, bay leaf, red pepper flakes, crushed tomatoes in puree, tomato paste, tomato sauce and the sausage. I like to mix dried and fresh herbs, so chopped basil and oregano are included. Be careful with fresh oregano-it is much stronger than dried so a little goes a long way!
We need quite a bit of liquid because the lasagna noodles will need to cook in the sauce, near the end of the cooking time. So, 4 cups of low sodium chicken broth was added, along with salt and pepper.
This gets a big stir, covered and then set on low for 8 hours, or high for 6 hours. The noodles are added during the last hour to 30 minutes of cooking time. I like traditional lasagna noodles as opposed to the “no bake” variety, but I suspect that they would work too.
The number of noodles you choose to add is really up to you. You could use other noodles as well, as long as it is a hardy version. Raviolis would be wonderful too!
I broke up 8 lasagna noodles and stirred them into the sauce mixture.
40 minutes later, it was looking and smelling like lasagna!
This was spooned into two soup mugs, that were oven safe, and we covered it with grated mozzarella, shaved parmesan and Italian parsley. I put them under the broiler for about 6 minutes. This is completely optional! You could save the calories and fat and dive right in!
We were thrilled to get the lasagna flavors in a healthier version! I am not going to pretend that this is good for you, it is comfort food. However, you really can alter it for your own health goals. Give it a try and let me know what you think 🙂
Slow Cooker Lasagna
All the great lasagna flavor from your slow cooker, with less carbs, fat and calories than the traditional layered dish.
-1 to 1 1/2 pounds of sweet Italian sausage
-1 medium sized yellow onion, med chopped
-1/2 teaspoon granulated of powdered garlic
-2 cloves fresh garlic, minced
-1 teaspoon dried Italian seasoning
-1 bay leaf
-1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes
-1 28 oz. can of crushed tomatoes in puree
-1 6 oz. can tomato paste
-1 8 oz. can tomato sauce
-4 cups low sodium chicken broth
-2 to 4 Tablespoons fresh basil, chopped
-1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt
-1/2 teaspoon black pepper
-8 oz. fresh mozzarella, grated
-Shaved or shredded parmesan, for sprinkling
-chopped fresh Italian parsley for garnish
- In a large skillet over medium-high heat, cook the italian sausage, breaking it up with a wooden spoon, until browned, 5 to 8 minutes. Transfer to a paper towel-lined plate to drain.
- In a slow cooker, combine the sausage with the garlic, both fresh and powdered, the dried Italian seasoning, bay leaf, red pepper flakes, crushed tomatoes, tomato paste, tomato sauce, chicken broth, basil, oregano, salt and pepper. Cook on high for 5 1/2 hours or on low for 7 1/2.
- Stir in the lasagna noodles and continue to cook for another 30 minutes.
- Preheat the oven to broil. Ladle the lasagna into ovenproof bowls. Top each with a few tablespoons of shredded mozzarella, a sprinkle of Parmesan and the parsley. Place on a baking sheet and heat under the broiler until the cheese is bubbly, 5 to 8 minutes.
I now have to include the year in the title of my baking challenge posts because I have completed one full cycle of Sally’s monthly tasks! I am kinda proud of that fact. Sally launched her Baking Challenge in February of 2017, and I have managed to complete all 12, so far! It has been tricky to stay on track over the last 12 months as we have travelled, bought a new home and have had some really busy months. But I have persevered, and managed to not gain 10 extra pounds 🙂
This month’s challenge was not too tough as Sally set cake pops as the perfect Valentine’s Day treat for us to create. My plan was to omit the stick and go with cake pop truffles. I felt this would be easier, and slightly more professional, for my hubby and his coworkers to pop into their mouths, as opposed to sitting in a client meeting eating cake on a popsicle stick!
Sally’s chocolate cake and chocolate icing were scrumptious, and so simple!
The first step was to bake the cake, which I did a day ahead. This was cooled and crumbled into a bowl of Sally’s chocolate icing.
The mixture was rolled into balls and refrigerated overnight.
At this point you can insert the stick, but I skipped that! I made rather small truffles and had a yield of 65 balls to be dipped into melted chocolate.
I happen to have milk chocolate, dark chocolate, white chocolate and red chocolate melting discs at my home. Yes, I have too much chocolate on hand at all times!
I also have way too many candy decorations! So, my daughter came over to make and decorate truffles with me, and make some candy apples for her boyfriend for Valentine’s Day.
We made quite the mess, but so worth it!
We had a blast dipping and decorating these little guys.
They were also delicious! I was impressed that they were not dry inside-as I have purchased cake pops from bakeries before that required a full glass of water in order to choke them down.
Another great Sally creation! If you can’t tell, I am a fan of her recipes!
They are all simple, delicious and accessible for any level of baking skills you may possess!
I hope to keep baking with her through 2018!