Victorious Pumpkin Cheesecake

It's been quite a December for me. A bit coo coo ca choo if you will. I decided to part ways with the lovely Williams-Sonoma, a company I had been working at for over 8 years! Major WOAH, right? During my last week there, I felt like a chicken with it's head cut off. While I was wrapping up my work to dos and fully utilizing my corporate discount (why of course I need a Snowflake Cakelet Pan and a couple Spoonulas), the company had another baking contest for all the Pottery Barn brand teams. This was my last shot at partaking in a work baking contest, so I couldn't not enter, ego shot from the last failed contest or not! I discussed dessert ideas with a coworker and she brought up the idea of making a pumpkin cheesecake, mostly because it's a favorite of hers (smart girl). I'm a big fan of this dessert as well and I've had experience making it a few times so this plan was fully a go! I knew I had to use my "crack cheesecake crust" (the name I lovingly gave to Momufuku's Milk Bar's Graham Cracker Crust because it's rightfully addicting), and I wanted to try out a new pumpkin cheesecake recipe I've been eyeing. It's a dicey move to make something new for a contest, i know, but I felt like I needed to go balls out for this last one.

As I've mentioned, cheesecake takes for evs to cook- I'm talking hours upon hours upon hours. You've got your baking time, cooling time and more cooling time that adds up to about 11 hours. It's insane, but strangely always worth it in the end. So, I tackled this recipe the night before the contest, but made the mistake of starting rather late. Not wise. That meant I had to set several alarms to wake my ass up to tend to the cheesecake. Alarm #1: turn oven off after cheesecake had baked for almost 2 hours. Alarm #2: take cheesecake out of oven after it had sat in oven for 1 hour, put on cooling rack. Alarm #3: put cheesecake in fridge to cool for 8+ hours.

Like I said, it's strangely worth all the hassle in the end, and this time was luckily no different, when it really mattered. Friends, I placed in the contest! And by "placed," I mean I got 3rd place. Yes, it's not the gold or silver, but it's bronze friends and it's a beautiful metal to me. This win was the perfect ending to my career at Williams-Sonoma. 

As I walked out the door of my beloved workplace for the last time, I tucked the empty cheesecake pan under my arm, still wearing a satisfied victory grin. Special shoutout to Mr. Williams and my fabulous work peeps- hugs all around!

Victorious Pumpkin Cheesecake
Yield: Roughly 12 servings, but it depends on how generous you are with your slices.

Ingredients – Crust
Yield: Makes about 340 g (2 Cups)
Recipe from Momofuku Milk Bar
Note: if you want a thicker crust, double this recipe! I did.
190 g (1 1/2 cups) graham cracker crumbs
2 1/2 cups sugar
20 g (1/4 cup) milk powder
25 g (2 tbs) sugar
3 g (3/4 tsp) kosher salt
55 g (4 tbs) butter, melted, or as needed
55 g (1/4 cup) heavy cream

Ingredients – Filling
Recipe by Foodnetwork.com
2 pounds cream cheese, at room temperature
2 1/2 cups sugar
1/4 cup sour cream
1 15 -ounce can pure pumpkin
6 large eggs, at room temperature, lightly beaten
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
2 1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground ginger
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
2 cups sweetened whipped cream
1/3 cup toasted pecans, roughly chopped

Directions – Crust
1.  Preheat over to 325 degrees Fahrenheit.
2.  Brush a 10-inch springform pan with some melted butter.
3.  Toss the graham crumbs, milk powder, sugar, and salt with your hands in a medium bowl to evenly distribute your dry ingredients.
4.  Whisk the butter and heavy cream together. Add to the dry ingredients and toss again to evenly distribute. The butter will act as glue, adhering to the dry ingredients and turning the mixture into a bunch of small clusters. The mixture should hold its shape if squeezed tightly in the palm of your hand. If it is not moist enough to do so, melt an additional 14 to 25 g (1 to 1½ table- spoons) butter and mix it in.
5.  The crust is easiest to mold just after mixing. Scoop about 2 tablespoons of mixture into each jar and pack it down using the back of the tablespoon or a fork. It should be about ¾ inch thick.
6.  Press the crumb mixture into the bottom and up the sides of the pan, packing it tightly and evenly (Pro Tip: OR do what I did and just spread a thick layer on the bottom). Bake until golden brown, 15 to 20 minutes.
7.  
Cool on a rack, then wrap the outside of the springform pan with foil or slow cooker liners (these are fool-proof!) and place in a roasting pan or a larger pan.

Directions – Filling
1.  
Boil a kettle of water to have ready for your water bath.
2.  Toast your pecans at 375 until you can barely start to smell them (5ish mins), set aside to cool.

3.  In a larger bowl or stand mixer, beat the cream cheese until smooth. Add sugar and beat until just light, scraping down the sides of the bowl and beaters as needed. Beat in the sour cream, then add the pumpkin, eggs, vanilla, 1 teaspoon salt and the spices and beat until just combined. Pour into the cooled crust.
4.  Gently place the roasting pan in the oven (don't pull the rack out) and pour the boiling water into the roasting pan until it comes about halfway up the side of the springform pan.
5.  Bake until the outside of the cheesecake sets but the center is still loose, about 1 hour 45 minutes. Turn off the oven and open the door briefly to let out some heat. Leave the cheesecake in the oven for 1 more hour, then carefully remove from the roasting pan and cool on a rack. Run a knife around the edges, cover and refrigerate at least 8 hours or overnight.

6.  Bring the cheesecake to room temperature 30 minutes before serving. Unlock and remove the springform ring. To finish, place a dollop of the whipped cream on each slice and sprinkle with the toasted pecans.

My Thanksgiving Dessert Menu

Thanksgiving snuck up on me like a ninja this year. There I was, enjoying Halloween and the next thing I knew, Thanksgiving was all up in my grill!

As I've mentioned before, my mom and I go to town on dessert making every Thanksgiving. We're focused, we're fierce and we know how to get desserts did. Before the holiday, we have a sit-down to discuss our dessert menu. It's fun to mull over which favorites to bring back and what new recipes we'd like to try out. This year, our dessert chat went well and we were happy with our final line-up. So, without further ado, here is this years Thanksgiving Dessert Menu:

 

Peanut Butter Chocolate Chip Bars
This dessert is a must as it's a huge hit in my family. These bars are so approachable, just sitting there with their decadent dark chocolate chips and chewy peanut butter looking at you. They never make it to the actual dessert course because of their delicious factor, so we fondly refer to them as "appetizers."

Image courtesy of parentpretty.com

Pumpkin Roll Cake
It ain't a Thanksgiving without seasonal gourds, ammi right? This dessert has been one of our off and on regulars. It's creamy, nutty and of course, delightfully pumpkiny. It's a bit of a process to make so we tackle this the night before Thanksgiving. Note: Once completed, it looks like a weird orange log, but I assure you, it's darn tasty.

Image courtesy of bigflavorstinykitchen.com

Grandma Ople's Apple PIe
My mom discovered this recipe a few Thanksgivings ago and it's quickly become our go-to apple pie recipe. Sadly, Grandma O isn't a member of my family, but man do I wish she was because homegirl really nailed this recipe. It's actually more of a caramel apple pie as it's topped with a friendly layer of caramel that turns a classic apple pie into a bombtastic apple pie.

Ginger Molasses Cookies
Seasonal, easy, but most importantly, tastilicious. It's wise to have a few easy grab desserts to snack on while Aunt Bun is talking your ear off.

Chocolate Cake with Easy Fudge Frosting
For the chocolate fans in my family. Pair any simple chocolate cake with this AMAZING fudge frosting and you can't lose. We make sure to choose quality chocolate for both parts; it's the most important ingredient in chocolate desserts, in my humble opinion.

Image courtesy of The Cook's Alelier

Lemon Tart
This dessert is a new-comer that we're trying out for the first time. We thought another fruity number would be a good addition to the group. Also, I'm WELL overdue to make a tart after I idiotically proclaimed that this was going to be the "year of the tart!" Yeah, I haven't made a single tart since uttering that <hangs head in shame>.

Image courtesy of thekitchensinkrecipes.com

Vanilla Bean Ice Cream
Another Thanksgiving dessert must! Homemade ice cream is a tradition my uncle used to manage, but now my cousin and husband have taken on the task. This year we're going with Vanilla Bean for one of the flavs, simply because it's compatible with most of the above desserts.

Before you bake this week, here are a couple tips:
• If you're making more than a few desserts, plan ahead! Select your recipes and make your store run several days before (although, we're guilty of sending my dad on <multiple> store runs Thanksgiving morning).
• For your pie crust, use the refrigerated Pillsbury Pie Dough (found in the refrigerated section in grocery stores, near the yogurts usually). Rumor has it is that some pastry chefs claim that it tastes just as good as homemade dough. So make your life easy by using this!

• Some people are sticklers about not going rogue and only making traditional desserts for the holidays, but I think as long as you have a few seasonal items, it's OK to segue away from these (without drawing too much attention).

Good luck and god speed with your holiday baking friends!

Chuck Williams' Birthday Bake Off

image courtesy of Williams-Sonoma Inc.

Chuck Williams, the founder of Williams-Sonoma (where I work), turned 99 on October 2! Having a 99th burfday is no joke, so in light of this, the company decided to turn it up to 11 and spread his birthday celebration over 7 days. On one of the last days, they hosted a Chuck Williams Birthday Bake-Off, where any associate could enter. There was no question about whether or not I should compete. It would be a nasty slap to the face of this blog if I didn't enter...not to mention there were handsome prizes for the winners:

  • A KitchenAid Stand Mixer 
  • Williams-Sonoma Goldtouch bakeware and an electric hand mixer 
  • 7-piece Wüstof Classic Ikon knife block set 
  • Set of three Le Creuset cookware

Nice little line-up, eh? I was excited to get my baking on for Chucky-boy (he probably wouldn't like me calling him that). There were four categories for the contest: Best Tasting, Best Presentation, Most Creative; and Best Use of Chuck's Finds. To be honest, I didn't target any of the categories and instead chose desserts I have previously made that stood out in my mind. The rules stated that competitors could enter multiple desserts so I knew I'd at least enter a few to increase my chances of placing. I decided on these two crowd pleasers: Chocolate Guinness Cupcakes with Bailey's Buttercream Frosting and Banana Pudding with Salted Caramel Sauce. I thought these provided enough differences from the other but were still equally yumtastic.

I felt confident enough about my decision, until I arrived at the bake-off. While I excitedly set up my two delights, I immediately sized-up my competition. There were 32 desserts there, some looking rather average (sorry) and some looking pretty impressive. I gazed at my dessert friends one last time, gave them a good luck nod and headed back to work. After getting into the office, I quickly realized I wouldn't be able to make the actual bake-off due to <insert something important sounding that really isn't as important as the bake-off in my humble>. I was a sad panda, but whatareyougonnado?

One of the judges judging my pretties

One of the judges judging my pretties

I wasn't able to get any information about the bake-off until the following day. I was eager to hear how it went and who took the gold, all while trying to keep my expectations low. An email finally went out with the lowdown. Williams-Sonoma Test Kitchen chefs were the judges and apparently, Chuck Williams (in-the-flesh!) attended the bake-off as well at Tyler Florence. Whaaaa?! Amazing, right? The results weren't great for the Dessert Fiend though. I sadly didn't even place <insert frowny emoticon>, but here are the list of winners, in all their glory:

Most Creative:
Winner: Bannoffee Pie
RU: Yogurt Cheesecake with Passion Fruit Topping

Best Presentation:
Winner: Almond Buttercream with Meyer Lemon Curd
RU: Pavlova

Best Use of Chuck’s Finds:
Winner: Chocolate Hazelnut Crepe Cake
RU: Chuck’s Tool Belt

Most Delicious:
Winner: Hazelnut Mocha Daquoise
RU: Almond Cake with Chocolate Mousse

There is, however, a big silver lining to my loss: the Bake-Off was featured on our company website and this very blog got a SWEET plug! Dessert Fiend will take a pimpin' wherever she can. Also, apparently my cupcakes were the talk of the town and several people wanted my recipe. At least I'm a winner in somebody's eyes! ;-)

Until the next bake-off friends!

Recipe: Cocoa Buttermilk Birthday Cake with Peanut Butter Frosting

"A party without cake is really just a meeting." - Julia Child

It was one of my favorite people's birthday last weekend and I insisted on making her a birthday dessert. She requested "anything chocolate and peanut butter." Ahh, one of the many reasons why I like this friend of mine, she's got great dessert taste. PB/choco is one of the best combinations on the planet and one that I choose to enjoy often.

I excitedly knew exactly which recipe I was going to use that I <stupidly> had tucked away for too long. When I first discovered this recipe, it looked like a peanut butter and chocolate dream. And now after making it, I know that it tastes like a dream too. It's especially perfect for Reese's Peanut Butter Cup fans too, which are an important component. The frosting is my favorite part- fluffy, smooth and not too sweet- exactly what I would imagine a peanut butter cloud to taste like. The cake is a bit crumbly, but it has a nice mellow chocolate flavor that collaborates well with the milk chocolate in the peanut butter cups. The last bites of the cake are everything. All the peanut butter cup friends are nestled there, waiting to give you happiness.

For all the peanut butter chocolate fans out there, this is the perfect cake for you. Enjoy!

Cocoa Buttermilk Birthday Cake with Peanut Butter Frosting
Recipe by Baking: from my home to yours and Barefoot Contessa

Ingredients - Cake
2 cups all purpose flour
½ cup unsweetened cocoa powder
½ teaspoon baking powder
½ teaspoon baking soda
½ teaspoon salt
2 sticks (8 ounces) unsalted butter, room temperature
1 and ½ cups granulated sugar
2 large eggs
2 large egg yolks
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1 cup buttermilk
4 ounces bittersweet chocolate, melted and cooled (optional) Pro Tip: Not optional, chocolate should never be optional!
Countless amounts of miniature Reese’s peanut butter cups, smashed or cut up.

Ingredients - Frosting
1 cup confectioners’ sugar
1 cup creamy peanut butter
5 tablespoons unsalted butter, at room temperature
3/4 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
1/3 cup heavy cream

Directions - Cake
1.  Center a rack in the oven and preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Butter two 9-x-2-inch round cake pans, dust the insides with flour, tap out the excess and line the bottoms with rounds of parchment or wax paper. Put the pans on a baking sheet.
2.  Whisk together the flour, cocoa, baking powder, baking soda and salt in a small-medium bowl. Set aside.
3.  Working with a stand mixer or hand mixer in a large bowl, beat the butter on medium speed until soft and creamy. Add the sugar and beat for about 2 minutes, until it is thoroughly blended into the butter.
4.  Add the eggs one at a time, then the yolks one by one, beating for 1 minute after each addition and scraping down the sides and bottom of the bowl as needed. Beat in the vanilla.
5.  Reduce the mixer speed to low and add the dry ingredients alternately with the buttermilk; add the dry ingredients in 3 portions and the buttermilk in 2 (begin and end with the dry ingredients); mix only until each new batch is blended into the batter.
6.  Add the melted chocolate, folding it in with a rubber spatula. Divide the batter between the cake pans.
7.  Bake for 26 to 30 minutes, or until the cakes feel springy to the touch and start to pull away from the sides of the pans.
8.  Transfer the cakes to racks and cool for about 5 minutes, then run a knife around the sides of the cakes, unmold them and peel off the paper liners. Invert and cool to room temperature right side up. (Once the layers are cooled, they can be wrapped airtight and left at room temperature overnight or kept frozen for up to 2 months.)

Directions - Frosting
1.  Place the confectioners’ sugar, peanut butter, butter, vanilla, and salt in a large bowl. Use stand or hand mixer and mix on medium-low speed until creamy, scraping down the bowl with a rubber spatula as you work.
2.  Add the cream and beat on high speed until the mixture is light and smooth.

To Assemble the Cake:
1.  Place one layer top side up on a cardboard round or a cake plate protected by strips of wax or parchment paper.
2.  Frost the top of the layer, and sprinkle the smashed up peanut butter cups inside. Be careful to not overload the inside with peanut butter cups or else it will look uneven when you place the top layer. Pro Tip: crumble up more than you think though for this layer.
3.  Next, cover with the second layer, top side down. Frost the sides and top of the cake, either smoothing the frosting for a sleek look or using a spatula, knife or spoon to swirl it for a more exuberant look.
4.  Press the remaining peanut butter cups (or as many as you can fit) around the sides of the frosted cake, and if you want you can sprinkle them on top too.
5.  Refrigerate the cake for at least 1 hour (or for up to 1 day, if that’s more convenient) to set the frosting, then bring it to room temperature before serving.

Julia Child and her Perfect Chocolate Mousse

"People who love to eat are always the best people." - Julia Child

I have mad love for Julia Child. I love her story (thanks Julia & Julia!), her cookbooks, her cooking shows, her attitude and lastly, her witty sense of humor.

Julia's story of how she came to be a cultural phenomenon is unreal. Here is my very condensed synopsis of it. In her mid-thirties, after moving to Paris, she dove head first into French cooking, knowing nothing about cooking. "I was 32 when I started cooking; up until then, I just ate." She not only mastered it, but she published a <hugely famous> two-part cookbook and became a television icon. Way to conquer your thirties and then some JC. #feelingsuddenlyinadequate

She had the perfect attitude about cooking- if you flub a recipe, do your best to fix it, but if that's not possible, serve your food with a huge smile because there's nothing you can do about it at that point, and that's totally OK. She wanted people to know that mistakes happen, even to the best of us. "One of the secrets, and pleasures, of cooking is to learn to correct something if it goes awry; and one of the lessons is to grin and bear it if it cannot be fixed.”

A few other things I personally enjoyed about Julia was that she always had a glass of wine with her while she cooked (I fully support that idea) and...homegirl was TALL. A fellow amazon like me! #tallgirlbond She even brilliantly modified her kitchen by raising up the counter tops so she could cook more comfortably. "Being tall is an advantage, especially in business. People will always remember you. And if you're in a crowd, you'll always have some clean air to breathe."

As an ode to Julia, I decided to make her Perfect Chocolate Mousse. I insisted on making it the way she would have made it- without using any electric appliances. That's right, I only used my brute strength. I've gotta admit, I wasn't aware of how much whisking I was getting myself into. This recipe involves several rounds of vigorous whipping. SEVERAL I broke out into a sweat early on and even had to take a few stretching breaks. When the mousse was completed, I felt like a champion...and really bedraggled. I now have even more respect for Julia and anyone who attempts this recipe sans machinery.

This mousse is quite lovely. It's rich and airy with a hint of espresso nestled into the chocolate. As Julia would say, Bon Appétit!

Julia Child’s Perfect Chocolate Mousse
Yield: Six to eight servings
Adapted from Mastering the Art of French Cooking (Knopf) by Julia Child

Ingredients
6 ounces (170g) bittersweet or semisweet chocolate, chopped (I used Green and Black’s organic 72% chocolate)
6 ounces (170g) unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
1/4 cup (60ml) dark-brewed coffee
4 large eggs, separated
2/3 cup (170g), plus 1 tablespoon sugar
2 tablespoons (30ml) dark rum
1 tablespoon (15ml) water
pinch of salt
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

Directions
1.  Heat a saucepan one-third full with hot water, and in a bowl set on top, melt together the chocolate, butter and coffee, stirring over the barely simmering water, until smooth. Remove from heat.
2.  Fill a large bowl with ice water and set aside.
3.  In a bowl large enough to nest securely on the saucepan of simmering water, whisk the yolks of the eggs with the 2/3 cup of sugar, rum, and water for about 3 minutes until the mixture is thick, like runny mayonnaise. (If you feel like cheating, you can also use a handheld electric mixer).
3.  Remove from heat and place the bowl of whipped egg yolks within the bowl of ice water and beat until cool and thick. (Pro Tip: Use more ice than water. I didn't and was afraid the water was going to splash into my situation the whole time). Then fold the chocolate mixture into the egg yolks.
4.  In a separate bowl, beat the egg whites with the salt until frothy. Continue to beat until they start to hold their shape. Whip in the tablespoon of sugar and continue to beat until thick and shiny, but not completely stiff, then the vanilla.
5.  Fold one-third of the beaten egg whites into the chocolate mixture, then fold in the remainder of the whites just until incorporated, but don’t overdo it or the mousse will lose volume.
6.  Transfer the mousse to a serving bowl or divide into serving dishes, and refrigerate for at least 4 hours, until firm. (Can be refrigerated for up to 4 days.)
7.  Serve as is or with a small dollop of whipped cream

Julia in her tall kitchen  –  Photo cred: vanityfair.com

I look forward to making more of JC's recipes. Until then, I'll leave you with my two of my favorite quotes of hers. The first, because it's inspiring to me and the second, because it's just plain funny.

"Learn how to cook – try new recipes, learn from your mistakes, be fearless and above all have fun."

"I always give my bird a generous butter massage before I put it in the oven. Why? Because I think the chicken likes it – and, more important, I like to give it."