Dutch Apple Pie

A close-up of that lovely apple-y filling, not to mention that gorgeous, crispy, crunchy strudel topping! You can also see the gnarly crust peering out from beneath the apples.

A close-up of that lovely apple-y filling, not to mention that gorgeous, crispy, crunchy strudel topping! You can also see the gnarly crust peering out from beneath the apples.

More apple pie! How can this possibly be a bad thing? (Health nuts: Silence!) Especially with some French vanilla ice cream and the company of your most ardent forks. Hee.

When I made the classic apple pie, I was a bit surprised to realise that the filling recipe yielded enough for two – not one, but two – pies. I could have mounded the filling a bit more in the original pie, I suppose, but there still would have been about a third of the whole batch of filling left. I decided to use only half of the filling in the classic pie, and figure out what to do with the rest later.

The answer sprang into my mind quite unexpectedly the very next day: Make Dutch apple pie!

Who's up for having a fork tattooed on her or his tushy?

Who’s up for having a fork tattooed on her or his tushy?

Dutch apple pie is my favourite kind of apple pie, anyway. It’s an exceedingly close contest between thick, flaky pie crust topping and crunchy strudel topping; but in my book, strudel wins. By a hair. The strudel topping of turns the apple pie into a cross between apple pie and crumb cake! Winning! The contrast between the crunchy strudel and soft apple filling is stellar, too. Recall that texture is an important part of taste.

Mmmm, taste.

Perhaps a happy caption?

Pie. Three letters, one word.

I added more cinnamon and pectin to this half of the pie filling, and also added 2 teaspoons of vanilla extract. I liked the boost to the cinnamon flavour, and I also think the increased pectin helped the pie filling gel a bit more. The vanilla, however, was just a tad too strong for me. It shadowed the cinnamon and apple flavours, and apple pie should taste primarily of apple! My HubblyBeast and our friends liked it, but I think 1 teaspoon of vanilla extract would be the perfect amount to give the pie a bright undercurrent of vanilla without being overly strong.

Tools. I use them. Thank you, opposable thumbs!

Tools. I use them. Thank you, opposable thumbs!

I had to think a bit about how to bake this pie, because the classic apple pie bakes for so long – this is done so that the top crust bakes properly – that were I to so bake the Dutch apple pie, the strudel would be burnt to a crisp. Even aluminum foil wouldn’t be enough to save one’s strudel from so long in the oven! I finally decided to bake the pie for as long as I would the crumb cake from which I “borrowed” the strudel recipe. (Really, I must get around to posting about that crumb cake. It’s the best one I’ve ever had, and the scary thing is it’s very fast to make!) The apple filling just needs to get to the point where it’s bubbling, and the strudel needs to bake just to the point where it’s golden brown. About thirty-five minutes in the oven at 350°F worked a charm. I was one happy kitchenchantress when this thing finally cooled to room temperature! Husband & I were standing over the pie with forks at the ready, like slavering beasts about to go in for the kill.

Guten Appetit!

A happy caption!

Huzzah!

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Dutch Apple Pie

Yield: one 9″ pie, 8 – 12 servings

Ingredients:

For the crust:
1 9″ deep dish pie pan
2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour, plus more flour for dusting the rolling surface and rolling pin
2 TBS sugar
1 tsp. salt
12 TBS (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, cut into roughly 1/4″ pieces & very cold
8 TBS (1 stick) vegetable shortening, cut into 6 – 8 pieces & very cold
1/4 cup vodka, chilled
1/4 cup ice water

For the strudel:
2/3 cups sugar
2/3 cups light brown sugar, firmly packed
1 1/2 tsp. cinnamon
pinch salt
2 sticks unsalted butter, melted and warm
1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour

For the filling*:
1 cup sugar**
1/3 cup light brown sugar, tightly packed
1/8 tsp. ground cinnamon*** (I found this amount of cinnamon to be barely noticeable, and will add 1/2 tsp. next time)
1 generous TBS cornstarch
2 tsp. powdered pectin
4 TBS unsalted butter, cut into 1/4″ pieces
2 1/2 lbs. Granny Smith apples, cored, peeled, and cut into 1/2″ cubes OR into slices 1/4″ thick
2 1/2 lbs. Golden Delicious apples, cored, peeled, and cut into 1/2″ cubes OR into slices 1/4″ thick
boiling water (3 quarts per 4 lbs. of prepared apples)
2 tsp. vanilla extract, optional

Method:

For the crust:
In a food processor, blend 1 1/2 cups flour, sugar, and salt until combined, about 5 – 8 seconds. Scatter the butter and shortening on top of the flour mixture and process until the butter and shortening are incorporated, and uneven clumps with no remaining floury bits are formed, about 15 seconds.

With a spatula, scrape sides of food processor and redistribute dough evenly around the bottom of the processor. Add remaining 1 cup flour and process until the mixture has broken into pieces and is evenly distributed around the processor, 4 – 8 seconds.

Transfer mixture to a large bowl and pour the vodka and ice water over the dough ball. With a spatula, press and flip the dough with the liquids until the liquids are absorbed and a cohesive, sticky ball forms.

Wrap the dough ball in cling film and refrigerate until firm, at least 1 hour.

For the strudel:
Mix together all ingredients save for flour. Fold in flour with spatula. Cover and set aside.

For the filling:
Mix the sugar, brown sugar, cinnamon, cornstarch, and pectin in a medium bowl until thoroughly combined. Add the pieces of butter and toss to combine. Set aside.

Reserve the vanilla, if using, and add after the sugar mixture has been combined with the apples.

Place the apples you have cored, peeled, and cut into a large, heat-proof bowl (5 quarts, minimum; 8 quarts is best). Heat water to boiling in the stated ratio of 3 quarts of water per 4 lbs. of prepared apples. Pour the boiling water over the apples and let sit for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally so that all apples have a chance to be submerged in the water.

Drain the apples (I used a collander) and return them to the large bowl. Add the sugar mixture to the apples. Stir and toss to thoroughly combine. The butter pieces will melt, which is to be expected. Add vanilla extract, if using. Set apple mixture aside to cool completely.

Assembly and baking:
Once the apples have cooled to room temperature, and the dough ball has chilled for at least an hour, it is time to prepare the crust.

Preheat oven to 425°F.Generously flour a large, flat surface along with a rolling pin. Take the dough ball and place it on the floured surface; it will be sticky, so be patient. Roll dough ball out into about 1/2″ thickness. Carefully transfer the flat disc to the pie plate. Press disc so that it evenly lines the inside of the pie plate. Crimp edges so that they are more or less even and line the edge of the pie plate. Loosely cover with cling film, and refrigerate for 30 minutes.

After 30 minutes have passed, remove cling film and poke holes in bottom of crust with a fork. Place a large piece of aluminum foil loosely over crust, so that the entire crust is covered, and put pie weights in the bottom. (I use dried kidney beans for this, and they work beautifully.)

Bake crust for 17 minutes; remove pie weights and aluminum foil, and bake for an additional 4 – 7 minutes, or until lightly golden brown. Set aside to cool.

Adjust oven to 350°F.

Once the bottom crust has cooled, place pie dish on a rimmed cookie sheet to catch any drips. Add the pie filling, ensuring it is evenly distributed. Break strudel mixture into thumnail-sized pieces with your fingers and sprinkle evenly over the top of the pie, ensuring all of the apples are covered.

Cover edges of crust with aluminum foil. Bake pie for 35 minutes, or until apple mixture is bubbling (up to 45 minutes). You can check for this by cutting into the center of the strudel topping with a knife to peer into the pie. Do not overbake pie, or strudel topping will become hard, rather than crunchy, when cool.

Carefully take pie off rimmed baking sheet and place pie on cooling rack. Allow pie to cool completely to room temperature. This is important! The pie needs to cool completely so that it will thicken properly. If you cut the pie while it’s still hot, or even lukewarm, the juices will run out of the pie, and your hard work will have been for a pie that is still tasty, but not stellar.

Store in an airtight container at room temperature for up to four days.

Notes:

*I found that this much in weight of apples made enough filling for two pies. You have two options:

1. Halve everything for the filling, and continue as directed for the rest of the pie.

2. You can keep the ratios as they are, and store half of the apple mixture in a tightly covered container in the refrigerator for up to three days, to be used for a second pie or for cake filling, ice cream topping, apple turnover filling – the possibilities are many, as the apple filling is absolutely scrumptious on its own before being baked into a pie.

**You may increase or reduce the amount of either type of sugar, depending on your preferences. Personally, I think you could add up to 1 1/2 cups of granulated sugar, plus 1/2 cup light brown sugar (firmly packed, of course), before the pie became too sweet; everyone is different, however, and you may prefer a milder tasting pie. The sugar ratios as presented created a pie that was quite balanced between the flavours of sugar and apple, still with a robust apple flavour.

***You can also add nutmeg, ginger, allspice, and other spices you feel would go well with apples and cinnamon. Be cautious with the amounts, as spices are stronger than they seem. I wouldn’t add more than 1/4 tsp. each of nutmeg, ginger, and allspice, as these spices, along with cinnamon, would quickly overwhelm the flavour of the apples.

Sources: Crust from Cook’s Illustrated All-Time Best Holiday Baking, 2013; apple pie filling an amalgamation of Cook’s Illustrated All-Time Best Holiday Baking, 2013, Leite’s Culinaria, and Serious Eats; many helpful tips found at Serious Eats; strudel topping from Dave at Doodledee.com (unfortunately, link is no longer working)

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Classic Apple Pie

Geometric bliss. It's not that I loathed geometry per se; it's that class wasn't taught using an apple pie as an example.

Geometric bliss. It’s not that I loathed geometry per se; it’s that class wasn’t taught using an apple pie as an example.

A well-made apple pie is an ethereal delight, gustatorial heaven. In a bit of cosmic justice, the wonderful qualities of apple pie are directly correlated with the difficulty of properly making an apple pie. I’m actually coming out and saying that apple pie is one of the hardest desserts to get right. An apple pie should have tender apples, a thick, sweet filling, and a flaky bottom crust. I’ve never had an apple pie, until this one, that didn’t feature crunchy apples and a soggy bottom crust, and whose filling didn’t run copiously when you cut into it. Not even purchased apple pies could meet the basic criteria of tender apples, flaky crust, and thick filling.

Several years ago, I decided to attempt an apple pie, reasoning that I was a competent enough baker to get things right in the realm of apple pie. You can see where my hubris was taking me, right? I ignored the legions of bakers before me who’d turned out crunchy, runny apple pies, and figured I could somehow do better. I used the Pioneer Woman’s Caramel Apple Pie recipe, because I was young and in love and thought that she could do no wrong. Her recipe instructs you to mix raw Granny Smith apples with lemon juice, flour, sugar, and salt; this serves as the pie filling. You top the raw pie filling with a crumb topping that consists of flour, butter, brown sugar, and raw quick-cooking oats. Because the oats will cook themselves in the flour mixture?… Her recipe directs the clueless baker to pour up to two cups of caramel sauce over the baked pie. I even made my own caramel sauce to pour over the pie.

I’ll wait for those of you who are crying from laughter to dry your eyes.

I adore this ceramic knife. It cuts through apple pie like it's a dream. Wait - apple pie IS a dream! Herp!

I adore this ceramic knife. It cuts through apple pie like it’s a dream. Wait – apple pie IS a dream! Herp!

Even without the tidal wave of caramel sauce spilling over the pie and onto every horizontal surface within ten feet (I exaggerate… slightly), the pie was a disaster. The apples themselves were crunchy, even hard – they tasted as though they were completely uncooked. Even after allowing the pie to cool to room temperature, the filling was so thin that it ran completely out of the pie when I cut out a slice. I’ll spare you the details of the crumb topping, and will only say that raw, hard oats are not appealing. The whole thing was a bizarre juxtaposition of soggy and hard.

I tried the recipe again, using a regular pie crust to cover the pie instead of that disgusting crumb topping. I even left out the caramel sauce, seeing as how parts of my kitchen were still coated in the stuff from the last time. (I kid about the coating. But really, that caramel wound up in the strangest places!) And the pie was still disgusting, so much so that I threw it out. I vowed I’d never again try an apple pie, because it seemed like no one could get the thing right. And mine was by far the worst I’d ever tried.

A close-up of the flaky crust this recipe produces. It's buttery, light, tender, and flaky. Go on. Stare at it! It's very vain, and will appreciate your pondering of its flakesomeness.

A close-up of the flaky crust this recipe produces. It’s buttery, light, tender, and flaky. Go on. Stare at it! It’s very vain, and will appreciate your pondering of its flakesomeness.

Well, ducklings, I’m nothing if not stubborn, so after six years (seriously) of apple pie abstinence, I tried again. I looked to the folks at Cook’s Illustrated for guidance, because they test the everloving hell out of their recipes, and they experiment with all sorts of ways to cook a given dish; consequently, they have amassed a large body of knowledge regarding kitchen science. From Cook’s Illustrated, I’ve learned that the pectin found in apples breaks down at high heat – the kind of heat that an apple pie is subjected to during baking. However – and this is weird, but cool – this pectin converts to a heat-stable form if apples are gently heated to between 140°F and 160°F for about 10 minutes. You can then bake the apples as needed for a pie, and the pectin doesn’t break down. Hence you get apples that maintain their shape, yet are soft and tender. Huzzah! Oh, and the reason pies usually contain tart apples? Tart apples have more pectin than sweet apples, so they maintain their structural integrity during baking better than do sweet apples.

I started off looking at an apple pie recipe from Cook’s Illustrated, but I had a hunch that adding pectin directly to the pie filling would help the filling remain thick, rather than oozing out of the pie after cutting a slice. I looked at many apple pie recipes to see if this was a “thing,” and if so, how much pectin people tended to use. I found a lovely apple pie recipe that uses both pectin and cornstarch to help thicken the filling, and I happily incorporated these ingredients into my recipe. These additions must have worked, because the pie filling was delectably thick. I debated adding spices other than cinnamon to the filling, and was going to add nutmeg, ginger, and allspice, but I decided to proceed conservatively and just use cinnamon. I’d read that too many spices make the apple flavour recede into the background, but I think small amounts of these additional spices – about 1/8 teaspoon each – would add a marvelous complexity to the pie without overshadowing the taste of apple.

Looks like someone's been... *whips off sunglasses* forking around! YEAHHH!

Looks like someone’s been… *whips off sunglasses* forking around! YEAHHH!

The amount of apples Cook’s Illustrated specified – 5 pounds – made enough for two apple pies, so I divided the apple filling in half, storing one half in the fridge. I used this second half as an experimental batch, adding additional pectin, cinnamon, and even some vanilla extract to see how the filling would taste. I made a Dutch apple pie out of this second batch of filling, and it was smashing! I didn’t much care for the vanilla flavour, but my sweet Husband loved it, so I suppose that is a matter of personal taste. To be fair, I added twice as much vanilla as I should have (2 teaspoons, which were meant for the whole 5 pounds of apples; I should have added 1 teaspoon), so I think at lesser amounts, vanilla would go beautifully with the flavour profile of this pie.

Remember that one of my beefs with apple pie was the soggy crust. To combat this problem, I made a thick crust (the same crust I used for my beloved Badass Pecan Pie) for the bottom of the pie (along with an equally thick crust for the top of the pie), and blind-baked it (meaning I baked the crust with nothing in it before adding the apple filling and baking the whole thing). Some bakers say that brushing the bottom crust with butter will help prevent it from getting soggy. I think the combination of the thickness of this bottom crust, the fact that it is a very buttery crust, with a thin layer of melted butter appearing on it after its having been blind-baked, and the blind-baking itself all contributed to yield a bottom crust that was not in the least bit soggy, but flaky and just the right amount of crunchy.

Apple pie, thy name is bliss.

I couldn't resist showing off the glamorous layer of apple-y goodness that lurks within this pie. How can you resist a fruit that spends its days lurking? I can't. I really, really can't. Especially when the fruit is this tender and, well, applesome.

I couldn’t resist showing off the glamorous layer of apple-y goodness that lurks within this pie. How can you resist a fruit that spends its days lurking? I can’t. I really, really can’t. Especially when the fruit is this tender and, well, applesome.

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Classic Apple Pie

Yield: 1 9″ apple pie

Ingredients:

For the crust:
Double the amount of ingredients for the crust, as you will be making the crust recipe twice: Once for the top crust, and once for the bottom crust.
1 9″ deep dish pie pan
2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour, plus more flour for dusting the rolling surface and rolling pin
2 TBS sugar
1 tsp. salt
12 TBS (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, cut into roughly 1/4″ pieces & very cold
8 TBS (1 stick) vegetable shortening, cut into 6 – 8 pieces & very cold
1/4 cup vodka, chilled
1/4 cup ice water
2 TBS heavy cream, for brushing the top of the crust
1/4 cup sugar, for sprinkling over the cream

For the filling*:
1 cup sugar**
1/3 cup light brown sugar, tightly packed
1/8 tsp. ground cinnamon*** (I found this amount of cinnamon to be barely noticeable, and will add 1/2 tsp. next time)
1 generous TBS cornstarch
2 tsp. powdered pectin
4 TBS unsalted butter, cut into 1/4″ pieces
2 1/2 lbs. Granny Smith apples, cored, peeled, and cut into 1/2″ cubes OR into slices 1/4″ thick
2 1/2 lbs. Golden Delicious apples, cored, peeled, and cut into 1/2″ cubes OR into slices 1/4″ thick
boiling water (3 quarts per 4 lbs. of prepared apples)
2 tsp. vanilla extract, optional

Method:

For the crust:
In a food processor, blend 1 1/2 cups flour, sugar, and salt until combined, about 5 – 8 seconds. Scatter the butter and shortening on top of the flour mixture and process until the butter and shortening are incorporated, and uneven clumps with no remaining floury bits are formed, about 15 seconds.

With a spatula, scrape sides of food processor and redistribute dough evenly around the bottom of the processor. Add remaining 1 cup flour and process until the mixture has broken into pieces and is evenly distributed around the processor, 4 – 8 seconds.

Transfer mixture to a large bowl and pour the vodka and ice water over the dough ball. With a spatula, press and flip the dough with the liquids until the liquids are absorbed and a cohesive, sticky ball forms.

Wrap the dough ball in cling film and refrigerate until firm, at least 1 hour.

Repeat recipe for a total of two dough balls. One dough ball will form the bottom crust and the other dough ball will form the top crust.

For the filling:
Mix the sugar, brown sugar, cinnamon, cornstarch, and pectin in a medium bowl until thoroughly combined. Add the pieces of butter and toss to combine. Set aside.

Reserve the vanilla, if using, and add after the sugar mixture has been combined with the apples.

Place the apples you have cored, peeled, and cut into a large, heat-proof bowl (5 quarts, minimum; 8 quarts is best). Heat water to boiling in the stated ratio of 3 quarts of water per 4 lbs. of prepared apples. Pour the boiling water over the apples and let sit for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally so that all apples have a chance to be submerged in the water.

Drain the apples (I used a collander) and return them to the large bowl. Add the sugar mixture to the apples. Stir and toss to thoroughly combine. The butter pieces will melt, which is to be expected. Add vanilla extract, if using. Set apple mixture aside to cool completely.

Assembly and baking:
Once the apples have cooled to room temperature, and the dough balls have chilled for at least an hour, it is time to prepare the crust.

Preheat oven to 425°F.Generously flour a large, flat surface along with a rolling pin. Take one of the dough balls and place it on the floured surface; it will be sticky, so be patient. Roll dough ball out into about 1/2″ thickness. Carefully transfer the flat disc to the pie plate. Press disc so that it evenly lines the inside of the pie plate. Crimp edges so that they are more or less even and line the edge of the pie plate. Loosely cover with cling film, and refrigerate for 30 minutes.

After 30 minutes have passed, remove cling film and poke holes in bottom of crust with a fork. Place a large piece of aluminum foil loosely over crust, so that the entire crust is covered, and put pie weights in the bottom. (I use dried kidney beans for this, and they work beautifully.) Bake crust for 17 minutes; remove pie weights and aluminum foil, and bake for an additional 4 – 7 minutes, or until lightly golden brown. Set aside to cool.

Meanwhile, prepare the second dough ball by rolling out to approximately the same size and thickness as the bottom crust. Line a large, flat plate or cookie sheet with waxed paper, and transfer disc to the waxed paper. Place in refrigerator for 30 minutes.

Adjust oven to 350°F.

Once the bottom crust has cooled, place pie dish on a rimmed cookie sheet to catch any drips. Add the pie filling, ensuring it is evenly distributed. Cover with the chilled top crust, crimping the edges over the pre-baked bottom crust’s edges. Brush top of crust with the heavy cream, and sprinkle with the 1/4 cup sugar. Cut a few slits in the crust to allow steam to escape.

Bake, uncovered, for 30 minutes. After 30 minutes, loosely tent pie with foil and bake for an additional hour. Remove foil and bake pie for 30 more minutes.

Carefully take pie off rimmed baking sheet and place pie on cooling rack. Allow pie to cool completely to room temperature. This is important! The pie needs to cool completely so that it will thicken properly. If you cut the pie while it’s still hot, or even lukewarm, the juices will run out of the pie, and your hard work will have been for a pie that is still tasty, but not stellar.

Store in an airtight container at room temperature for up to four days.

Notes:

*I found that this much in weight of apples made enough filling for two pies. You have two options:

1. Halve everything for the filling, and continue as directed for the rest of the pie.

2. You can keep the ratios as they are, and store half of the apple mixture in a tightly covered container in the refrigerator for up to three days, to be used for a second pie or for cake filling, ice cream topping, apple turnover filling – the possibilities are many, as the apple filling is absolutely scrumptious on its own before being baked into a pie.

**You may increase or reduce the amount of either type of sugar, depending on your preferences. Personally, I think you could add up to 1 1/2 cups of granulated sugar, plus 1/2 cup light brown sugar (firmly packed, of course), before the pie became too sweet; everyone is different, however, and you may prefer a milder tasting pie. The sugar ratios as presented created a pie that was quite balanced between the flavours of sugar and apple, still with a robust apple flavour.

***You can also add nutmeg, ginger, allspice, and other spices you feel would go well with apples and cinnamon. Be cautious with the amounts, as spices are stronger than they seem. I wouldn’t add more than 1/4 tsp. each of nutmeg, ginger, and allspice, as these spices, along with cinnamon, would quickly overwhelm the flavour of the apples.

Sources: Crust from Cook’s Illustrated All-Time Best Holiday Baking, 2013; apple pie filling an amalgamation of Cook’s Illustrated All-Time Best Holiday Baking, 2013, Leite’s Culinaria, and Serious Eats; many helpful tips found at Serious Eats

Favourites from 2013

I started this blog in January of this year, and I am blown away by the changes that have swept through my life since then. I’ve lost my mother and my darling orange and white kitty, and I’ve had to learn to live without them, which is unfairly hard. I’ve tried new foods so that I could blog about them, as well as new cooking techniques and new flavour combinations. Blogging about food has led to a whole new approach to my time in the kitchen. I cook differently, I look at food differently; I eat with my eyes first, and then I carefully taste each component individually, if possible, before trying the dish as a whole. I’ve cemented my love of desserts with this blog, and I’ve simply loved sharing with you some of my favourite dishes. There are so many more to come!

I’ve compiled a list of my favourite dishes from the blog this year. These are dishes that my Hubbles and I personally love and make over and over again. Some of them could use some updated photographs, but despite the wonky photography, the recipes themselves are never short of stellar. I urge that you try them and decide for yourself if they are worthy of joining your family’s catalog of favourites.

As Julia Child would say, “Bon appétit!”

*********
CHEESECAKES OF GLORY

Cappuccino Fudge Cheesecake

The layers

The layers: chocolate crust, ganache, coffee cheesecake, sour cream topping, and more ganache.

This showstopping cheesecake is a mocha lover’s dream. A delicate, nuanced coffee flavor permeates the cheesecake layer, which rests atop a thick layer of chocolate ganache. More chocolate ganache is piped across the top, and chocolate-covered coffee beans are scattered onto the cheesecake. A rich, dark chocolate crust enfolds these tasty layers and gives a great counterbalance of texture and flavor.

Bailey’s Irish Cream Cheesecake

A better view of the graham cracker crust that encircles the cheesecake. Ganache rosettes, hear me roar!

A better view of the graham cracker crust that encircles the cheesecake. Ganache rosettes, hear me roar!

As with the Cappuccino Fudge Cheesecake, a thick layer of chocolate ganache rests beneath this Bailey’s-infused cheesecake. The flavor is a beautiful balance between classic New York style cheesecake and Bailey’s Irish Cream. Chocolate ganache is piped atop the cheesecake, and it must be said that chocolate and Bailey’s are just gorgeous together. (Irish Car Bomb cupcakes are proof of this.) The texture of this cheesecake is unreal.

Pumpkin Cheesecake

Pumpkin cheesecake with a slice of itself.

Pumpkin cheesecake with a slice of itself.

I boldly proclaim this to be the best pumpkin cheesecake in the world. A creation of Baker’s Illustrated, the texture is unbelievably silky, the flavours perfectly balanced between tangy, sweet, and pumpkin-y, and the crust an amazing recreation of gingersnap flavour and texture. The brown sugar & bourbon whipped cream is a gorgeous accompaniment. Even those who are blasé about pumpkin will kick up their heels at this incredible cheesecake. I myself am not a pumpkin fan, but this cheesecake converted me with just one bite.

Blue Velvet Cheesecake Cake Birthday Cake

CLOSEUP!

Blue and white gorgeousness that puts one in mind of a checkerboard from Alice in Wonderland.

This cake will always, always hold a special place in my heart, because it’s the last one my mom & I ever shared. Even though she was actively dying from cancer, she still managed a few bites and even enjoyed them. That memory makes me very happy and also very sad. This cake is the homemade (and blue!) version of the Cheesecake Factory’s well-known Ultimate Red Velvet Cake Cheesecake, and I speak from experience when I say that this version is a million times better than the Cheesecake Factory version – which is oddly tasteless and boasts only a trace of cream cheese icing. Make the cheesecake the day before you make the red (or, in this case, blue) velvet cake, and then put it together. It’s much less work that way, and your mind will be blown by how amazingly tasty this is.

*********
AMAZEBALLS CHOCOLATE CAKES

Cadbury Crème Egg Cake

The ganache layer is incredibly thick and delicious! Note the yellow and white filling and the moist, fudgy texture of the cake.

See? Not boring! The ganache layer is incredibly thick and delicious! Note the yellow and white filling and the moist, fudgy texture of the cake.

The filling for this cake is mind-blowingly spot on with the real deal. Deep, dark, moist chocolate cake layers are the ideal accompaniment to the sweet crème egg filling, taking this cake from overly sweet to perfectly balanced in a trice. To me, this is the ideal Beltane cake. I had a great deal of fun cracking open real Cadbury Crème Eggs and decorating the cake with them, allowing their filling to spill out onto the cake.

Chocolate Stampede Cake

An interior shot of this cake: brownie layer on the very bottom; chocolate mousse layer; chocolate cake layer; then ganache over all.

An interior shot of the first version I ever made of this cake: brownie layer, on the very bottom; chocolate mousse layer; chocolate cake layer; then ganache over all.

Every time I make this cake, I fend off marriage proposals left and right! (I exaggerate only slightly.) I named it Chocolate Stampede Cake because it reminds me of the Longhorn Chocolate Stampede Cake, though this version will forever best the Longhorn Chocolate Stampede cake. Rich, thick chocolate mousse is sandwiched between a fudgy brownie layer and a dark chocolate cake layer, and the whole shebang is covered in a very thick layer of chocolate ganache. It takes a bit of time in the kitchen, but it’s worth every bit of effort and every dirty dish.

Irish Car Bomb Cake

That ganache sure is cheeky.

That ganache sure is cheeky.

I grew tired of the now-famous Irish Car Bomb Cupcakes, because cupcakes are messy to eat and don’t have enough icing or ganache in relation to the cupcake base. I riffed on the popular cupcake version by turning them into a cake. I don’t know if this has been done before; c’est la vie. I made the cupcake base into 9″ cake layers and filled them with Bailey’s-spiked ganache. I iced the outside of the cake with generous amounts of Bailey’s-spiked buttercream icing. The cake version is even better than the cupcakes, because you get more ganache and icing with every bite! I think the cake layers stay moister than the cupcakes, too, but this could be bias talking. I love, love, love this flavor combination. This is one of my favourite cakes, period.

Chocolate Fudgey Cake with Peanut Butter Icing

Totally forkable.

Totally forkable.

With or without that extra ‘e’ in “fudgey,” this cake is like crack for a chocolate & peanut butter lover. I’ve made it several times this year alone. Dense, fudgey, dark chocolate cake layers are perfectly complemented by silky peanut butter buttercream icing, and crunchy texture is added by sprinkling chopped chocolate or chopped peanut butter cups between the layers. It’s dynamite!! This is one of my top three favourite cakes in the world.

Chocolate Cakegasm

You can't see the layers too clearly in the finished cake, but it doesn't really matter, because the cake is an exercise in chocolate ecstasy.

You can’t see the layers too clearly in the finished cake, but it doesn’t really matter, because the cake is an exercise in chocolate ecstasy.

This is the one cake in the world that could possibly best the Chocolate Stampede Cake. Two different kinds of mousse – a straight-up chocolate mousse and a mocha mousse – are present! The more mousse, the merrier. (At some point, the antlers would become overwhelmingly numerous. I’ll be here all week!) The first layer of this cake – the first texture, in a sense – is a dense, fudgey brownie, iced in thick ganache. Next comes dark, silky mocha mousse, followed by another layer of chocolate brownie. The whole cake is iced in more ganache, and finished with a topping of smooth, sweet chocolate mousse. This is one of my favourite cakes, ever, though it is so dense that I save it for special occasions, when others are present.

McVitie’s Biscuit Cake

A cake of win!

A cake of win!

This cake tastes just like a Twix bar. As Hubbley-Wubbles and I are avid Twix bar fans, this cake stole our hearts. Hubbs has requested it for his birthday three years running now. 🙂 It’s quite simple to make, too. Melted chocolate is mixed with sugar and one raw egg, and tea biscuits, crumbled into bite-sized pieces, are stirred into this mixture. The final mixture is poured into a 6″ or 8″ cake ring (best double the recipe if using an 8″ ring) and refrigerated. Melted chocolate is poured atop the cold cake, and allowed to set. The final cake is akin to chocolate candy nirvana.

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FUDGE OF LOVE

Creamy Peanut Butter Fudge

Peanut Butter Fudge - cubed!

Peanut Butter Fudge – cubed!

This was one of my first cooked fudge recipes, and is still the one I turn to for peanut butter fudgey goodness! It doesn’t get any creamier than this fudge, and the peanut butter flavor is bold and sweet and highly addictive. The recipe is forgiving; it doesn’t seem to mind if you slightly overcook or undercook the fudge, which makes this a great recipe for beginning fudge makers. The only way this fudge could possibly get any better is if it were coated in chocolate. 🙂

Aunt Teen’s Creamy Chocolate Fudge

So beguilingly creamy... yet this fudge is, in reality, a sadist.

So beguilingly creamy… yet this fudge is, in reality, a sadist.

This recipe is actually quite finicky and unforgiving, even to seasoned fudge makers, but the results are so creamy and delicious that I have to recommend it, with reservations. Be prepared to throw out quite a few batches before you get it right. But when you get it right… oh, the Goddesses of Chocolate are with this one.

Mocha Raspberry Fantasy Fudge

I thought I'd go green for this shot.

I thought I’d go green for this shot.

I consider this to be the best fudge on Earth; mocha raspberry is, after all, one of my favourite flavor combinations. The texture is silky, the chocolate flavor bold and seductive. Use any extract you like, if raspberry doesn’t tickle your pickle. You can even leave out the instant coffee powder, but I love this fudge just the way it is: a milk chocolate canvas delicately painted with coffee and raspberry flavours. One of the best parts about this fudge is the ease of making it; it is the original Fantasy Fudge recipe and is reliable and virtually foolproof. If you’ve never made fudge before, this is the recipe to start with. It is so much better than the fudge made simply by melting sweetened condensed milk and chocolate together that it’s not even funny.

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MISCELLANEOUS

Homemade Vanilla Extract

I couldn't resist taking a family photo. Alla famiglia!

I couldn’t resist taking a family photo. Alla famiglia!

I was thrilled to learn how to make my own vanilla extract – it’s ridiculously easy! – and simply ecstatic when I finally made a blog post about how to make this essential baking ingredient at home. The price differential between buying vanilla extract at the grocery store versus making it yourself at home is such that it really is worth making this stuff at home. I found a large bottle of Smirnoff vodka on sale for $15, bought some extract-grade vanilla beans (grade B) from Amazon for $25, and made about four quarts of vanilla extract. You’d pay around $12 – $16 for 2 oz. of extract at the grocery store. Unless my math is insanely off today, it would cost around $1,000 to buy enough vanilla extract at the grocery store to equal four quarts.

Blueberry Danish Coffee Cake

Blueberries! Blueberries, everywhere! Raspberries for next time. :)

Blueberries! Blueberries, everywhere! A bit unevenly distributed, but what the hell. Raspberries for next time. 🙂

My favourite coffee cake, ever. Imagine a blueberry Danish with a thick cream cheese layer and a very moist, light cake crumb, slathered in blueberries and blueberry syrup. Absolutely the ideal cake to have with coffee, for brunch, or just because you remembered that we all live in the Milky Way galaxy.

Irish Soda Bread

Crisp, yet tender, even a little chewy. What's not to love?

A crispy crust encloses a texture that is tender, even a little chewy. My tummy desires thee!

My Hubbly-Wubbles, an Irishman born and raised, considers this to be the ultimate Irish Soda Bread. Enough said.

Chicken Pot Pie

This is a bowl.

This is a bowl.

Though this dish is a lot of work, it is phenomenal. No frozen chicken pot pie could compare to this, with its tangy cream cheese crust and thick, smooth cream sauce. Use a rotisserie chicken to make this if you must, but make this pot pie! You’ll sing like a canary when you taste this.

Mocha Buttercream Brownies

A close-up of the beauties in their pan, resting. They've worked hard up to this point - it isn't easy being this gorgeous!

A close-up of the beauties in their pan, resting. They’ve worked hard up to this point – it isn’t easy being this gorgeous!

I created these as a coffee riff on some Chambord brownies (about which I will post soon!). I didn’t like the brownie layer from the Chambord brownies, so I used this baked fudge recipe as a brownie base, then iced the base with a mocha buttercream icing and poured warm melted chocolate over the whole thing. These are just breathtaking, especially for the mocha freaks out there!

Badass Pecan Pie

This slice of pecan pie is giving me a pointed look.

This slice of pecan pie is giving me a pointed look.

Last but by no means least, the best pecan pie ever to grace the world! Another hit from Baker’s Illustrated, this pecan pie isn’t cloyingly sweet and has a beautifully smooth, creamy filling – no lumps like most pecan pies. The pie crust for this pie is just incredible; I could eat it plain without any pie filling whatsoever, it’s that good – buttery, flaky, moist, tender.

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