Posts Tagged ‘candy’

Valentine’s Day Dessert Recipes from Willow Bird Baking

It’s that time again: Valentine’s Day. You either love it or you hate it, but you have to admit . . . at least it’s an excuse to eat dessert? Here are a few that will definitely score you brownie points with your sweetheart (or your own solitary tummy as you sit on the couch and watch reruns of 30 Rock, thank you very much.)

By the way, I’ve included a difficulty rating after each recipe so you can pick one perfect for your skill level and schedule. And how much you love your partner. JUST KIDDING, just kidding.

1. Gooey Butter Strawberry Shortcake (very easy)
2. Thick Chocolate Cake with a Big Red (Velvet!) Heart (not hard, but probably easier as a 2-day process.)
3. Gooey Chocolate Skillet Cake Ice Cream Sundae (very easy)
4. Chocolatey Red Velvet Pull-Apart Bread with Cream Cheese Glaze (includes rising time; a 2-day process)


5. German Chocolate Cheesecake (not hard, but probably easier as a 2-day process.)
6. Red Velvet Cheesecake-Stuffed Cake Balls (advanced; easier as a multi-day process)
7. Heart-Shaped Palmiers (sweet or savory; very easy)
8. Red Velvet Cheesecake (not hard, but probably easier as a 2-day process.)


9. Boozy Icebox Cake (very easy)
10. Caramelized Banana Upside-Down Coconut Cake & Coconut Whipped Cream (intermediate)
11. Red Velvet and Oreo Kisses (advanced; easier as a multi-day process)
12. Valentine’s Truffle Heart (advanced; easier as a multi-day process)


13. Strawberry Sour Cream Pie (very easy)
14. (Freshly Picked!) Strawberry Cream Pie (intermediate; multi-step process)
15. Homemade Hot Chocolate & Marshmallows (easy)
16. Red Berry Pie (intermediate)


…and four more for the coconut lover like me:

1. Chocolate & Coconut Cream Pie Bars (easy, but do require 30-minutes of stirring)
2. Tres Leches Coconut Cake Trifle (intermediate; easier as a multi-day process)
3. Brownie-Bottom Coconut Chocolate Cream Cake (very easy)
4. Moist Fluffy Coconut Cake (intermediate; easier as a multi-day process)


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Dark Chocolate Pumpkin Truffles

Despite the fact that I’ve been inexplicably bought and paid for by the Son of God Himself, I feel guilty all the time. Call it a complex.

adorable napkins courtesy of sweet Erin

Sometimes it’s Byrd’s fault. She does this thing when I’m leaving for work every morning — do your dogs do this? — where she ramps up her cute factor by 200%. Suddenly she seems fluffier and snugglier. She’ll kiss my ankles and roll over for belly rubs. She’ll look up at me with eyes that I could swear weren’t that adorable yesterday.

It’s as if she’s saying, “You’re not gonna LEAVE me, are you mom? You couldn’t possibly leave your innocent wittle baby puppy, could you?”

But every morning, I break her heart by telling her goodbye and shutting her up in my bedroom. Then I walk out to my car feeling like a heel.

Other times it’s my own fault that I feel guilty. I’ll have a mile-long list of things I need to accomplish, but I’ll allow myself 5 or 10 minutes to check Facebook. And, you know, I have to check Pinterest. And what if something important happened in the world? I’ll read CNN online for just a minute or two. And what if something important happened to Reese Witherspoon? I’ll hop over to People.com for a bit. Of course I need to check my site traffic. And gosh, it’s been forever since I’ve checked Facebook . . .

Suddenly it’s 1 o’clock in the morning and my to-do list suddenly looks a lot like an accusation staring up at me from my notepad.

Last night my guilt was even more justified. I always feed my turtle, Squirt, in a plastic storage container on the kitchen counter. I usually keep an eye on him so he doesn’t climb out and get hurt, but yesterday I was just so preoccupied. I had piles of 7th grade essays, 6th grade quizzes, and 6th grade projects to grade. Modern Family was playing in the background. Byrd was playing in the floor. My head was lost in a cloud of thesis statements and Gloria’s Colombian accent.

Suddenly, I heard a thump. I walked into the kitchen and found Squirt not in his feeding tank on the counter where I left him, but standing in the middle of the kitchen floor, looking around thoughtfully.

He had fallen off the counter.


quick, think of something happy. like pumpkin truffles.

MY BABY FELL OFF THE COUNTER BECAUSE I WAS TOO BUSY TO WATCH HIM CLOSELY. After bursting into tears, repeatedly checking all of his little turtle limbs for injuries, hugging him (much to his dismay), and investigating the scene of the accident, I sat in floor, awash in a sea of guilt. I promised myself I’d be a better mother. I thanked God profusely that he’d fallen on the carpet and not the linoleum. I called Mike and confessed my negligence.

Meanwhile, Squirt swam around in his tank and chomped at carrots, pleased as a plum to be back in the water and apparently none the worse for the wear.

The truth is, guilt is useful insofar as it leads us to make a change. The discomfort I felt after Squirt’s fall has convicted me to never leave him unsupervised again. For some people, discomfort about the way they’re living is what leads them to submit to Christ and be changed. It’s a good thing.

But beyond that, guilt is a disease. Once you’ve made a change, lingering guilt serves no purpose but to cripple you. It’s a lying voice telling you that you’re unworthy, incapable. Don’t believe it.

Today as Squirt basks under his sun lamp, I’m going to ignore the deceitful voice of guilt. I’m going to believe that I’m the best mommy for that reptile. I’m going to give myself a blank slate. And I might even try to cut down on the Facebook…

…after I post another status update about pumpkin truffles.

Since we’re on the topic of guilt, here are some truffles for you to eat way too many of — and to forgive yourself for later!

They’re worth it. In this super simple recipe, rich pumpkin cheesecake middles are coated in indulgent dark chocolate. The resulting truffles are adorable and totally poppable. Give yourself a break and make some dessert.

What kinds of things do you feel guilty about sometimes?

Chocolate Pumpkin Truffles


Recipe by: Adapted from Whole Foods
Yields: About 30 truffles

A creamy pumpkin mixture spiced up with gingersnap and graham cracker crumbs is rolled into a ball and coated with rich dark chocolate. These delectable truffles would make a lovely autumn gift since they’re so cute and poppable, but don’t feel guilty saving them all for yourself!

Ingredients:
2 cups dark chocolate chips (see note below recipe)
1/2 cup white chocolate chips
1/4 cup pumpkin puree
3/8 cups finely ground gingersnaps
3/8 cup graham cracker crumbs
1 tablespoon powdered sugar
1/8 teaspoon ground cinnamon
Pinch of orange zest (I used a dash of orange extract)
2 ounces cream cheese, softened
pretzel sticks (optional, for pops)
sprinkles or extra cookie crumbs (optional, for decoration)

Directions:
Make the pumpkin middles: In a large bowl, melt the 1/2 cup of white chocolate chips according to instructions on package (usually in the microwave on half power in about 30 second intervals, stirring between each). When the white chocolate is melted, let it cool down for a bit before adding the gingersnap crumbs, pumpkin, graham cracker crumbs, sugar, extract or zest, cinnamon, salt and cream cheese. Beat this mixture until it’s completely smooth. Cover it and refrigerate it for about 2 hours until it’s firm enough to roll into balls.

Roll ‘em: Roll the pumpkin mixture into balls and place them on a wax-paper lined baking sheet. Refrigerate them for another hour to let them firm up. When you’re ready to make your truffles, melt your dark chocolate according to the instructions on package (usually in the microwave on half power in about 30 second intervals, stirring between each).

Insert the pretzel sticks: (Obviously skip this step if you’re making truffles and not pops!) Take a few pumpkin balls out of the fridge at a time. Poke the end of pretzel sticks into the melted chocolate and stick one in the center of each pumpkin ball, placing them back in the fridge to set. Repeat with all of the pumpkin balls.

Dip ‘em: Take out a few pumpkin pops at at time (if you just inserted pretzel sticks, use the ones that have been chilling the longest) and carefully dip the balls into the melted chocolate while holding the pretzel, using a spoon to help you coat them. Gently bounce and turn the pop (while supporting the whole pretzel stick) to let the excess drain off. Sprinkle on some sprinkles, graham cracker crumbs, or gingersnap crumbs if desired, and then stick the pop into a foam block in the fridge to dry. Alternatively, if you’re making truffles instead of pops, use two forks to dip the pumpkin ball into the chocolate and pass it between the forks to drain the excess. Roll it carefully onto a sheet of wax paper in the fridge to dry. Chill the pops about an hour, until they’re completely dry and set.

NOTE ON COATING CAKE POPS OR TRUFFLES: When it comes to coating cake pops or truffles, there are several options. My favorite coating is usually Candiquik or candy melts, because they have a lovely texture when melted, dry quickly, and don't melt if they sit out of the fridge. In this recipe, though, I chose to use plain dark chocolate to coat my truffles. Though it takes longer to dry and can get melty in your hands even once it's set, I wanted the taste of rich dark chocolate to contrast with the pumpkin. My chocolate of choice is always Ghirardelli 60% cacao chips — they are seriously delectable.

OTHER TIPS:
– If you need to thin your chocolate or candy melts, stir in a scant spoonful of shortening until it’s melted. Add more as needed until desired consistency is reached.
– Don’t ever put water or water-based substances in chocolate or candy melts, or they’ll seize and become unusable.
– Keep your bowl of melted chocolate or candy melts inside of a larger bowl filled halfway with hot water. The heat from the water will keep your chocolate liquid while you’re dipping all of your truffles, so that you won’t have to keep reheating.
– See this video for a visual of how to dip cake pops and truffles.

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Strawberry Cheesecake Stuffed Amaretto Cake Pops (on Pretzel Sticks!)

Dear Rebecca Black,

For the record, I think you’re adorable and I want you to be in my 7th grade class. We talked about you a little bit when we were all having fun fun fun fun with your song, and about how mean some folks on the interwebz can be.

My students realized that you were their age (just 13!), and we all felt like if it’d been one of them taking the brunt of jokes and criticism, we’d be sad. So we want you to know that we’re sorry about the meanies, and we hope you’re enjoying all the good-spirited parodies of your song as much as we are.

Oh, but my 7th grade students told me about the “censored” parody of your song — don’t enjoy that one. Don’t even watch it. Cover your ears, young lady! I’ll redirect you to the Sunday school parody instead.

Anyway, your song has brightened up lots of my weekends! Sometimes I blast it at the beginning of class on Fridays and it never fails to produce smiles. And yeah, we break it down — everyone needs a 5 minute dance party now and then.

And you know what? I get it, girl. You so excited about Friday that you’re dropping verbs and everything else, and I want you to know that I understand.

In fact, I’m a little obsessed with your song right now. It just describes so perfectly how I feel about so many things. I’m going out to eat? I-I-I so excited! It’s only 4 weeks until summer vacation? I-I-I so excited! I’m making flippin’ Strawberry Cheesecake Stuffed Amaretto Cake Pops on flippin’ pretzel sticks?! I SO EXCITED!

These cake pops started as a bright spark of inspiration from CakeSpy: pops on a pretzel stick! Using an edible, salty vehicle for a sweet treat struck me as absolutely bee’s-knees brilliant. I had to try it immediately.

Then there was this other idea I’d been toying with, too: mixing up no-bake cheesecake filling, freezing it into little pearls, and hiding the pearls in the center of each cake ball. A cheesecake-stuffed cake ball on a pretzel stick? It couldn’t get any better — unless you used an amaretto-spiked version of the best pound cake in the world for your cake!

This cake pop endeavor turned out so easy and so fantastic. I made a video tutorial (located at the bottom of this post) so that you can follow along with the steps as you make them; it’ll show you how to pipe your cheesecake centers, form the cake balls around them, insert the pretzel sticks, and dip and decorate the pops.

But the cake pop tutorial isn’t the only video I made.

What can I say, Rebecca? These cake pops just made me wanna sing! So here’s my tone-deaf tribute to plucky middle schoolers, cake pops, and YOU. Thanks for the fun!

P.S. I have a newfound respect for you after trying to sing this song a billion times and realizing I was basically the worst singer on the planet.

Strawberry Cheesecake Stuffed Amaretto Cake Pops (on Pretzel Sticks!)


Recipe by: Willow Bird Baking
Yields: about 40 cake pops
Print this Recipe

Cream Cheese Pound Cake Ingredients:
3/4 cups butter, softened
4 ounces cream cheese, softened
1.5 cups sugar
3 large eggs
3/4 tsp vanilla
1/4 cup amaretto
1.5 cups flour
pinch salt

Strawberry “Cheesecake” Ingredients:
1 8-oz. package cream cheese, softened
2 tablespoons sugar
1/2 cup diced strawberries

Cream Cheese Frosting Ingredients:
4 oz. cream cheese, softened
1/4 cup (1/2 stick) of butter, softened
1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 cup confectioners’ sugar, sifted

Other Ingredients:
2 pounds candy melts (I chose light pink)
about 40 pretzel sticks (I used Snyder’s because they were longer and sturdier than others)
white chocolate or candy melts for drizzling

Directions:
*NOTE: See the cake pop video tutorial below to see many of these steps being completed!

Make the pound cake: Preheat oven to 300 degrees F. Butter and flour a loaf pan. Beat butter and cream cheese at medium speed of an electric mixer 2 minutes or until creamy. Gradually add sugar and beat 5-7 minutes until light and fluffy. Add eggs, one at a time and beat only until yellow disappears. Stir in vanilla and amaretto.

Combine flour and salt and add to creamed mixture beating on low speed of electric mixture just until blended after each addition. Fill a 2-cup ovenproof dish with water and place in oven with cake (keeps it moist!). Bake at 300 degrees for about 1 hour and 20 minutes, or until a knife inserted into the middle comes out clean (check in several areas of the cake to be sure it’s completely done). You may need to cover cake with foil the last 20-30 minutes of baking if it looks like it’s getting too brown on top. Let cool on wire rack for 10 minutes then remove from the pan by inverting it into a bowl. Once cool enough to handle, crumble the cake in the bowl, removing any hard outer crust portions. Let cool completely.

Make the strawberry cheesecake middles: While the cake is baking, mix all the cheesecake ingredients together well. Fill a gallon sized plastic zip bag with the mixture and cut off the corner (big enough so that the diced strawberries won’t get stuck). Pipe the cheesecake mixture into small swirls on a silicone mat or wax paper (see video tutorial below to see this step). Freeze these until firm.

Make frosting: Mix all frosting ingredients together on medium-high speed until combined. When cake is cooled and crumbled, mix frosting into it until you reach a dough-like consistency. I used most of my frosting but not quite all of it.

Make cake balls: Once your cake mixture is ready and your cheesecake middles are frozen firm, you’re ready to assemble your cake balls! Take a frozen cheesecake middle and pack some cake around it. Roll it into a ball and place it on a silicone mat or wax paper. Continue until all cake balls are rolled. Chill these in the refrigerator overnight. I don’t freeze mine like some sites suggest, because I find chilling them in the fridge instead reduces cracking after I dip them.

Mount and dip cake balls: After cake balls have chilled overnight, melt your candy melts according to the package directions. I keep my bowl of candy melts situated in a bigger bowl of hot water to keep them warm and fluid, but be careful no water gets into the melts! To mount each cake ball, take a pretzel stick and dip the end in candy melts. Gently but firmly push the end of the pretzel stick into the cake ball. Put these back on their silicone mat or wax paper to chill. Repeat until all cake balls are mounted and chill for about 30 minutes.

After chilling, you’re ready to dip! Dip each cake ball into the candy melts, using a spoon to help coat them. After dipping, hold your cake ball over the bowl and gently bounce to drain the excess off. Turn the pop as you drain. When well-drained, gently place the pop in a foam block to continue drying. I placed mine in the fridge to reduce drying time.

Decorate dried pops: Once your pops are dry, melt some white chocolate according to package directions. Let it cool slightly before spooning it into a small plastic zip bag with the tiniest bit of the corner cut off. With the pops standing in their foam block, quickly and confidently pipe a zigzag design over each one. Let these dry. Serve immediately or store in an airtight container in the refrigerator.

VARIATIONS:
-You can leave the cheesecake middles out of this recipe and roll the cake into a solid ball if you want traditional cake pops.
-You can use any flavor of cake (or even a cake mix) for your cake, but this one is absolutely the best I’ve ever had!
-You can leave the strawberries out of your no-bake cheesecake mixture or even add in other berries, chocolate, etc., to produce different flavors of cheesecake in the center.
-You can use lollipop sticks instead of pretzel sticks, or leave the sticks out altogether and make regular cake balls instead of cake pops.
-You can decorate with sprinkles instead of zigzags.

And just for my lovely Willow Bird Bakers, here’s a tutorial for how to make cheesecake stuffed cake pops. This video would also be useful for making regular cake pops. WBB is all about inspiring kitchen confidence in home cooks by encouraging them to tackle challenges — so if you’ve never made cake pops before, this is your double-triple-dog dare! Get in the kitchen and try it out! Don’t forget to snap some photos of your finished product for us to see!

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Chocolate Birds’ Nest Cupcake Toppers

Popping in to let you know that my guest post (and recipe for Chocolate Birds’ Nest Cupcake Toppers) is up on Maranda’s lovely blog, Jolts & Jollies! These springy no-bake cookies make the perfect cupcake decorations. Hope you’ll hop over and see how simple they are!

Also, keep your eyes peeled (what does that even mean? ew.) for a new recipe I’m posting tomorrow. It’s gonna do some serious sock-knocking.

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Deep Fried Cake Batter Cookie Dough

Cake Batter Cookie Dough is like a birthday party. A sweet, colorful, happy birthday party with balloons and trick candles.

Cake Batter Cookie Dough Truffles are like a birthday party that, in addition to those things, has a bouncy house and pony rides from a pony named Whinny.

That’s nice and all.

But Deep Fried Cake Batter Cookie Dough is like a birthday party with all of those things — held on a flippin’ yacht in the French Riviera, with David Beckham serving you lemonade while Posh Spice feeds Whinny sugar cubes.

Oh, and with Prince performing “Raspberry Beret” in one of his funky outfits.

And with Nigella Lawson in the galley whipping up cupcakes.

And with one of those little bendy straws in the lemonade.

What I’m trying to say is that Deep Fried Cake Batter Cookie Dough is one of the best things I’ve ever had the pleasure of devouring. I mean, it was so good — an absolutely magical bite. I think it tasted a little like Heaven would taste.

And now that I’ve accidentally equated Heaven to a nautical birthday party with assorted celebrities (and Whinny!), I’m going to stop with that train of thought.

Back to deep fried dough. The buttery, cake batter-flavored dough encased in a thin, crispy shell was surprisingly light and pop-able. Despite being indulgent, it didn’t feel heavy or overwhelming.

Of course, I stuck several of them in a paper tray with chocolate sauce, whipped cream, and sprinkles to really round out the experience.

I know some of you are going to say, “Well, I’m not really a fan of frying things.” Me neither! Frying things is scary business. Hot oil splatters can result in burnt fingers and forearms, and the whole process kind of smells weird. And maybe you’re health conscious and frying is a dirty word in your house.

Listen, these fried dough balls are beyond worth it! I suited up in goggles, put my hair up, plugged in my GranPappy, got down to business — and came out unscathed. And maybe, in terms of health, we shouldn’t eat deep fried dough balls every day; but then again, we shouldn’t have tricked out birthday parties every day either. It would spoil the fun of the occasional indulgence.

I want to leave you with a parting plea. Turn on your inner state-fair-attending, carnival-loving, birthday-party-throwing child and deep fry some cookie dough.

Time to get a little crazy: What’s your ideal birthday party?

Deep Fried Cake Batter Cookie Dough


Recipe by: Willow Bird Baking (cake batter cookie dough) and Taylor Takes a Taste (deep frying)
Yields: about 12 fried dough balls, depending on size

Dough Ingredients:
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
2/3 cup yellow cake mix
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup unsalted butter, room temperature
1/2 cup granulated white sugar
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
2 tablespoons sprinkles
4-8 tablespoons water

Batter Ingredients:
1 egg
1 cup ice cold water
1 cup self-rising flour
2 tbsp confectioners’ sugar

Other Ingredients:
small bowl of cornstarch for rolling dough balls in
oil or shortening for frying
confectioners’ sugar for sprinkling (optional)
chocolate sauce (optional)
whipped cream (optional)
sprinkles (optional)

Directions:
To make dough, in a medium bowl, cream together butter and sugar for 2-3 minutes until light, fluffy, and pale yellow. Mix in salt, flour, cake mix, sprinkles, and vanilla. Add water one tablespoon at a time, mixing after each, until you reach cookie dough consistency. Roll your dough into balls and chill until your batter and oil are ready.

Heat your oil to 375 degrees. To make batter, mix together egg and water. Add flour and sugar and mix. Roll each dough ball in cornstarch, shaking off the excess, and then dip into the batter, making sure the ball is entirely coated. Use a slotted spoon to place 3 or 4 balls at a time into the hot oil. Fry for 1-3 minutes or until golden brown. Drain on paper towels and serve with confectioners’ sugar, chocolate sauce, whipped cream, and sprinkles.

P.S. Love that cute little checkered paper tray? Download the template here, print it on cardstock, cut around the outside borders, fold the tabs over and glue them.

P.S. 2 Only 1 week left in my Cheesecake Challenge! Choose any one of 9 cheesecake recipes to prepare within the next month. Email a photo to me by 4/5/2011 to be featured on Willow Bird Baking! Get more details about the challenge here.

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Cake Batter Cookie Dough Truffles

What a mess of a weekend. While I was blowing my nose repeatedly and hacking unattractively on Saturday night, I noticed that Byrd was lethargic. After a little investigating (read: walking around the apartment), I found that she had eaten about a metric ton of kleenex from the trash can. Her tissue escapades must have been her attempt at staying occupied while I tried to sleep off my cold; alas, it was a bad life decision. She was one unhappy puppy.

She curled up next to me and tried to look as pitiful as possible while I massaged her sick little body. Every now and then she’d look up at me as if to say, “Why aren’t you fixing it, Mommy?” Then I’d cry a little and she’d lick my face a little and we’d continue spooning.

Finally the tissues worked their way out of her system, but not until the entire weekend had been spent fretting and giving her sips of olive oil. I’m ready for everyone in the apartment to be healthy now! At least my turtle hasn’t contracted any plagues as of yet.

Needless to say, the safe-to-eat cookie dough I posted on Sunday has been a welcome ray of sunshine in an otherwise germy, sickly sort of week. In fact, I found two recipes in which to use said cookie dough that almost made everything feel downright cheery. And here’s one of them now: cookie dough truffles.

I usually use the eggless chocolate chip cookie dough in my Coffee Cookie Dough Fudge Cheesecake — a noble purpose, for sure. But if you’re not feeling making an entire cheesecake, you can whip up a batch of these simple truffles. I made them with each type of cookie dough and unsurprisingly, the cake batter cookie dough truffles were my absolute favorite. The cake batter cookie dough was the perfect buttery and festive filling inside of the rich chocolate shell. I’m just sorry poor Byrd couldn’t join in for a bite!

Cake Batter Cookie Dough Truffles


Recipe by: Willow Bird Baking
Yields:about 12 truffles, depending on size

Ingredients:
one recipe cake batter cookie dough (or other flavor)
chocolate candy melts (I use Candiquik)
sprinkles!

Directions: Roll your cookie dough into 1 inch balls and refrigerate for a few hours or overnight.

Melt candy melts according to package instructions. I place the bowl of melted candy melts into a bigger bowl with hot water in it. This keeps the candy melts warm and viscous as you work. Just be careful not to get any water in the chocolate, which will cause it to seize and be unusable. Prepare a sheet of wax paper to let your truffles dry on.

Take only a few dough balls out of the fridge at a time. Spear one with a toothpick and dip it, using a spoon to help you coat the outside and wiggling it a little over the bowl to let the excess drip off. Now wiggle it off onto your wax paper and top with sprinkles, chocolate chips, crushed oreos, or other cute toppings. Let them harden. Serve immediately or keep in an airtight container in the fridge.

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Three Delicious Ways to Celebrate World Nutella Day

Groundhog Day’s okay. I mean, Punxsutawney Phil is kind of fat and cute. I like his handlers’ top hats. And Phil said winter was going to be shorter this year, so that’s cool, I guess. At least one of my students is determined to celebrate Groundhog Day (please head over to support his young blog).

But honestly, y’all, it’s hard to be too enthusiastic. Just three measly days later, it’s World Nutella Day. Pshhhh. Punxsutawney who?

If you’re anxious to celebrate today’s clearly superior holiday in creamy-chocolatey-hazelnutty style, here are three of Willow Bird Baking’s favorite Nutella treats!


Wacky Candy Cupcakes


Nutella Truffles in a Chocolate Bowl


Ferrero Rocher Cupcakes

P.S. You may have noticed that I never revealed that announcement mentioned on my Red Velvet Cheesecake post — that’s because there’s been a slight change and I want to wait until things are settled. Can’t wait to let you know!

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Chocolate Peanut Butter Bliss Cheesecake and Project Food Blog

I have something important to tell you.

In a world that boasts thousands upon thousands of food blogs, I have to tell you what makes my little corner of the web something special.

Foodbuzz is hosting Project Food Blog, a competition to crown the next food blog star. Willow Bird Baking is a contestant, and the first challenge isn’t a challenge for me at all. It’s simply to tell you why I’m here, and what I stand for — something I’ve been convicted of over and over again.

Listen, I cook accessible food. I try to take lovely photos. I write in tune with my personal life — sometimes laughing, sometimes crying, always eating. Those things are special, but they’re not what makes me unique.

What really makes me unique are two things: Chocolate Peanut Butter Bliss Cheesecake, and a stranger’s 91-year-old grandfather.

This rich cheesecake was more than just a cheesecake. It was an experiment. It was a gift. It was an experience. It embodies what makes Willow Bird Baking unique:

1. I believe in creativity. I dream of combining individual desserts into super desserts, mixing dessert with breakfast, and drizzling caramel all over everything. Maybe a few dollops of cookie dough, too? I’m constantly creating and improving food. Over the past year, it’s been so rewarding to see photos and read accounts of how your creativity was sparked by a recipe here!

This cheesecake was born of my desire to innovate. A peanut butter sandwich cookie crust instead of an chocolate sandwich cookie crust? Sure! I’m smitten with fun ideas. Sure enough, with a creamy chocolate cheesecake slapped into that crust and a cool, soft peanut butter mousse spread on top, it was the best peanut butter and chocolate dessert combo I’d ever tasted.

2. I believe in challenging yourself. Like any home cook, I have family recipes I love to make, but I’m also adamant about the value of trying new things. Especially fancy things that make you want to say, “Oh, that’s lovely, but I could never do that.”

My culinary journey was one of continually tackling challenging recipes, and with every puffy puff pastry or foot-ed macaron, I felt proud of myself. It’s an incredible feeling to know that by encouraging you to take on these challenges as well, I can give you that sense of pride and accomplishment. For instance, the Croissant Challenge on Willow Bird Baking inspired 17 readers to make homemade croissants in their own kitchens for the very first time — and many more have committed to do so! I have never had a prouder blogging experience than seeing those beautiful croissant pictures roll in.

3. I believe in cooking impressive meals for those you love. This Chocolate Peanut Butter Bliss Cheesecake was made on a whim. Mike was coming to visit and I knew I wanted to make him dessert, but having just started teaching with a heavier load than usual, I was exhausted. I decided to make some simple bar cookies and began gathering supplies in the grocery store.

Somewhere near the butter aisle, though, I realized that we only get so much time to show our love to the special people in our lives. After imagining his face upon seeing a ridiculous surprise cheesecake in the fridge, I replaced the bar cookie ingredients and set about gathering cheesecake supplies. I worked all evening to create this recipe for him. It was so worth the effort to see him enjoying each bite, and I think it did more for my heart than it did for his.

You can have take-out days. We all do that. But every now and then, you need a recipe that you can set in front of your family to say, you are so important to me. I’ve got those for you.

Speaking of sharing love through food, there’s one last story to tell: the story of how a stranger’s 91-year-old grandfather reminded me of my blogging purpose.

Almost a month ago, I went to explore a blog post that had linked to my Peach Cobbler Cupcakes.

What I found was Songs of the Self, a blog by Jessica, a mom from Georgia. The post recounted how she’d made the Peach Cobbler Cupcakes for her grandfather’s 91st birthday party. As I read about her experience, I saw a photo that gave me pause — one of her husband helping her to sprinkle streusel on each cupcake and smiling for the camera.


photos used with permission by Jessica

I don’t know why it hit me like it did, but suddenly I was reading through tears. I realized that this was a family somewhere, working together to make a recipe that I created, following each little direction. The post from the next day shows the birthday party: her sweet grandfather in a silly party hat blowing out candles, her grandmother laughing, her tiny daughter Olivia representing the youngest generation.

At the end of her post, Jessica noted, “My cupcakes were beyond a hit! Everyone ranted and raved about them! …Yippee for crafty me!” Being able to participate in her special occasion in some meaningful way, and especially knowing that my recipe had a part in making her feel proud of herself reminded me of why I blog. As I closed her post with a filled heart, I thought of my friend Maranda’s proud post after making her first batch of homemade croissants — a post that inspired a similar effect in me.

The truth is, I blog to create a virtual communal table. Come sit, bake, eat, learn, and enjoy. Come try new things within a comfortable web of support. Come forgive yourself for your flaws, laugh at your kitchen flops, and ponder your life with a popsicle in hand.

Perhaps most of all, come and eat some Chocolate Peanut Butter Bliss Cheesecake. I saved a piece just for you.

Please take a look at my Project Food Blog profile and consider voting for Willow Bird Baking on September 20, 2010. Thank you so much for your support — you are precious to me!

Chocolate Peanut Butter Bliss Cheesecake


Recipe by: Willow Bird Baking, pieced together from Jerome Chang (peanut butter mousse), Joelen (chocolate cheesecake)
Yields: 15-20 pieces

Crust Ingredients:
1 pack (32) of peanut butter sandwich cookies, processed into crumbs
5 and 1/3 tablespoons butter, melted

Cheesecake Ingredients:
4 packages (8 oz. each) of cream cheese, room temperature
1 cup sugar
1 teaspoon of vanilla extract
4 eggs, room temperature
3 (1oz) squares semisweet bakers chocolate (melted and cooled)

Peanut Butter Mousse Ingredients:
1/2 teaspoon powdered gelatin
2 tablespoons cold water
1 cup heavy cream
2 large egg yolks
1 1/2 tablespoons sugar
3 tablespoons salted smooth peanut butter

Optional decorations:
Reese’s cups
melted chocolate
whipped cream

Directions: Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. For the crust, mix the crust ingredients together and press into bottom and up the sides (about 3 inches) of a springform pan. Set aside.

For the cheesecake: Mix cream cheese and sugar in a large bowl until well blended and creamy. Add the eggs and continue mixing until combined. Add chocolate and continue mixing until combined. Pour mixture into prepared crust and smooth top with a spatula.

Bake for 55 minutes or until center of cake is almost set. The top may crack, but it doesn’t particularly matter, since you’ll be covering it anyway. Let the cake fully cool. When almost cool, place it in refrigerator to chill while you prepare peanut butter mousse.

For peanut butter mousse, dissolve the gelatin over the water in a small bowl and let stand for 5 minutes. In a saucepan over moderate heat, cook the cream until it bubbles around the edges. In another bowl, whisk together egg yolks and sugar. Temper the eggs: pour about 1/2 cup hot cream into the egg yolks slowly while whisking vigorously. Then slowly pour the egg mixture into the saucepan of cream (whisking constantly). Cook over low heat, stirring constantly, until thickened, about 3 minutes. Remove from the heat and whisk in the peanut butter and the gelatin. Place mixture into a wide bowl to allow it to cool for a bit, then chill it for just a little while — not until set, but until it’s not so runny. Pour the mixture onto the top of the pie and refrigerate at least one hour or overnight. You can pipe on melted chocolate and decorate with chopped Reese’s cups, if desired.

When completely chilled, loosen the cake from rim of springform pan by wrapping the pan in warm dishtowels. The remove the springform pan. Refrigerate the cheesecake for one day or overnight before serving. Garnish with fresh whipped cream if desired.

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Bittersweet Marbled Chocolate Cheesecake Brownies

Sometimes it’s easier to skip the hard stuff. Maybe you know what I mean. Maybe you never read Marley and Me because you saw your friends (or in my case, students) feeling weepy towards the end. Maybe you switch off the sad songs, avoid the poignant movies. Maybe you make a joke in the difficult moments to defend yourself from the truth of your emotions, but also keep a secret stash of tissues in your purse for when it doesn’t work.

Some things you can’t skip, though. Some trials are ordained for you. God has known them — and you — since before the foundation of the world, and when He says you’re going through and not around, it’s the right path. Go.

One of the things I can’t skip is the fact that Mike is no longer a Charlottean. Wonderfully and sadly, he moved to Raleigh at the beginning of August to start his graduate program in math.

Mike and I have been together for 11 and a half years now. He saw me complete my first year of high school, get my license, graduate, enroll at Davidson College. He sat with me the morning before my Teach for America interview, picked up the pieces with me as I quit my first real job and moved on to my second real job, and shared my joy when I found Woodlawn, where I teach now. He saw the demise of my first website, the beginning of my blogs, the constant ebb and flow of my poetry. He’s been there.

During my difficult high school years, I’d sometimes drive straight to his apartment after school and play housewife, making Hamburger Helper and eating it on the couch with him while watching Star Trek. On a trip to Charleston in 2003, he bought me flowers that I still have dried in my closet. I saw him eat his first funnel cake in Gatlinburg. During our relationship, I’ve been the girlfriend of a cable guy, a dental technician, a programmer, a mathematician, a college student, a college grad, and now a graduate student. I can’t explain how his transition has inspired me.

What with all that “being there” we’ve done for over a decade, it was particularly difficult to see him pack up his things and move at the beginning of August. While I haven’t been able to ignore the fact that he now lives three hours away and can’t pop over as needed, I have been able to skip talking about it much, so instead I’ve been talking about popsicle molds and Piers Morgan. I know you understand.

The week before he moved, Mike came over and we made going-away brownies. He loves brownies, but I’d never made him any — something I felt I had to remedy before he moved. We mixed and baked together, another thing I’d always meant to do with him, and the final product was sweeter for it.

These brownies were a great choice — they’re indulgent and fudgy, with the gorgeous tang of cream cheese that I love. The marbling on top looks fancy, but is extremely easy to accomplish. In half the pan, we embedded funsize Snickers in the batter, which added a superb nutty, caramelly crunch to the brownie base. Naturally, knowing he was moving in a week made each bite a bittersweet experience, but the brownies themselves were the perfect treat for us to enjoy together.

Marbled Chocolate Cheesecake Brownies


Recipe by: adapted from Joy of Cooking
Yield: 9 large or 16 smaller brownies

Brownie Layer Ingredients:
1/2 cup (113 grams) unsalted butter, cut into pieces
4 ounces (115 grams) unsweetened chocolate, coarsely chopped
1 1/4 cups (250 grams) granulated white sugar
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
2 large eggs
1/2 cup (65 grams) all purpose flour
1/4 teaspoon salt
funsize Snickers (optional)

Cream Cheese Layer Ingredients:
8 ounces (227 grams) cream cheese, at room temperature
1/3 cup (65 grams) granulated white sugar
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1 large egg

Directions: Preheat oven to 325 degrees F (160 degrees C) and place the rack in the center of the oven. Prepare a 9-inch square baking pan: Spray pan with nonstick cooking spray. Create a foil sling for the pan by cutting two 16-inch lengths of foil and fold them to widths of 5 inches each. Fit foil pieces into baking dish, one overlapping the other, pushing them into corners and up sides of pan; allow excess to overhang pan edges. This creates a sling that will help you remove the brownies after baking and cooling. Spray foil lightly with nonstick cooking spray.

Place a heat-proof stainless steel bowl over a saucepan of simmering water to create a double-boiler. Place the butter and chocolate in the bowl to melt. Remove from the heat and stir in the sugar and vanilla extract. Add the eggs one at a time and beat well with a wooden spoon after adding each. Add the flour and salt and continue stirring with the wooden spoon until the batter is glossy, smooth, and pulls away from the side of the bowl (about one minute). Reserve 1/2 cup of brownie batter for topping. Pour the rest of the batter carefully into prepared pan (here, you can stud the batter with rows of funsize Snickers if desired.

In a separate bowl, use a hand mixer to blend the cream cheese until smooth. Add the sugar, vanilla extract, and egg and blend just until smooth. Spread this mixture carefully over the brownie layer, and then place dollops of the 1/2 cup reserved brownie batter at even intervals over the top. Use a table knife or wooden skewer to carefully marble the dollops through the cream cheese, careful not to mix the batters.

Bake for about 25 minutes or until the brownies just begin to pull away from the sides of the pan and are just starting to brown. Remove from the oven and cool on a wire rack until almost cool. Then, chill the brownies in the refrigerator for about two hours, until they’re firm enough to cut into squares. Once chilled, remove the brownies from the pan by lifting the ends of the foil sling carefully. Transfer to a cutting board and cut into 9 or 16 squares as desired, cleaning the knife with a warm, damp cloth between cuts. You can store leftovers in airtight container in the refrigerator for several days.

P.S. – Some people are experiencing even greater trials right now. Erika of Ivory Hut just lost her house and all her possessions in a horrific house fire. Would you consider donating to help her through this difficult time?

P.S. 2 – In the midst of a trial, there is great blessing. We received news recently that my dad is still cancer-free!

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Wacky Candy Cupcakes: Ferrero Rocher and Reese’s Cup

When my sister called and asked me to make a dessert for her office party, I jumped at the chance to recreate an old favorite. Way back toward the beginning of Willow Bird Baking, I made some fun Ferrero Rocher Cupcakes in which I stuck a whole frozen candy into each cupcake prior to baking. I enjoyed those (despite the candy losing a bit of crunch), but always wanted to find the time to tweak the concept a bit.

This was my chance! I wanted to take a moist chocolate cupcake, fill it with a giant dollop of the hazelnut-chocolate spread Nutella, ice it with rich chocolate frosting, and crown the whole thing with a Ferrero Rocher. The entire cupcake was designed to imitate the flavors in the candies themselves.

And why stop there? How easy would it be to fill some of the cupcakes with peanut butter instead, topping them with a huge Reese’s Cup? Hurray for candy cupcakes!

I could have gotten even more carried away (cupcakes filled with coconut pastry cream and topped with Mounds? Cupcakes filled with caramel and topped with Snickers?), but I reeled it in. That doesn’t mean we have to turn our imaginations off, though. What Candy Cupcake would you make?

Now, I am Wacky McWackerson. I’m as silly as they come. But that’s not why these cupcakes are called Wacky Candy Cupcakes instead of just regular ol’ Candy Cupcakes. Raise your hand if you’ve heard of Wacky Cake! Anyone?

Wacky Cake is NOT what you call the 2nd batch of cupcakes you make after ruining the previous batch and just barely convincing yourself not to throw your muffin pan across the apartment, spewing chocolate lava on your roommate’s couch (hey Barb!), but good guess. I did make these Wacky Cakes after a first batch of chocolate cupcakes flopped, but that’s not why they’re wacky.

Wacky Cake is actually just a vegan chocolate cake — no eggs, no milk — and is probably called “Wacky” ’cause vegans are just a little nutty sometimes . . . just kidding, just kidding! I love you, vegans! The truth is, no one really knows why it’s called wacky. Some say it’s because it’s a little wacky to make a cake with no eggs, which is just as good a reason as any, I guess. Regardless, Wacky Cake happens to be the perfect recipe to resort to after a flop that uses most of your eggs. Just call me MacGyver.

Turns out, Wacky Cake is also yummy and rich — the perfect cupcake base for my creation. I went and added un-vegan ingredients to complete the recipe, but if you’re a vegan looking for a great chocolate cupcake, the base recipe here is perfect for you. It’s also just plain easy to make.

The frosting, on the other hand, was a bit of a hassle. It doesn’t whip up very firm, so I had to refrigerate it for a bit and re-whip before frosting the cupcakes and sticking them in the fridge in a hurry. After sitting in the fridge overnight, though, the frosting is firm — and very chocolatey and delicious. I’d use it again for the taste, but I’d make sure to have refrigerator space cleared out ahead of time to chill the cakes immediately.

Speaking of refrigerating these cupcakes, the Nutella jar expressly says not to refrigerate Nutella. Don’t worry — it’s not because the product turns toxic or anything, but actually because it firms up into almost a nougat texture, which for our purposes, is awesome. The center of the Ferrero Rocher Cupcakes was a hunk of hazelnut-chocolate love.

Overall, these cupcakes were tremendous! I greedily devoured the few I kept to sample, and Sarah says her coworkers were enthusiastic about them as well! Both varieties are the perfect imitations of their respective candies, incredibly indulgent, and simple to make. If you’re used to making a plain cupcake-n-frosting combo, why not get a little feisty, add a sweet filling and a candy topping, and pump up your cupcakes? It’s a quick and easy way to turn a dull dessert into something special.

Now it’s your turn: Think up a cupcake-version of your own favorite candy. Tell me about how you’d make it in the comments section — and bonus points for ACTUALLY DOING IT! Send me photos of your candy cupcake creations to post on Willow Bird Baking!

Ferrero Rocher and Reese’s Cup Cupcakes


Recipe by: Adapted Wacky Cake recipe from Being Wife and frosting from Hershey’s
Yields: about 30 cupcakes

Wacky Cake Ingredients:
3 cups flour
2 cups sugar
6 tablespoons cocoa
1/2 teaspoons salt
2 teaspoons baking soda
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
2 tablespoons vinegar
12 tablespoons of mazola or vegetable oil
2 cups water

“Perfectly Chocolate” Chocolate Frosting Ingredients:
1 cup (2 stick) butter
1 1/3 cup cocoa powder
6 cups powdered sugar
2/3 cup milk
2 teaspoon vanilla extract

Candy supplies needed:
Creamy peanut butter (I don’t use the natural sort for this because I kind of want a processed, sweet flavor)
Nutella
15 Ferrero Rocher candies
15 Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups (I use the big sort!)

Directions:
NOTE: You may want to make these cupcakes the night before you intend to serve them, since the frosting needs time to set in the refrigerator.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line 30 cupcake wells with cupcake liners. In a large bowl, whisk together flour, sugar, cocoa, salt, and baking soda.

Add vanilla, vinegar and oil, stirring until smooth. It’s normal for the mixture to seem thick and pasty right now. Add the water and mix (carefully to avoid splattering) until there are no lumps in the batter.

Pour mixture into prepared cupcake pans. Bake 12-15 minutes, or until toothpick comes out clean. Allow to cool completely.

Carefully hollow out each cupcake using a table knife, and reserving the scraps for another use (maybe cake balls?). Using a piping bag or a ziplock with the corner cut off, fill half the cupcakes with peanut butter and the other half with nutella.

Make frosting: Melt the butter and stir in the cocoa. Alternate adding powdered sugar and milk, and beat to spreading consistency. Stir in vanilla. I refrigerated my frosting after beating to give it a thicker consistency, since it wasn’t as firm as I’d like. Unwrap all your candies while it refrigerates, because you’ll have to work quickly.

Have a platter ready in the fridge to receive finished cupcakes (the frosting is not very secure until it’s been refrigerated for at least a few hours). Pipe a big rosette onto each cupcake, covering your filling, and plop the appropriate candy onto the middle. Place finished cupcakes directly in the fridge to sit for a few hours, and take out immediately before serving.

Other fun candy cupcakes around the internet: 100 Grand Cupcakes, Snickers Cupcakes, another version of Ferrero Rocher Cupcakes.

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