Pumpkin Cheesecake Cinnamon Rolls
I think there’s a rule somewhere that you’re not allowed to share all of your admirable ideologies without also sharing some embarrassing missteps, so here you go.
Strawberry Pop-Tart Pie
I wrote this post as part of the Plugrá Butter Brigade. Thanks, Plugrá, for sponsoring this post and for making my favorite butter!
One of my blogger friends recently asked, “If you drink milkshakes, what’s your favorite flavor?” on her Facebook wall. It was a happy conversation until someone chimed in just to note how disgusting she felt milkshakes were. My friend responded, “Please don’t yuck my yum.”
What great advice, right? Since then, I’ve noticed people doing this EVERYWHERE: you mention loving hot dogs and someone has to pop out of the woodwork to let you know that hot dogs are nasty. You mention you’re going to see a movie and someone has to pop up and tell you they hated it. You mention that you can’t wait for the next book in a series to come out and they let you know that they just can’t get into it.
Strawberry Doughnut Cake
Thanks, Zazzle, for sponsoring this post!
I BOUGHT A DOUGHNUT CLOCK. This should not be surprising if you know me or if you’ve been following along on Facebook, but I should fill the rest of you in.
First, a very serious question: are you a cake doughnut or a yeast-raised doughnut kind of person? This may affect our compatibility as friends, so think long and hard before answering.
Raised, right? Totally raised. ME TOO. Something about the light-as-air texture covered in glaze convinces me that I’m not eating, like, half my daily calorie allotment in one sitting.
But when it comes to cuteness, no doughnut does it better than a cake doughnut with a thick strawberry glaze and bright rainbow sprinkles. When Zazzle, the marketplace where you can custom design just about anything, contacted me to work together, splashing DOUGHNUTS all over household goods was my first thought. Don’t look at me like that.
I ended up with the most adorable set of strawberry doughnut coasters on my coffee table and a crazy cute chocolate doughnut clock on my wall. I’m smitten! The products all came out so perfect, and they jive well with the rest of my colorful food-centric decor (Mike didn’t know what he was getting into when he married me. Let’s just say I have three giant food prints and a huge jar of gumballs in my apartment. And obviously, a doughnut clock.)
My new doughnut goodies with an example of my other colorful decor
Zazzle also has a huge market of designs from other creators to choose from in case you’re not too artsy yourself. Just to give you an idea of the breadth, I typed “macaroni clock” in the search bar and there were at least three results. You can find anything! Right now I’m really diggin’ the Mother’s Day gift ideas and I have a friend who would love the Military Mom ideas.
They also sell cute custom designed phone cases and since I finally joined this millennium and bought a smartphone, I’m eyeing this one. Doughnuts, obviously.
Want to create or buy a Zazzle masterpiece? Enter the giveaway below for a chance to win a $50 gift certificate!
In honor of my Zazzle purchases, I made you SUCH AN AMAZING CAKE. Seriously, this case isn’t just cute; it was so incredibly delicious. I blanketed an almond-scented bakery-style sheet cake with a luscious, dye-free strawberry glaze. And added sprinkles, obviously! Another huge bonus is that this cake was super quick to make. Enjoy!
One year ago: Rustic Pizza Stuffed Mushrooms
Two years ago: Gooey Chocolate Skillet Cake Ice Cream Sundae
Three years ago: Chocolate Birds’ Nest Cupcake Toppers
Four years ago: Coffee Cookie Dough Fudge Cheesecake
Strawberry Doughnut Cake
Recipe by: Willow Bird Baking with strawberry glaze adapted from Sally’s Baking Addiction
Yield: 8-10 servings
You’re going to be shocked by how delicious this super cute and super quick cake is. SHOCKED, I tell you!
1/2 cup (1 stick) butter
1/2 cup water
1 cup plus 2 tablespoons cake flour
1 cup white sugar
1 egg, lightly beaten
1/4 cup sour cream
1/4 teaspoon almond extract
1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
5-6 strawberries, chopped
1 tablespoon strawberry jam
1 tablespoon milk
2 cups powdered sugar
1/8 teaspoon vanilla extract
To make the cake: Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. In a medium saucepan over medium heat, bring the butter and water to a boil. In the meantime, in a separate large bowl, whisk together the cake flour and sugar before adding the eggs, sour cream, almond extract, vanilla extract, baking soda, and salt. Mix to combine. While mixing, slowly pour in the boiling butter and water mixture. Mix to combine completely. Your batter will be very runny. Pour the batter into a 10-inch cast iron skillet (alternatively, I think this would work fine in a 8-inch square baking pan lined with parchment paper.)
Bake at 375 degrees for 15-18 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in several places comes out with a few moist crumbs (don’t wait for the top to get golden brown, necessarily — mine stayed pale). Cast iron skillet cook times can be variable, so check early and often. Cool completely.
To make the glaze: Put chopped strawberries and jam into a food processor or blender to puree. Pour into a medium bowl and mix in milk and vanilla extract. Gradually whisk in powdered sugar. Pour glaze over the cake to cover (I used most but not all of it) and top with sprinkles.
There are the stories I don’t want to tell, and then there are the stories I haven’t been able to tell. Probably some of the most important stories.
Namely, the stories about Ranson.
Ranson was the first school that I taught at: a poorly run, urban middle school with a low-income and historically low-achieving population. I came in as a promising, energetic new teacher determined (pigheadedly and presumptuously, I’d say) to change the entire world.
Throughout the year I did effect change — on a smaller scale than I’d originally hoped. I raised students’ mastery and reading comprehension, but also became aware that when a kid had no breakfast, or when a kid’s dad was in prison, or when a kid was being raised by a saint of an aunt who had to work back-to-back 12-hour shifts at the hospital just to feed and clothe him . . . well, there was much more of the world that needed changing than I had first anticipated.
Anyway, I still can’t tell every story. I can’t tell most stories. But today I realized that I’m ready to tell you about Darius. Maybe over afternoon tea?
It cracks me up that Darius left the most indelible mark on my memory, because I pegged him as trouble within a week of starting school. First off, he was loud. Not just chattery, but LOUD. He involuntarily projected every remark, making my cinderblock science classroom sound like a cathedral reverberating with bells and song.
He also struggled to manage his emotions. Certain triggers made it even harder. For instance, that boy loved his mama. I can remember trying to talk him down in the middle of the cafeteria after someone had inadvertently insulted her. He was near tears with frustration. Suspension, expulsion — none of it meant a thing to him if he could defend her. What did cause a visible change in his demeanor was when I asked, “What would she want you to do right now, Darius? What would make her proud?”
I cared so much because it was easy to see that Darius was a fabulous kid. He was smart. He was an incredibly talented dancer. He was hilarious — oh my gosh, I can’t even describe how funny he was. I ran a tight ship in terms of classroom management, and he was about the only kid who could make me just fall out LAUGHING. He also had a deep well of empathy and concern for others — things you didn’t always see at Ranson, because some kids seemed to have learned to hide the tender personality traits that made them vulnerable. But Darius wore his heart on his sleeve.
I still remember Darius asking every day when I was going to let his mom, who was a hair stylist, do my hair. I never got around to it, and now I regret it. It would’ve meant a lot to him.
I know I’m supposed to make this a happy story, but it isn’t.
To be blunt and a little crude, it pisses me off that Darius had to go to a substandard school and that didn’t get a shot at a snazzy education. It pisses me off to think of this kid struggling to find a job and keep his life on track now, at 19 years old: trying to climb out of a socioeconomic level and a neighborhood he was born into through no fault of his own. When I googled him to write this entry, just to see if maybe a Facebook page would pop up where I could send him a message of encouragement, I found his mugshot — arrested for stealing ground beef, spaghetti noodles, a pack of beer, and some candy.
Oh MAN it pisses me off when other people aren’t similarly pissed off by this! When they throw up their hands and suggest perhaps people should just work harder instead of revising how our nation deals with poverty. Oh man! It’s because they don’t know Darius, the 14-year-old kid I knew, who hadn’t made those “bad choices” we always speak of yet, whose mom worked so hard for him, who worked just as hard as any 14-year-old kid does, who could’ve been helped.
Indeed, I can picture a different history: Darius here at my little project-based school set on a lush, green campus. I know he’d have worked dance into every nook of the curriculum. I know he’d have had the students in stitches each day with his witty remarks. I know he would’ve worked hard to make his mom proud. He would’ve performed in plays and he would’ve loved art and music class. I can picture that kid heading off to Juilliard in New York City and eventually wowing audiences on Broadway. I’m not being generous, here. That’s who he was. That’s who he should be.
Sitting in my anger and stewing like a chicken won’t help (and what a nasty, bitter stock it’d produce.) In the long term, idealistic Ms. Ruble who wanted to change the world will never be able to stop trying. I want the school systems to be small and creatively managed. I want teaching to be a prestigious profession where extremely qualified people are hired and then compensated well and treated like professionals. I want school systems to bus kids around and balance school populations. I want a full-out multi-front assault on poverty that provides people immediate assistance, addresses education issues (for adults and children), provides job training, focuses on creating jobs, addresses drug and alcohol abuse, provides appropriate basic healthcare for all people, effectively treats mental illness. I get it: I’m talking about huge things in this flippant, simplistic way. It’s harder than that. I get it. But that’s what I want.
And in the short term, that idealistic Ms. Ruble knows that Darius himself has an indomitable spirit, and that he can overcome tremendous odds. I just know it. Or at least that’s what I have to hope. And I want him to know that about himself.
For now, I think we need to have a little rest with a pot of hot tea, maybe with sugar sprinkled in and some cream for good measure. And a fluffy almond scone or three would not go unappreciated. Afternoon tea party for the world? Maybe I’m still oversimplifying a bit, but that might go a long way toward inspiring world peace and prosperity.
These scones are quick and easy to throw together, but they do make your world a brighter place. They’re fluffy, tall, buttery, and boast a sweet almond glaze and a crunch from the sugar sprinkled on top. Smear them with clotted (also called Devon) cream if you can find it at a fancy grocery store; otherwise, you can whip some mascarpone cheese or cream cheese and use it instead. Add a smear of raspberry jam for perfection.
What’s your pie-in-the-sky idealist dream for your world or community right now? (Other than lots of scones, which is a given.)
One year ago: Chocolatey Red Velvet Pull-Apart Bread with Cream Cheese Glaze
Two years ago: Deep Fried Cake Batter Cookie Dough
Three years ago: A&P Spanish Bar Cake
Almond Scones with Raspberry Jam and Clotted Cream
Recipe by: Adapted from Barefoot Contessa’s Cranberry Orange Scone recipe
Yield: about 14 scones
I love scones because they’re so quick and easy, but are absolutely divine in terms of texture and flavor. These scones are very lightly sweet, and the glaze adds a much needed dimension, along with a sprinkle of crunchy sugar. Serve with clotted cream and raspberry jam while hot out of the oven. This recipe also provides instructions for freezing the scones for amazing, speedy weekday breakfasts!
4 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1/4 cup sugar, plus additional for sprinkling (I used coarse sanding sugar for sprinkling)
2 tablespoons baking powder
2 teaspoons kosher salt
3/4 pound cold unsalted butter, diced
1 cup cold heavy cream
1 teaspoon almond extract
4 large eggs, lightly beaten
1 egg beaten with 2 tablespoons water or milk, for egg wash
1 cup powdered sugar
1 teaspoon almond extract
1/4 cup milk (or cream — I used cream, but it does separate and probably isn’t quite as pretty as milk)
raspberry jam, for serving
clotted or Devon cream, for serving (or substitute whipped mascarpone)
Note: You can make scones, shape them, egg wash them, and then freeze them on a baking sheet. Once frozen, you can drop them in an airtight container or bag separated by sheets of wax paper. You can then bake them straight from frozen any morning you want one — just by baking a few minutes longer than normal. So convenient!
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F and line two baking sheets with parchment paper. In the bowl of a food processor, mix together flour, 1/4 cup sugar, baking powder, and salt. Add cold butter and pulse about 10 times or until the butter is the size of small peas (you can also do this by hand in a large bowl, using a pastry cutter or two knives to cut in the butter). In a small bowl or measuring cup, mix together lightly beaten eggs, heavy cream, and almond extract. While mixing the flour mixture on low, pour in the wet ingredients slowly. Keep mixing on low until the mixture forms a dough and begins to form a ball. Turn it out onto a floured surface and knead a turn or two, forming into a disc.
Roll the dough out to 3/4-inch thick, moving it around on the floured surface often to make sure it’s not sticking. Flour a 3-inch round cookie cutter and cut round scones, laying each on the prepared baking sheets. Re-roll the dough and continue cutting scones. When all scones are cut, egg wash just the tops of each one and sprinkle on the coarsest sugar you can find (the crunch is so nice). Bake in the 400 degree oven for 20-25 minutes until risen, lightly golden, and done on the inside.
While the scones bake, whisk together all glaze ingredients. Add more sugar or milk as needed for consistency. Drizzle over hot scones and serve immediately with raspberry jam and clotted cream (also called Devon cream). If you can’t find clotted cream, grab some mascarpone cheese and whisk it a bit until fluffy. Use that instead.
*Darius’s name has been changed to protect his privacy.
This Coconut Almond Pull-Apart Bread is one of the best things I’ve ever eaten and I really want to spend a few paragraphs gushing about it.
But there’s no time to gush about it. BECAUSE CAT.
If you’re on Willow Bird Baking’s Facebook page (and if you’re not, you’re missing a lot of fun over there), you already know what I’m alluding to. But on the off chance you haven’t heard me crying from the rooftops of the interwebz: I GOT A CAT. CAT CAT CAT!
…introducing Huckle Buckle Beanstalk Ruble, also known as Buckle, also known as my new wittle smooshy-wooshy face.
He’s a buff colored, 11-pound, 1.5-year-old chunk of kitty love from the Charlotte Humane Society, and he’s made himself right at home in my apartment and in my heart.
Getting a cat has been on my mind for months, and I’ve scoured Petfinder and Humane Society websites for the perfect one. To be honest, though, I think all of my searching was in vain — because God dropped Buckle right into my lap.
Wonder how these photo shoots will go with kitty around? Hm.
My 6th graders and I take an annual field trip to the Humane Society to drop off the funds they raise by baking and selling dog treats. This year, given my months-long search, I knew the kitty room would hold a special attraction for me. I ended up cuddling a sweet gray kitten for much of the time there, but I knew he was someone else’s. In the first place, kittens get adopted very easily, so I felt compelled to adopt an adult cat. In the second place, the adult cats all had their adoption fees waived thanks to a donor’s generous gift to the Humane Society. Cost was definitely an obstacle for me since I have a steep a pet deposit at my apartment, so this seemed especially fortuitous.
I looked around a bit and saw a fat buff cat and an older orange cat I liked, but I wasn’t sure. I headed back on Saturday with Mike, though, and the buff cat not only purred just like one of Mike’s old cats, Motorboat, but he also seemed loving and laid back — perfect for introducing to Byrd! Before I knew what I was doing, I had him in a travel crate sitting in the adoption counselor’s office. I actually asked Mike, “What’s happening?! Are we doing this?!” Despite my months of research, it didn’t seem real.
There were so many doubts, but moment by moment since we walked in my apartment door together, Buckle has assuaged every one. He is just as sweet as a cupcake: a loving cuddlebug who seems to enjoy Byrd (and matches her coloring exactly, oddly enough!), catnip, and good scratching surfaces. I think the moment I felt the most sure about him was when I was lying in the floor earlier today watching him bat around a ball with Byrd. They were like two little buff colored peas in a pod.
Now that I’ve introduced you to my newest baby, maybe I can finally introduce you to this bread. I can’t really say enough about it: it’s got the most gorgeous, buttery, delicate flavor and texture. The glaze is rich and creamy and adds the perfect touch of decadence to the finished loaf. I think if I could pick one thing to eat for the rest of my life, this would be it. Did I mention it was really, really delicious?
Have you ever rescued a pet?
P.S. Please feel free to weigh in with any and all kitty advice, websites, etc.!
Buttery Coconut Almond Pull-Apart Bread (with Heavenly Coconut Cream Glaze)
Recipe by: Willow Bird Baking
Yield: 2.5 – 3 loaves
If you love pull-apart bread, you’re gonna fliiiip. This yeast dough recipe is (I firmly believe) the best tasting yeast bread recipe in existence. My family uses it for everything. And this filling (buttery coconut almond goodness) is the best filling in existence. Combine them in a tender loaf that ends up with the texture of cinnamon-roll-insides and douse them in a heavy coconut cream glaze and, well. Let’s just say you’ll need to keep coming back to this recipe!
1 package (2 1/4 teaspoons) active dry yeast
1/4 cup warm water (100-110 degrees F)
2 tablespoons white vinegar
2 cups milk minus 2 tablespoons, room temperature
2/3 cup cold shortening
3 tablespoons sugar
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon baking powder
5 cups flour
2 tablespoons butter, melted, for after baking
2 sticks butter, melted
1/2 teaspoon coconut extract
7 ounces almond paste, grated or crumbled small
2 cups coconut
3/4 cup sugar
1 cup powdered sugar
3/8 cup (6 tablespoons) heavy cream
1/4 teaspoon coconut extract
1/4 teaspoon almond extract
Note on proofing: This yeast dough proofs overnight, gets shaped, and then the finished loaves proof for 2-3 more hours. Plan ahead for this amount of time.
Note on yield: I don’t recommend halving yeast recipes; instead, if you don’t want 2.5 or 3 loaves at once, consider freezing a loaf for later. The variation in the yield is the result of my error — I packed this recipe into 2 loaf pans and the loaves were so squished that they were hard to get baked completely. So in this recipe, I tell you not to oversquish — once your loaf pans are pleasantly stuffed, put the overflow dough into another loaf pan (mini or regular, however much extra you have) to bake. This way the loaves will bake correctly.
Note on freezing: To freeze an unbaked loaf, just wrap it well before the second rise and freeze it. Once frozen, pop it out of the pan all together and store in the freezer, wrapped in plastic wrap and in a zip top bag or wrapped in foil. When you want to bake it, stick it back in a greased pan, thaw it in the fridge overnight, proof for the instructed amount of time, and bake like usual.
Make the dough: Mix the warm water and yeast in a medium bowl and let the yeast foam for about 10 minutes. Put 2 tablespoons white vinegar in a measuring cup and then add milk up to the 2 cup line. Set this aside. In a separate large bowl (or the bowl of a mixer fitted with a dough hook), whisk together flour, sugar, salt, baking soda, and baking powder and cut the shortening into the mixture with two knives or a pastry cutter until the shortening looks like small peas. Stir yeast mixture and milk mixture into the dry ingredients and mix well, kneading just a few turns. Transfer the dough to a bowl lightly sprayed with cooking spray, cover tightly with plastic wrap, and proof overnight in the fridge.
Shape and bake pull-apart bread: Grease three 9 x 5 x 3-inch loaf pans and set aside. Melt the 2 sticks of butter in a microwave safe bowl and stir in coconut extract. In another bowl, mix together the grated almond paste, coconut, and sugar. Set these aside.
Gently cut the dough in thirds to work with. Flour a large work surface and turn your dough out onto it. Roll it out to a 20 inch long and 12 inch wide rectangle, lifting corners periodically to make sure it’s not sticking and using more flour as needed. If it seems to be snapping back, cover it with a damp towel and let it rest for 5 minutes before continuing.
Spread about a third of the melted butter over the rectangle of dough. Then sprinkle about a third of the coconut/almond paste/sugar mixture over the top, patting it down to ensure it mostly sticks. Don’t skimp on the edges.
With the long edge of the rectangle toward you, cut it into 6 strips (do this by cutting the rectangle in half, then cutting each half into equal thirds. I’d use a pizza cutter or bench scraper). Stack these strips on top of one another and cut the resulting stack into 6 even portions (again, cut it in half, and then cut the halves into equal thirds). Place these portions one at a time into your greased loaf pan, pressing them up against each other to fit them all in (if it seems like you’re having to squish your layers too much to fit them all, don’t be afraid to leave a little out — it feels like a waste, but you don’t want an underdone loaf because you overpacked. Maybe you could make a baby loaf with the extra.) Repeat this rolling, filling, and cutting process with the other two portions of dough. Cover the loaf pans with clean, damp cloths and place them in a warm place for 2-3 hours to almost double in size.
After dough rises, preheat oven to 350 degrees F (or 325 if you have a glass loaf dish instead of a metal pan). Place the loaves in the center of the oven and bake for 35-45 minutes until dark golden brown on top (if you take them out at light golden brown, they’re liable to be raw in the middle, so let them get good and dark. If they doesn’t feel done in the middle when you poke them but they’re getting too dark, cover them with foil). Cool for 20-30 minutes on a cooling rack in the loaf pans while you make the glaze.
Make the Coconut Cream Glaze: Whisk together cream, powdered sugar, and extracts until smooth. Drizzle on warm loaves, reserving extra to serve on the side. Serve warm slices of loaf with berries of your choice.
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