Chocolate Mousse Pie

It was a warm Friday in May, and I left school in a hurry after teaching my last class. I swung through the drive-through of Arby’s, ordering a sandwich as large as my head and then wondering why I’d just ordered a sandwich as large as my head. No time to worry about that!

I barreled down the interstate with a quick stop at the UPS processing center to grab the package that should have been delivered to my apartment (sigh) but wasn’t. No time to wait for them to correct the problem — I would need the contents of this package in a matter of hours. I ripped it open to unveil the apron I’d just had printed:

To my great relief, there were no spelling errors, egregious or otherwise. Can you imagine handing an apron to Ree Drummond that said, “WILLOW BIRD BAKING <3 PINEER WOMUN." Actually, now that I think about it, she might've liked that.

That’s right, I was on my way to meet P-Dub herself at her Charlotte booksigning. Now, I’m not really fanatic about celebrities. I was in love with Isaac Hanson for about 2 weeks in middle school before realizing he was never even going to know I existed. So I snapped out of it, went about my business, and didn’t bother with this “fan” silliness anymore.

That being said, I love Ree Drummond. She’s warm, hilarious, genuine, and probably more deserving of her fame than any of the Hollywood crowd. And last time I mentioned her in a post, I got hate mail! From real, live, professional trolls! You know someone’s really “made it” when they have their own little official hate squad following mentions of them around the internet. Cool.

She was as lovely as I expected when I met her in person, but for me, it was one of those Christmas Story experiences. You know the Christmas Story movie, right? The one with the leg lamp? In the movie, little Ralphie stands in line for hours to meet Santa with one goal echoing incessantly in his brain: to ask for a Red Rider BB Gun. That gun is all he wants, and all he’s been able to think about for weeks. He rehearses his lines to perfection. Finally, he reaches the front of the line and stares up into the face of a jaded department store Santa. It’s time to ask for his dream! He musters the strength to speak and . . . he panics. He chokes. He stares. He asks for a football.

Thankfully, I didn’t ask Ree for a football. What I did do is shuffle about, hand her the apron shyly, sort of mention Willow Bird Baking, and then give a dazed grin to the camera. Suddenly we were walking out of the building and I thought about turning around to scream, “No! I wanted a Red Rider BB Gun!” Somehow I don’t think that would have helped.

Anyway, despite my stagefright, Ree was charming and interested in each and every one of the hundreds of people who came to see her. I hope she’s enjoying her apron, and I dedicate this big ol’ heaping Chocolate Mousse Pie to her.

Well, okay, I sort of messed that up too. But not too badly.

The pie was tasty: a buttery, flaky pie crust embracing a thick mess of pillowy, indulgent chocolate mousse and topped with slightly sweetened, loosely whipped cream and chocolate curls. There aren’t many things that taste better than that crust + chocolate combination, in my opinion. It reminded me of the French Silk pies I used to love at Perkins — anybody out there still have a Perkins in their town? Eat a slice of that French Silk for me, please.

But there was an issue; namely, my mousse was grainy. Two or three other commenters on P-Dub’s site had the same problem, but most obtained smooth mousse. I think it comes down to creaming your butter and sugar. Make sure your butter is room temperature, thoroughly softened, and that you cream the sugar in until it’s really dissolved and fluffy.

Regardless of the slight sugar crunch, the pie was a rich, luxurious treat. My Sunday school class got ahold of it and left an empty pie plate in its place — and if that’s not a good sign, I don’t know what is!

Chocolate Mousse Pie

Recipe by: Adapted from Pioneer Woman, crust by Willow Bird Baking
Yields: one 9-inch pie, serves about 8-9

Chocolate Mousse Ingredients:
4 ounces unsweetened baking chocolate
1 cup salted butter, softened
1-½ cup sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
4 whole eggs (since they will be raw, you may want to use pasteurized eggs, and/or avoid serving this recipe to older or pregnant guests)

Pie Crust Ingredients: (you can use a prepared pie shell if desired)
2 cups flour
1 teaspoons salt
1/4 cup cold lard (non-hydrogenated if available)*
1/2 cup cold butter, chopped
3-4 tablespoons ice cold water
1 egg and 1 teaspoon heavy cream for egg wash
*you can substitute vegetable shortening here if you wish, but I highly recommend the lard!

Whipped Cream Ingredients:
2 cups heavy whipping cream
4 tablespoons confectioners’ sugar
1 teaspoon gelatin
3 tablespoons cold water
1 tablespoon hot water

chocolate curls, if desired, for garnish

To make the crust, pulse flour and salt together to combine. Add scoops of lard and pulse into the mixture has the texture of coarse sand, about 10 seconds. Add in chunks of butter and pulse until butter pieces are no larger than small peas, about 10 pulses. Add minimum amount of water and pulse on low. If dough remains crumbly and doesn’t come together, add another tablespoon of water. Add as little as is required to enable the dough to be rolled into a ball. Form the dough into a disk, wrap in plastic, and refrigerate for 20-30.

Preheat oven to 450 degrees F. Roll disk of dough out to around 2 inches larger than your pie plate and transfer it, situating it in the plate. Fold the excess dough around the edges and crimp, trimming where necessary. Cover the dough with parchment paper and fill with pie weights or dried beans, pressing to the edges. Bake for around 20 minutes. Remove weights and paper, egg wash crust, and bake 5-10 minutes more, until golden brown (you won’t be baking it again, so make sure it has good color — shielding edges with foil if they begin getting too dark). Let crust cool completely.

In small microwave safe bowl melt 4 ounces of unsweetened baking chocolate until stirrable (about 45 seconds on high). Set aside to cool.

To make the mousse, in a large bowl with an electric mixer beat 1 cup (2 sticks) of butter (I used unsalted and added a dash of salt) and 1 ½ cups of white sugar until fluffy (about 2 to 4 minutes). NOTE: make sure butter is very soft and at room temperature, and beat until sugar is entirely dissolved, or the chocolate mousse will be grainy. When melted chocolate is cooled, drizzle it over the butter/sugar mixture. Add 1 teaspoon of vanilla extract. Beat the mixture thoroughly until combined (on a Kitchen Aid mixer, you will be using the whisk attachment).

Turn your mixer to a medium speed and over a period of 15 to 20 minutes add in the four eggs, one at a time, leaving about 5 minutes between each egg addition. Once the pie filling is well mixed, pour it into the baked pie shell, scraping every last speck of it out of the bowl. Smooth out the pie filling and place pie in the refrigerator to chill for at least two hours (preferably longer).

To make whipped cream, soften gelatin on 3 tablespoons cold water for about 2 minutes. Add 1 tablespoon hot water and stir to dissolve gelatin. Let cool while you mix other ingredients in a bowl to soft peaks. Add gelatin mixture to whipped cream and fold in gently. Pile whipped cream onto top of pie and refrigerate. Garnish with chocolate curls if desired.

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Caramel Fudge Brownie Cheesecake

I’ve got to tell you about a special guy. He was shorter than me for most of his life, but suddenly, a couple of years ago, I came home to visit and he was looking down at me. He’s got bright blue eyes and a head full of curls, a dry wit, and really fat rabbit he calls Pilfer. I am not brave enough to wear skinny jeans, but he is. He is my little brother, Joel-called-Alex, and that little chubby cheeked guy you see in the photo next to my Caramel Fudge Brownie Cheesecake . . . that would be him about a decade ago. (Speaking of Caramel Fudge Brownie Cheesecake, it may be the best thing I’ve ever eaten — which is probably not surprising considering it’s a Caramel Fudge Brownie Cheesecake).

It’s hard to decide which is cuter . . . ganache rosettes or little boy smiles. Look below for a closer view to help you decide. Cakes are nice, but I think he wins!

Alex at 8 years old and now!

Something pretty exciting happened in his life on Thursday night: he graduated high school as part of the Hickory Grove Christian School Class of 2010. My family gathered for the occasion, although honestly, I don’t think I really believed that my little brother was actually graduating until this moment:


And just like that, little Alex — who I remember driving around in his red PowerWheels jeep and running through sprinklers with me as a kid — was a graduate. In the fall, he’ll begin his undergraduate education at N.C. State, the same school Mike is attending for grad school — now I have two reasons to be a Wolfpack fan! I can already tell you that plenty of school nights will find them playing video games together and acting like goofballs.

To fully express my feelings about this momentous occasion, I wrote the following letter and gave it to Alex this week. I thought you might like to read it, too.


What is this I hear about you graduating high school? I could have sworn that someone told me you were a senior in high school and were graduating this week. But that’s silly. There must be some mistake.

See, you are just a baby. You love your swing, Ernie from Sesame Street, and your older sister, Julie (duh). Soon you will develop a few motor skills and begin arranging your toys: gummy bears and matchbox cars sorted by color (your favorite being “lellow”). You will start using words like “definitely” way before you’re old enough to know four-syllable words. I will be proud to be the sister of such a smart kid. You’re still just a baby!

Or maybe you are still 6 years old. You’re a stout, silly little guy with bright blond curls. Just last week I dressed you up in high heels, a green nightie, a poofy hair bow, and took pictures for future blackmail. You love Barney and Friends, and will soon start watching the Power Rangers movie more times than any human being really ought to.

Or, okay, maybe you’re a little older than that. Maybe you’re a tween. You are obsessed with Pokemon – movies, drawings, you name it. Yu-Gi-Oh is all right too. In a little while, you’ll be admitted into Hickory Grove Christian School for high school. You’ll start staying up late on the internet, playing lots of video games, and hanging out with friends. You’ll become an amazing writer, an excited reader, and an all-around brilliant guy. You’ll be a 9th grader. Suddenly a 10th grader. Maybe even an 11th grader. Maybe you’ll even go to your senior prom.

But graduating? You cannot be graduating. Except . . . you are. In just two days time, you’ll walk across the stage and get your high school diploma. I never thought this day would come (and no, not because I thought you’d flunk out of high school).

Nevertheless, since this day is undeniably upon us, there are a couple of things I want to say. First off, I’m so proud of what a smart kid you are; I hope you’ll continue being an amazing writer and reader. Second, and more importantly, you’re a compassionate kid. Third, you have an amazing personality and amazing character. I expect you to do incredible things at N.C. State next year (GO WOLFPACK!) and beyond. Fourth, and most importantly, I love you and always will.

Oh, and fifth, sorry about that poofy hair bow.

Love, your big sister,

In addition to a boring ol’ letter, Alex will get a nice slab of this Caramel Fudge Brownie Cheesecake on Sunday. This was inspired by my Coffee Cookie Dough Cheesecake, and I love it just as much! While making this cheesecake certainly does require time and energy, it’s a relatively straightforward recipe and is perfect for a special occasion. The multistep procedure produces a thick layer of rich brownie drowning in gooey, buttery-tasting caramel sauce, all on top of creamy cheesecake. It also boasts an oreo crust and decadent ganache.

I think Alex will approve.

Tell me about your graduates! Anyone have a loved one in the Class of 2010?

Caramel Fudge Brownie Cheesecake

Recipe by: Willow Bird Baking, using cheesecake adapted from Bon Appétit, caramel adapted from Martha Stewart, and brownies adapted from a post on Simply Recipes
Yields: one 9-inch cheesecake

Crust Ingredients:
32 chocolate sandwich cookies, finely processed into crumbs
5 1/3 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted and cooled
Small pinch of salt

Ganache Ingredients*:
1½ cups heavy cream
20 oz. bittersweet or semisweet chocolate, finely chopped (I used 3/4 semisweet and 1/4 bittersweet)

Filling Ingredients:
3 (8 oz.) packages cream cheese, at room temperature
1 cup sugar
1½ tablespoons all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
3 large eggs

Caramel Ingredients:
3/4 cup sugar
1/8 cup water
1/2 cup heavy cream
1/8 cup creme fraiche or sour cream
1/4 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
Pinch of coarse salt

Brownie Ingredients:
10 tablespoons (1 1/4 sticks) unsalted butter
1 1/4 cups sugar
3/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder (natural or Dutch-process)
½ teaspoon coffee granules (I added this small amount to impart a richness without a pronounced coffee flavor)
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
2 cold large eggs
1/2 cup all-purpose flour

Make the caramel: Prepare an ice-water bath. Heat sugar and water in a medium saucepan over medium-high heat until mixture boils and sugar dissolves, washing down sides of pan often with a wet pastry brush to prevent crystals from forming. Reduce heat to medium, and cook until sugar turns dark amber (about 345 degrees on a candy thermometer), 5 to 7 minutes more. Immediately remove from heat, and carefully whisk in 1/2 cup cream. Return to medium heat, and cook until sugar melts completely and mixture boils. Remove from heat, and pour into a bowl set in ice-water bath. Let caramel cool, stirring often, for 10 minutes. Stir in creme fraiche, vanilla, and salt. Cover and refrigerate at least 2 hours or up to 5 days.

Make the brownie layer: Preheat oven to 325°F with rack positioned in the lower third of the oven. Line the bottom and the sides of an 9-inch round cake pan with parchment paper, leaving an overhang on two opposite sides to make it easier to lift the brownies out of the pan when they are done.

Combine the butter, cocoa, sugar, coffee granules, and salt in a medium heatproof bowl. Set the bowl in a wide skillet of barely simmering water. Stir the butter cocoa mixture from time to time until the butter is melted and the mixture is smooth and hot enough that you want to remove your finger quickly after dipping it in to test. Remove the bowl from the skillet and set aside briefly until the mixture is only warm, not hot.

Using a wooden spoon, stir in the vanilla extract. Add the eggs one at a time, stirring quickly after each one. When the batter looks shiny, thick, and well mixed, add the flour and stir until you cannot see it any longer, then beat for 40 strokes with the wooden spoon. Spread the batter evenly in the lined pan (I used most of the batter, but poured a bit in a separate dish to bake, since I wanted to make my brownie layer a certain thickness – just use your judgment).

Bake until a tester inserted into the center comes out just slightly moist with batter, about 25 minutes. Let the brownies cool completely on a rack and then freeze. When ready to use, lift up the ends of the foil or parchment paper liner, and peel foil away.

Make the cheesecake: To make the crust, preheat the oven to 350˚ F. Position a rack in the middle of the oven. Butter a 9-inch springform pan and place it on a baking sheet. Combine the chocolate cookie crumbs, melted butter and salt in a small bowl. Toss with a fork to moisten all of the crumbs. Press into a thin layer covering the bottom and sides of the springform pan (at least 3 inches up the sides).

Bring the cream to a simmer in a medium saucepan. Place the chocolate in a medium bowl. Once the cream reaches a simmer, pour the cream over the chocolate and let stand 1-2 minutes. Whisk in small circles until a smooth ganache has formed. Pour 1 – 1.5 cups of the ganache over the bottom of the crust. Freeze until the ganache layer is firm, about 30 minutes. Reserve the remaining ganache; cover and let stand at room temperature for later decorating.

In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat the cream cheese and sugar on medium-high speed until well blended. Beat in the flour. Add in the vanilla and beat until well incorporated, scraping down the sides of the bowl as needed. Beat in the eggs one at a time, scraping down the bowl between each addition.

Pour the filling over the cold ganache in the crust. Place the springform pan on a rimmed baking sheet. Bake until the top is lightly browned, puffed and cracked at the edges, and the center moves only very slightly when the pan is lightly shaken, about 1 hour. Transfer to a wire cooling rack. Cool at room temperature for at least 30 minutes. Transfer to the refrigerator and let cool at least 3 hours, until completely chilled and set.

Assemble the cheesecake: Wrap a warm towel around the outside of the springform pan to help loosen the crust from the sides. Carefully remove the springform. Transfer the cake to a serving platter. Spread a thin layer of caramel over cheesecake to adhere the brownie layer. Place brownie layer on top of cheesecake (right side up). My brownie layer was almost cup-shaped since the middle didn’t rise as much as the sides, so I poured the rest of my caramel into the concave area and spread it gently (to avoid disturbing the delicate top of the brownies). Place the reserved ganache in a pastry bag fitted with a decorative tip and use to garnish the top of the cake as desired. Chill until the ganache is completely firm, at least 6 hours.

*NOTE: This recipe makes extra ganache. I usually just make it and save the rest for truffles, but feel free to make about 3/4 of this recipe if you’d rather not have leftovers.

P.S. — Sorry for picking your flowers, Mom, but aren’t they pretty?

P.S. 2 — A serving suggestion for those that want to make this dessert extra-ridiculous: instead of serving with regular whipped cream, whip up some caramel cream.

P.S. 3 — (Am I starting to sound like the evolution of a gaming console?) My talented sister, Laura, wrote a song for Alex’s graduation. It’s called “Alarm of the Freshman,” it’s sung to the tune of “Eye of the Tiger,” and the video I shot of her singing it would be perfect blackmail material, if she had any shame. Love you, Laura! Enjoy, y’all:


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Chocolate Tart with Pretzels

Funny story: I decided to take a well-loved recipe for a chocolate tart and update it for Mike’s birthday by filling the shell with pretzels before pouring the chocolate in. While planning said tart, I started to have a nagging feeling that something was wrong. Hadn’t Mike said something before about not liking chocolate covered pretzels? Uh-oh.

Trying not to ruin the surprise, I nonchalantly brought up chocolate and pretzel combos on the phone with him while baking (try casually working chocolate and pretzels into a conversation — difficult!) “Did you say once you didn’t like chocolate covered pretzels?” I asked. His reply? “I don’t know. I don’t really like pretzels, period.” I stared at my pretzel-filled tart crust. “Oh.”

Well, it isn’t the first time I’ve boldly gone where Mike’s tastebuds hadn’t gone before. Or didn’t think they wanted to go. For instance, Mike thought he didn’t like lemon until he had Lemon Burst Fairycakes. He also thought he didn’t like plums until he took his first bite of Plum and Cream Mini-Tortes. And then there’s pumpkin, which he realized he enjoyed thanks to Jack-o’-Lantern Whoopie Pies (no comment on the recent pumpkin ravioli disaster that may have him reverting back to pumpkin hatred).

But this is the first time I pushed his taste boundaries on his birthday. On his freakin’ birthday! You know, the day when you’re supposed to make your boyfriend’s FAVORITE dessert, not a dessert featuring a food he currently dislikes. Oops. Happy birthday, Mike, here’s a tart filled with something you hate!

Thankfully, I reminded myself, I was making him two desserts. Surely if he didn’t like this one, he’d like the other (stay tuned for a post on that dish later this week), right? So it wasn’t so much of a gamble?

Turns out, I needn’t have worried at all . . . because first off, you couldn’t taste the pretzels! They got soft (should’ve seen that coming) and didn’t add too much to the overall texture or flavor. I ended up putting some pretzels on my piece before serving to experience the salty-n-sweet combo I was looking for, and Mike abstained. Perfecto!

The tart had the same amazing, rich, deep chocolate flavor as last time I made it, except with a slight bitter edge from adding in some bittersweet chocolate. I love the taste of a complex, bittersweet chocolate with a sweet whipped cream.

So, this post isn’t really a new recipe. It’s more of a serving suggestion and a reminder of an amazing old recipe. Go make this fantastic tart and serve it with a handful of pretzels for a tasty salty-n-sweet combination! You could also top the tart with a layer of pretzels after baking and before adding the whipped cream topping. Enjoy!

Chocolate Tart with Pretzels

Recipe by: Adapted from Tyler Florence
Yields: one standard tart, serves about 10

Tart Shell Ingredients:
2 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for dusting
3 tablespoons sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, cold and chopped
1 large egg, separated
2 tablespoons ice water, plus more if needed

Filling Ingredients:
1 cup heavy cream
1/2 cup milk
8 oz. semisweet chocolate, chopped
2 oz. bittersweet chocolate, chopped (or use semisweet for the whole amount, if desired)
2 tablespoons sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 large eggs, at room temperature
salted pretzels for serving

Whipped Cream Topping Ingredients:
2 cups heavy cream
5 tablespoons granulated sugar
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

To make the pastry: combine the flour, sugar, and salt in a large mixing bowl (or food processor). Add the butter and mix with a processor or hands until the mixture resembles coarse crumbs. Make a well in the middle of the pastry. Combine the egg yolk with the ice water in a small bowl, whisking to blend; pour it into the well and work it in to bind the dough until it holds together without being too wet or sticky. Squeeze a small amount together, if it is crumbly, add more ice water, 1 tablespoon at a time. When the dough is coming together but still in crumbs, pour the crumbs into your tart pan and press them out to fill the pan. Press them up the sides evenly and trim off any excess. Dock the dough (prick it slightly) with a fork all over. Put the tart shell in the refrigerator for at least 15 minutes to relax.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Place the tart pan on a sturdy cookie sheet so it will be easy to move in and out of the oven. Line the tart with aluminum foil and add pie weights or dried beans to keep the sides of the tart from buckling. Bake for 30 minutes, then remove the foil and weights. Using a pastry brush, lightly coat the crust with a beaten egg white. Return to the oven and continue to bake for another 8 minutes until the tart is golden in color, but not brown. Remember the tart will be cooked again with the filling. It should be cooked but light in color so that it will not burn on the second bake. Set aside to cool and lower the oven temperature to 325 degrees F.

To make the filling: Heat the heavy cream and milk in a pot over medium-low flame, until it simmers slightly around the edges. Remove from the heat; add the chopped chocolate and stir until melted and smoothed out. Add the sugar and salt and whisk until well incorporated. Beat the eggs in a small bowl until blended and add them to the chocolate mixture, stir until completely blended. Pour the filling very carefully into the cooled tart shell. Bake at 325 degrees F for 15 to 25 minutes until the filling is set (wiggle the pan to test) and the surface is glossy. If you see any bubbles or cracks forming on the surface, take the tart out right away – that means it is beginning to become over baked. Cool completely before topping with whipped cream. You can layer pretzels on before topping with whipped cream, or sprinkle them on top afterward.

To make the whipped cream, beat all ingredients together until cream thickens to correct consistency. Pile the mound of whipped cream onto your cooled tart and use a spatula to spread it (messy = more rustic). Shave some leftover chocolate over the cream for decoration.

PS – Stay tuned for Mike’s birthday dessert number two!

PS 2 – There are also tarts out there with pretzel crusts if you wanted to go that route, but I wasn’t willing to give up this buttery, amazing tart shell!

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Lemon Blueberry Cheesecake Squares with Shortbread Crust

This post could also be titled, “Lessons on Planning” (please don’t confuse that with “lesson planning” — I’m on Spring Break!).

My plans this weekend were exciting. I wanted to create a triple layered dessert with joyful Spring flavors. Doesn’t this sound amazing: lemon squares on a shortbread crust with a delicious layer of blueberry cheesecake. Can’t you see the gorgeous, pale shortbread layer; the bright yellow layer of lemony bliss; the creamy cheesecake layer studded with purple blue orbs — all topped with a fine sprinkling of powdered sugar? Well, take a good look at your fantasy, because that’s the only place you’ll be seeing that image.

Not exactly as planned, but delicious.

See, it didn’t quite go according to plan. My blueprints for this recipe began when I saw these delicious lemon blueberry cheesecake squares on Shared Sugar. I started pining for them, but I’ve also been pining for lemon squares. Naturally, it dawned on me that I should combine the two.

My process (which you shouldn’t repeat) was to bake the shortbread crust for lemon squares as usual, top it with a cheesecake layer, pour the lemon mixture on top, and bake. Sounds great. But what actually happened was that the lemon mixture leaked under the parchment paper I’d lined my pan with and coagulated underneath the entire dessert. Um, so in a way, I actually ended up with a quadruple layer dessert . . . if you count the parchment paper?

Flowers from a student’s parents! So gorgeous!

Some of the lemony liquid stayed on top of the cheesecake forming an odd lemon “glaze” of sorts. The entire dessert now looks a bit weepy, but I assure you, it tasted amazing. How can you go wrong with these flavors? Nevertheless, I decided you wouldn’t want to repeat the whole frustrating process. I’ve deleted the lemon layer from the recipe below, leaving you with a simple two layer dessert: lemon blueberry cheesecake squares on a shortbread crust. Still amazing, bright, springy, creamy, indulgent.

So much for plans. I’m a big planner, and it can be hard on me when things don’t work out like I think they should (pat on the back for myself, though, because I think I handled this culinary detour well). Thank God that He’s had big plans since before the foundation of the world — plans to send His only Son as a sacrifice for us, even while we were still sinners ignoring the God who loved us.

And of course, with Easter around the corner, thank God for the miracle He had planned for three days after that sacrifice: Christ’s resurrection from the dead to triumph over death and the grave.

My plans in the kitchen and in life don’t always work out. I leave out the baking soda, don’t thicken the fruit filling enough, or who even knows what else (yeah, I never even posted that travesty). But God says, “As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts” (Isaiah 55:9). His plans worked — thank God — and we can now have abundant and eternal life because of them.

So, I can’t be too upset about my cheesecake squares not having a lemon layer. I’ve tweaked the recipe below so you can now go make these amazing cheesecake squares without worrying about that either. I’ll try again soon — I’m thinking of making lemon squares as usual, and then doing a no-bake cheesecake layer on top. We’ll see how that works. But it’s okay if my plans don’t work out, because you know how planning goes!

Lemon Blueberry Cheesecake Squares with Shortbread Crust

Recipe by: Adapted from King Arthur Flour (crust) and Shared Sugar (cheesecake)
Yields: about 18 bars

Crust Ingredients:
1 cup (2 sticks) butter
2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 cup confectioners’ sugar

Cheesecake Layer Ingredients:
32 ounces cream cheese, at room temperature
4 eggs
4 tablespoons lemon juice
1 cup sugar
2 cup blueberries

powdered sugar for topping

Preheat your oven to 350°F. Prepare a 9 x 13 in. baking dish with a parchment paper sling. Cut the butter into the flour and confectioners’ sugar and press into the baking dish (I used a food processor to cut the fat into the flour, and then the bottom of a dish to press the mixture into the pan). Bake 20 minutes or until light brown. Let cool on wire rack.

In a bowl with an electric mixer, add the cream cheese, eggs, lemon juice and sugar. Mix until the ingredients are creamy and the cream cheese is fully incorporated. Pour into the pan with the cooled crust. Then evenly distribute the blueberries.

Bake 30-35 minutes or until filling is set. Remove from the oven and cool completely. Then refrigerate for at least 3 hours. Remove the cheesecake from the pan using the parchment paper. Cut into bars and sprinkle with powdered sugar.

Byrd loves these flowers — imagine a very excited toy poodle with her curly snout stuffed into one of these big blooms. I know: awwww!

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Happy Pi Day! My math geek boyfriend had never heard of it, so go figure.

Here are my favorite pie recipes (and okay, some tarts for good measure). Whether you’re a math nerd or just want another excuse to eat pie, you have my blessing.

Fresh Blueberry Pie

Red Berry Pie

Mini-Pies! Pumpkin, Sour Cream Apple, Peach Crisp

Raspberry Cream Cheese Tart

Chocolate Tart

Peach Crisp Pie

Apparently there’s also a Pie — er, I mean Pi — Approximation Day in July?! Score!

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