Treat Day – Week 6 (Dulce de Leche Cheesecake Bars!)

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Hi Bears & Baking fans! This week the Bears head to Miami and I am super excited for this game, if I do say so myself.  My single girlfriends and I started a little tradition of our own several years ago where we go to an away Bears game and see one new NFL stadium every season.  This year we chose the Miami game & the Hard Rock Stadium, home of the Miami Dolphins.  So I’ll be heading out on Friday and ready to cheer my face off for the Bears on Sunday!  I can’t wait.

When I think of Miami or Southern Florida, I think of Key Lime.  So my initial thought was to make Key Lime Pie bars for the team, but then I talked to my brother and he flat out said without hesitation, “Nobody here likes lime or lemon, so, no, don’t make those”.  Well alrighty then…Ha! Sometimes I wonder if my brother just tells me stuff like this because HE doesn’t like something. Haha! But I always listen to what he says, since after all, he is the one getting and giving the feedback from the guys week after week.  With that in mind, I switched it up and made something I know that the players and staff always like: CARAMEL.  I have an awesome recipe for a spring form Dulce de Leche cheesecake that I was actually making for a local restaurant in Roscoe Village, so I searched for a similar recipe but in the form of bars, and came across one that worked out perfectly! So this is what I sent to Halas Hall this morning and am sharing with all of  you today.  They are easy, and taste just like my spring form cheesecake, but take a fraction of the time to bake, and they can be cut up into nice little “grab-n-go” treat bars.  And no water bath is required while baking these.  My brother actually just texted me a little while ago and said, “They LOVE LOVE LOVE the Caramel cheesecake!!”  So, I am happy and proud to say that treat day week 6 is a hit!  I hope all of you find time to make these, because they are delicious and after all, you deserve them! 🙂

Here are a few tips I have for you when you make these at home:

  1. The recipe calls for “purchased dulce de leche”.  Don’t even bother, unless you have a name brand that you know and absolutely love that is available to you at retail.  If not, I ALWAYS make my own dulce de leche and would recommend you do so as well.  All you need to do is purchase Sweetened Condensed Milkd (my favorite is Eagle Brand, because I like their easy open can lids) in the 14oz size tin cans.  Simply take the paper label off  of your can and put it in a pot covered with water.  Bring the water to a boil, and then lower your heat to a slow low boil, almost to a simmer, and keep it on the stove cooking for 3 hours.  3 hours will give you a thick, rich and creamy caramel which is perfect for these cheesecake bars! I boil 4-5 cans at a time and keep any unopened cans in the fridge for easy use the next time I want to make these bars or a spring form cheesecake.  And if you have a half used can, just take a glass mason jar and keep the leftover caramel in the jar in the fridge.  Oh, and when you go to boil these, lay the cans on their side – because that way they won’t rattle around in your pot making noise driving you crazy for 3 straight hours!
  2. I always use salted butter – even though this recipe calls for unsalted
  3. I ALWAYS use KRAFT Philadelphia cream cheese – full fat, and make sure it is room temp.  It just works perfectly in cheesecake recipes.  That is my opinion.
  4. Your eggs should really be room temperature too, but if not, you can put them in a bowl and run some warm water over them for a few minutes.
  5. If you are making these a day or two ahead of time, like myself, I  would hold off sprinkling your sea salt until the very last minute before serving, otherwise it will  just dissolve into your caramel topping, and it could possibly taste too salty.  And you can omit the sea salt altogether… it is not mandatory…these bars are delicious with or without it! I omitted the salt today.
  6. The caramel can get a little runny, so when I serve these I put them in foil cupcake liners which make them easy to pick up and eat on the go.

Ok, here is the recipe from a blogger named The Recipe Critic: Dulce de Leche Cheesecake Bars

Thank you for reading my blog and GO BEARS!!!!!!

 

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Week 5 – Bye (Celebrating with Pink Champagne Cake!)

Image-1 (1).pngWhat a game this past Sunday at Soldier Field…and what a win!  This week is the Bear’s bye week, so no game = no Thursday treats.  However, I’m celebrating in style and making Pink Champagne cupcakes with Pink Champagne Buttercream frosting!

This recipe was inspired by one of my best friends, Tom Hackett.  Last year, Hackett turned 50 and for his birthday dinner party he asked me to make a champagne cake.  I thought it was an interesting request , as I had never heard of this kind of cake before.  He said he googled what kind of cake was popular in 1967 (the year he was born) and then sent me a recipe that he had found which called for all sorts of layers  (champagne, strawberries, chocolate, Bavarian cream…).  I took one look at it and said “there’s too much going on in this cake for me”.  So, I started doing research of my own, and came across the one that I am sharing today.  I was so attracted to the picture of it, and then saw that the cake itself was made with egg whites, and a full cup of pink champagne in the batter, as well as another 1/4 cup in the frosting.  It looked and sounded dreamy! I got Hackett’s approval to make this more basic and boozy one… and the results and reviews were astounding!  Everyone at the dinner party went nuts over it, and from that night alone, I got requests to make it for 3 other guests that were either having parties or birthdays that summer.  My girlfriend from work even requested that I make mini cakes for her wedding. 2017 definitely brought back the Pink Champagne Cake from 1967…at least in my kitchen. Hackett and I started a mini trend here on the north side of Chicago! So, I am making it again today for one of my dearest girlfriend’s 50th birthdays, except I am making it into cupcakes… she has 4 kids and I don’t think it’s too boozy for kids to enjoy, but you can taste the champagne ever so subtly.  And there is a lot of sugar in the buttercream!  I think you guys are gonna love this cake too. It just screams “CELEBRATE!”.

Here are my few tips when making this cake:

  1. If you convert this to standard size cupcakes, bake at 350 for about 15 minutes – test with a toothpick – it should come out clean, if not done, go another 2-3 minutes
  2. I use salted butter in both the cake batter and the buttercream frosting – again, just my preference – and I still add the salt that is listed on the ingredients
  3. This batter will be light and fluffy, so I like to use a larger sized cookie scoop to fill the cupcake liners (shown in picture) – this helps speed things up with no mess
  4. I use just a very small drop of pink coloring for the batter and the frosting – and I use AmeriColor gel – just put a dab  on a toothpick and then into your batter.  I have used  way too much coloring in the past and then they look weird and bright…still taste just as good, but you know – we eat with our eyes first, so I  like a really light and pretty shade of pink for both the batter, and especially the frosting
  5. The recipe calls for Vegetable oil, but I find that Canola oil works just as well – so whatever you have on hand is just fine
  6. I use a little more vanilla than the recipe calls for – I’d say about 3 teaspoons vs. 2
  7. The brand of Pink Champagne that you use is really up to you. I used to use Andre but then for some reason switched to Barefoot Bubbly Moscato – as I think the Moscato is sweeter than regular dry pink bubbly, and feel it goes well in a sweet dessert recipe.   I’ve also made this cake for a wedding and used white champagne…but my favorite is still the pink!

    Ok, here is the recipe for this cake and buttercream frosting, which comes from “Melissa” and her cake site is called “My Cake School”.  I liked it so much that I joined the sight for an annual fee so that I could have access to all recipes and video tutorials.  I’ve made a few other cakes and frostings from her… they are all very, very good! Plus her video tutorials are great and informative.  I need practice on my decorating skills but since I’m not in the cake business, I’ve got plenty of time to improve.  I hope you enjoy this cake for your next celebration!Delicious Pink Champagne Cake  And here is the buttercream frosting recipe: Pink Champagne Buttercream Frosting

Thank you for reading my blog and please feel free to reach out to me with any questions or comments.

And as always…GO BEARS!!!

Treat Day – Week 4 (Pound Cake!)

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Hi!

This week’s treat of the week is Pound Cake. I found this recipe a few years ago, when I was reading someone’s post on Instagram about a “Philly Fluff Cake”.  This Fluff Cake is apparently found in one bakery in Philadelphia, and it was getting rave reviews. So, I set out to find a recipe for it and test it.  While I found a supposed copy-cat recipe for Philly Fluff Cake, one of the reviewers said something along the lines of “…this cake is good, but nowhere near Elvis Presely’s favorite pound cake…”  That is all I needed to hear (or read) to get my curiosity going.  I found and printed a recipe for both cakes, went home and made one of each and brought them to work with me the next morning.  Everyone was thrilled to have 2 homemade cakes in the kitchen to taste and vote on.  My personal clear choice was the Elvis cake, however, the votes among the office friends was pretty much a split tie between both cakes.  So, with that I decided to go back to the kitchen and make both cakes again and send them off to the Bears and see how those results landed.  The clear winner, I was told, was in line with my thought = Elvis!   This cake is so good that people who don’t normally enjoy dessert, LOVE this cake and I get requests for it for dinner parties often, for that very reason.  You can pair it with ice-cream,  chocolate sauces and glazes, or just a simple sprinkling of powdered sugar, which is how I normally send mine out to friends and family. I am sharing photos of mine and a few tips:

  1. I use salted butter ALWAYS, even though this recipe calls for unsalted
  2. I used more vanilla than this recipe calls for – I typically put in 2 Tablespoons
  3. A great tip I learned from following Ree Drummond (The Pioneer Woman) is to crack your eggs into a cup or bowl first, instead of directly into your mix, especially in a recipe like this one that calls for 7 eggs.  This is great because you can be sure that no egg shell gets into your batter. And I don’t know about you, but I am somewhat of a space cadet and often forget how many eggs, or cups of flour or sugar, etc. I just added to the mix… so I try to pre-measure into a separate bowl before.  I can’t t tell you how many times I’ve second-guessed myself and was like “Shoot! Was that the 2nd cup of sugar or third that I just added!?!” and then not wanting to take a chance, I throw the whole mix out and start over again.
  4. I would not bother using a heavy or fancy designed bunt pan for this cake. I tried it once with a really heavy cast iron dark metal pan that had deep groves in order to produce a beautiful design, and it burnt the outside and ruined the cake. The pans I used that are in the picture are cheap-o ones from Jewel grocery store, for like $9.99 – and they produce a perfect crust on the outside and evenly baked cake on the inside.
  5. This cake also makes delicious baked pound-cake donuts, if you have one of those Wilton donut pans – just bake at the same temp. but for only about 12 minutes

 

Ok, here is the recipe to the Epicurious site: Elvis Presly’s Favorite Pound Cake

Please feel free to email me with any questions or comments.

Thank you so much for reading my blog!

GO BEARS!

Treat Day – Week 3 (Gooey Butter Bars)

IMG_0090Hi!

So today is Treat Day – Week 3 at Halas Hall and along with the cookies and balls, I sent one of their all-time favorites, as well as one of my most requested treats by friends and nieces & nephews… GOOEY BUTTER BARS!!  

Let me tell you a little about this recipe.  Back in 1999 I worked at a production company with a girl that was from St. Louis.  Well, one day, her mother came to town and visited our office, and with her she brought, what she called “St. Louis Gooey Butter Cake”.  I took one bite, and thought I had died and gone to Heaven.  I immediately asked her for the recipe, and she kindly typed it up and emailed it to me later that day.  And, I never made it once. Ha!  UNTIL, I was out in Southern California a few years ago visiting my best friend, Mark, and we went to Mastro’s for dinner.  He said, “Tuohy, we have to order desert, you are going to die when you taste this…”  Well, I took one bite and it brought me right back to 1999 and the St. Louis Gooey Butter Cake.  I said “I KNOW HOW TO MAKE THIS!”.  When I flew back home to Chicago, I dug through my overstuffed file folders of printed & handwritten recipes and found the one from my co-worker’s mother.  I am happy to share it with all of you today, because you don’t see a whole lot of these bars in storefronts in Chicago… however, I will say, it has become a little more well-known in the past few years around here.  At any rate, it’s sweet, and gooey, and people that have never tried or heard of it, are almost always flabbergasted by how delicious it is!

Ingredients

base:

1 Box Yellow Cake Mix – I always use Betty Crocker “Butter Yellow” but really, any good yellow cake mix will be just fine.

1 Egg

1 stick salted butter (melted and cooled a bit)

For the gooey topping:

1 8oz brick of Cream Cheese (room temp) – I ALWAYS use KRAFT Philadelphia – full fat!

2 Eggs

1-1/2 Tablespoons of vanilla – I am not particular about brand of vanilla, but it has to be real vanilla & not imitation…and it’s so expensive these days… ugh!!!

1 stick of salted butter (melted and cooled)

1 lb. box of Confectioner’s Sugar

DIRECTIONS:

Pre-heat oven to 350 & Grease a 9×13 pan with cooking spray.

In a stand mixer (or handheld), combine dry cake mix with 1 egg and 1 stick of melted butter to form dough.  Press dough firmly to the bottom of your pan. This picture shows me making two pans… but this recipe is just for one pan. Sorry for any confusion!

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Next, in a separate bowl, whip the cream cheese until smooth, and then add the 2 additional eggs, vanilla and stick of melted butter until well combined.  Be sure to scrape the edges of bowl, as well as bottom of your mixing bowl to get any chunks of cream cheese up and incorporated into a smooth batter. Then add the confectioner’s sugar.  The mix should be creamy and somewhat light and fluffy.  Pour the mixture on top of your dough that is in the pan & with a spatula spread it over to the edges to cover your base completely. Bake for about 45 minutes, or until golden brown. Your edges will get this darker brown, caramelized crust, and the inside will be softer, sweet and gooey and delicious!! I’m sorry I didn’t take a pic of the fully baked pan. My oven takes only 45 minutes, but since ovens vary, I would estimate anywhere between 45 – 50 minutes.

I hope you try this recipe! And be sure to let the pan cool 100% before cutting into these.  I dust the bars with a little powder sugar before serving.

Fun fact: I researched the origin of this recipe and found that it was actually a mistake… like, some baker used the wrong proportions of one ingredient vs. another, but didn’t have the time or money to redo it all over again on that day, so decided to bake the cake anyway… and a star was born! 🙂

Feel free to send me any questions or comments if you do happen to make this.

Thank you for reading my blog and as always… GO BEARS!

Treat Day – Week 2 (Peanut Butter Balls & Salted Caramel Chocolate Chip Bars)

Ok, we’ve got the first home opener game at Soldier Field coming up on Monday night & I can’t wait to go to Jamie’s tailgate!  Jamie has been a friend of the family for years, is a season ticket holder and throws THE BEST tailgate parties up on the Waldron Deck.  I will walk over to his tailgate after work and will bring some of the same treats that I made for the Bears this week: Salted Caramel Chocolate Chip Bars & Peanut Butter Balls.  These treats are not new to the Bears, but are a couple of their favorites. And are perfect for parties!

First, for the Peanut Butter Balls.  This is a pretty standard and basic recipe that calls for just a few ingredients, no baking, just set aside some prep time.  It’s great because you can make them into medium sized balls (which is just right, because they are rich) and you will get 80 or so balls from one batch. I use a small cookie scoop for all my balls. This is a handwritten recipe, and I am not quite sure where I found it, so can’t give credit to the originator… but, oh well… we can all still enjoy it!

Start with:

2 cups creamy peanut butter – (I use JIF – I grew up on Skippy, but find JIF to be creamier, just my preference)

1 cup (2 sticks) salted butter – room temp.

4 cups confectioners’ sugar

3 cups Rice Krispies cereal

2 cups chocolate chips (*the recipe says dark chocolate, however, I use 1 cup semi-sweet & 1 cup milk chocolate mixed together so they are a little on the sweeter side)

2 Tablespoons of vegetable shortening

Instructions: Line 2 baking sheets with wax paper. Cream the butter and peanut butter on medium. Add the sugar 1 cup at a time on low. Fold in Rice Krispies. Scoop into balls and refrigerate (if the dough is sticky) for about 10 minutes. Melt the chocolate w/shortening in a microwave safe bowl and then start dipping the balls. I just use a fork for dipping, roll the ball in the melted chocolate until covered and then scoop it carefully with your fork, and kind of tap fork on side of your bowl, shaking off the excess chocolate before placing on the wax paper. I store mine in a big Rubbermaid bin lined with wax paper and you can freeze them if you’d like.  Just be sure to take them out and thaw them in the refrigerator a good 4 hours or so before you plan to serve.  If you don’t freeze them at all, store them in fridge.

Now for the Salted Caramel Chocolate Chip Bars.  These are delicious… EVERYONE that tries them raves about them.  They are one of the Bears favorite treats.  The recipe is a little odd where it calls for 2 cups plus 1/8 cup of flour.  1/8th?  Really?  This is where that “baking is a science” gets a little annoying.  But I am particular so I went out and found a 1/8 cup measuring cup just so I could be precise.  But I am sure if you don’t have one you could just do 2 cups plus a “dash” or estimate…it’s not going to make or break this recipe.  One thing that will or can affect the recipe though is your caramel.  I am brand specific on this ingredient and always use KRAFT caramel squares… just because I think they have a really nice smooth texture, they melt well, and then firm well after baking.  The annoying part here is just unwrapping each one… but, it will be worth your time once you taste the bars!  And don’t skimp on the sprinkling of your salt.  I found that Mariano’s now carries a nice “Fleur de sel”  for just a few dollars… (salt can get pricey), so don’t worry about going crazy finding fancy salt… Sea Salt will do — just don’t be afraid to sprinkle it on there because it’s a really great compliment to the chocolate and caramel.  Here is the recipe link from one of my favorite bloggers “The Brown Eyed Baker” Salted Caramel Chocolate Chip Bars – The Brown Eyed Baker

Oh, and I use a light colored metal pan for these, because the light pans seem to bake evenly, vs. darker metal pans which seem to brown faster and not as evenly.

I hope you enjoy these as much as myself, friends and the Bears do… and please feel  free to send me any comments or questions!

Hope you all have a great weekend and GO BEARS!!!

 

Treat Day – Week 1 (Frosted Sugar Cookies & Cinnamon Toast Bars)

Hey, hey! It’s finally here…FOOTBALL season is underway and it feels great to be a BEARS fan!  What an exciting week of changes and good vibes we’ve got going on here in Chicago and I CAN NOT WAIT to watch the Bears play the Packers on Sunday night.  To kick off the Thursday-Treat-Days, I put some extra lovin’ in my oven (I know, I am a nerd) and wanted to show some team spirit, so made super fun cut-out “C” logo cookies for the guys.  I also made “Cinnamon Toast” bars, that were not only delicious, but one of the easiest cake-bar recipes I’ve come across in all my years baking. You don’t even need a mixer…or eggs for this recipe! I’m really excited to share both of these recipes with all of you and want to give shout-outs to the bloggers that were nice enough to print and share them originally.

First, let’s talk about the sugar cookies.  I actually found this recipe last season when I was asked to bake for a luncheon honoring breast cancer survivors. I searched high and low for a delicious basic sugar cookie recipe, as well as a “flooding” frosting – otherwise known as “royal icing”.  After reading dozens of blogs and recipe sites, and actually test-baking three different doughs, I ended up liking this one from Jill Saunders on Allrecipes.com – and my instinct was right… it got RAVE reviews both last year as well as this week.  The recipe says to chill the dough for at least an hour, but each time I’ve made them, I’ve let it chill overnight. Give it a try, you will not be disappointed! Oh, and if you find that the dough is a bit sticky, be sure to flour your counter top well, and also flour your rolling pin every time.  Another trick is to put the dough between a layer of wax or parchment paper and roll it out that way.  I’m telling you, several people have told me that these cookies were the best they’d ever had…thus, the title here in this link is true: The Best Rolled Sugar Cookies

Now for the frosting.  I really wanted to learn how to frost using the “flooding” technique, so I  did several hours of researching Royal Icing for cookies.  From major sites like the Food Network, to random bloggers, to YouTube video tutorials, all talked about and gave recipes that either called for Cream of Tartar, egg whites, or Meringue Powder.  I made a few versions, and each had a rather distinct taste to them: sort of sour, and sort of not-so-great, in my opinion.  They weren’t bad, and I even brought some into the office and had co-workers give me feedback. But in my heart I knew I could find something a just notch better that would taste “great” to everyone. So I then started making calls to friends and family who I knew made frosted Christmas cookies each year, and  I collected all of their thoughts and comments on what they used for an icing.  I finally found this recipe from “The Slow Roasted Italian”, which is easy, delicious, frosts and dries shiny and smooth…and I will never deviate!  It is just about identical to a recipe that my cousin Mary Jo gave me, except this one yields a big batch and I don’t use any almond extract… I omit it altogether.  However, you could add a touch of vanilla extract if you’d like. The Best Tasting Royal Icing

I stayed up very late into the night, and the wee hours of the morning frosting these “c”s, while listening to some of my favorite tunes… and I had a blast – it was just like being back in college art class.  Didn’t even notice the time getting so late, it was so therapeutic.  I had purchased a logo cookie cutter that came in a couple different sizes. Look how cool and fun they turned out! (I need to do a little more research on layering color frosting, like, I  wonder if it would have been better for me to flood the whole cookie in white and then do a a layer of orange on top leaving a white boarder.  They are not perfect, but over all I was happy with the way they looked, and the fact that everyone thought they tasted great…that was all that was important to me).

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Now, for the “Cinnamon Toast” Bars.  As you follow me throughout the season, you’ll know that I always send some sort of bar to go along with the cookies because bars, in general, are pretty easy, yield several servings, especially since you can cut them small, and they are a great “grab-n-go” treat that don’t make much of a mess.  That said, this opening week, I wanted to give them a new bar that I’d never made before.  I found this recipe from a blogger named “Barefeet in the Kitchen”, and boy am I glad I found her!  You guys – if you like cinnamon, sugar and butter… try this recipe!!!  Also, she gives a gluten free option, which is nice.  I don’t do GF, but I know a lot of people these days appreciate it as they can’t take the gluten.  Here is a link to the recipe: Barefeet In The Kitchen – Cinnamon Toast Bars  This recipe reminds me of that little cinnamon sugar filled Bear-shaped shaker that my mom would always have in the morning and use to make us cinnamon toast. Sweet memories 🙂

Obviously, those are the before & after pics. This is a half sheet cookie sheet (or jelly roll pan) so this made a ton of servings. The topping is a melted butter/sugar/cinnamon that you pour over the cake after 23 minutes, and stick it back in the oven for an additional 8 minutes or  until it bubbles and becomes almost like a creme brulee topping. Please make sure to keep the bars in long enough so the butter/sugar actually starts to boil on top of your cake, otherwise, you won’t end up with that delicious caramelized top.

I hope you enjoy the recipes and if you decide to make them, please write to me and let me know how they turned out and what you thought of them!

So, so excited that Treat Day Week 1 was a hit!  Come back next Friday to see what I made for Treat Day Week 2.

Go Bears!