With Sweet Dreams and Even Sweeter Days

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Classic Pumpkin Pie

For the past two years, each autumn pumpkin and I... we've been doing a dance.

For the first couple months of fall there is absolutely no pumpkin to be found anywhere in my area, and I mean anywhere.  I spend my days stopping by random supermarkets just to check and see if they have any, but to no avail.

I also spend those days looking at my different pumpkin recipes and yearning for all of them, all the while rationing the one can of pumpkin I bought in the spring on a whim.  And then at the end of October/beginning of November, as though nothing has even happened, pumpkin is suddenly everywhere... in massive amounts no less.

And maybe... well maybe.... I go just a little overboard.  Whether this is a clever ploy by the pumpkin people or an actual shortage that just falls at the same time every year, they have me so distressed by the time pumpkin comes out that I buy way too much.

I'm not confirming or denying that there is currently a whole shelf in my pantry solely devoted to canned pumpkin.

What I will confirm is that because of this, I have some killer pumpkin recipes coming up for you all.  If you love pumpkin like me, this is great; we're in business.  And if you don't, I promise I have many non-pumpkin options thrown in there between for you too!

This year for Thanksgiving, even though I was asked to make some gooey pumpkin butter cake, I couldn't get the thought of pumpkin pie out of my mind as well.  At first I was thinking about a Bailey's pumpkin pie (because is adding alcohol to anything ever a bad idea?), but in the end it was a classic pumpkin pie that won out in my mind.

Maybe it was nostalgia.  Just something about the holidays made me feel like this was the right choice for our table.  And it was.  Boy was it ever.

This pie is phenomenal.  Pumpkin pie is one of my absolute favorite treats and this was actually my first time making one from scratch since I started baking (my list of recipes to try is very very long).  I had a few variations in my mind to try and I'm so glad I went with this version, it exceeded my expectations on all accounts.

So even though Thanksgiving itself might be over, the holidays are a perfect time to consider giving this pie a try.  And I recommend you do just that.  Topped with some freshly made whipped cream, or just left plain in all its natural glory, this pie will make any meal very memorable.

And speaking of Thanksgiving, I'd like to take this moment to say a little bit of what I'm thankful for this year (or at least some of it... because a completed list is something I don't think I'd ever be able to finish).

-For my home, a truly warm place where everyone is welcome and laughs are present every day as well as love.
-For my family, who are always supportive no matter what life brings.

- More specifically for a mom that is always up for 8am drives to South Philadelphia just to get some donuts I heard were amazing.
-  For all my friends, who are too far spread to ever be able to combine in one picture, but who make my days not only bearable but a joy to go through.
-  For this weirdo, without whom my days would be much more calm and much more boring.

-  For all the opportunities I'm given, and the moments when I can improve on actually taking each and every one of them.
-  For this blog and the chance to do something I truly love, along with the people who enjoy reading the results of it and have encouraged me all along.
-And for something as simple as this on my iphone.

Because sometimes, this is enough. 

 I hope you all had a wonderful Thanksgiving and enjoy!

Classic Pumpkin Pie
Servings: 8-10

- 1 pie crust, rolled out and fitted to a 9-inch pie plate

- 2 eggs
- 1 cup packed light brown sugar
- 1 Tbsp cornstarch
- 1/2 tsp salt
- 1 tsp ground ginger
- 1 tsp ground cinnamon
- pinch of ground cloves
- 1 1/2 cups canned pure pumpkin (not pumpkin pie mix)
- 1 1/2 cups evaporated milk
(whipped cream for serving - optional)

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.  Poke holes in the bottom of pie all over with fork.  Place in freezer for 15 minutes.  Line pie with tinfoil and pour in baking beads, (or dried beans or rice) and bake for 20 minutes.  Remove foil and beads and bake an additional 10 minutes more.  Let cool completely and in the meantime, start making the filling.  Keep oven at 375 degrees.  In a bowl whisk together sugar, cornstarch, salt, ginger, cinnamon, cloves, pumpkin, and eggs.  When combined, add evaporated milk and mix until smooth.  Pour into partially baked pie crust (mine almost overflowed so i left a smidgen of the filling out - use your best judgement).  If a large amount bubbles converge in the center of the of the pie, skim these off before putting it in the oven.  This will look slightly like foam and if left with make the pie less beautiful.  (Of course this is totally optional but it really does make for a much more beautiful pie and only takes a few seconds.)  Place pie in oven and bake for 35-40 minutes, or until the edges are set and the center is only slightly wobbly (mine took around 40).  Let cool completely and then refrigerate until serving, topping with whipped cream if desired right before serving.  Enjoy!

Recipe adapted from: Martha Stewart's Pies and Tarts

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Raspberry Mascarpone Tart

I love to shop.  Lord knows I love to shop.  Especially for clothes.

Thankfully I'm pretty good when it comes to following my own personal rules of shopping, the first being "If you don't love it, don't buy it." and secondly, when all else fails, "If you can't imagine wearing this tomorrow, don't buy it."

And truthfully, I'm a champ at following these rules... at least in that particular arena.  When it comes to baking supplies, however, let's just say I have a little more work to do.

I bought a 9-inch removable bottom tart part around November of 2009, with the intention of making a tart for my family that Thanksgiving.... since then I've used this tart pan.... 2 times.

But in my defense I had my heart set on making this particular tart for ages, and for the life of me could not find mascarpone cheese.

Mascarpone cheese - the cheese of angels.  
(Photo credit.)  

And one of the primary reasons I could never be a vegan.  (The others being Brie, Mozzarella, and Muenster.... just to name a few).  I totally support the idea of veganism, but I also support the idea of sitting down with my tub of mascarpone cheese and inducing total bliss.

Hey - this is real.  This is genuine.  This is no qualms.

If you haven't tried mascarpone, think of it as a less tangy cream cheese.  Subtle, yet perfect for spreading on toast with jam, on crackers, or as an ingredient like here.  More recently I have been able to find it even at my local grocery store, so now there's nothing holding me back from mascarpone's power anymore.

I made this tart over the summer (as you can tell by the pretty greenery of my backyard that is no more for the winter), and somehow it just slipped through the cracks of posting.  Through no fault of its own however.  This tart is fantastic.

It starts with a sugar cookie like crust, that was quite honestly one of my favorite parts of the whole finished product.  While most crusts leave me blah, I literally could have eaten this all by itself.

That is then topped with a mascarpone, honey, and agave nectar filling.  Feel free to substitute all honey or all agave nectar at this point, but personally I think this combination hits the mark just right.  (Agave nectar can be found in the international food aisle of most supermarkets)

I choose raspberries to top my tart, but the other beauty of this particular dessert is that most fruits would be a delicious substitute as well.  Blueberries?  Blackberries?  Thinly sliced pears?  You can't go wrong.

So if you're looking for something different to grace your Thanksgiving table this week, or something to go alongside the usual pumpkin pie, consider giving this a try.

But if you end up falling hard for mascarpone cheese as well.... don't say you haven't been warned.

Raspberry Mascarpone Tart
Servings: 8-10


For crust:
-1 egg yolk
-2 Tbsp very cold water
-1 tsp pure vanilla extract
-1 1/4 cups flour
-1/3 cup sugar
-1/4 tsp. salt
-8 Tbsp unsalted butter (cold), cut into cubes 

For filling:
-2/3 cup mascarpone cheese
-1/2 cup sour cream
-1/6 cup honey
-1/6 cup agave nectar
-1/2 tsp pure vanilla extract
-Pinch ground nutmeg

For topping:
Approx 12 oz fresh raspberries (or fruit of your choosing)

To make crust in a small bowl combine egg yolk, water, and vanilla.  Stir briefly with fork.  In the bowl of an electric mixer combine flour, salt, and sugar.  Place in butter cubes and beat until mixture resembles coarse crumbs.  Add egg mixture and beat gently until combined.  Pat into disk, wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 1 hr.  Preheat oven to 425 degrees.  Roll out prepared dough on a well floured work surface until it is large enough to fit a 9-inch tart pan with a removable bottom and approx 1/8 in thick.  (Be sure to flip the dough while rolling to prevent sticking.)  Transfer dough to tart pan press gently into it, trimming excess.  Cover dough with foil and fill with pie weights (or dried beans).  Bake for 5 min.  Reduce temp to 350 degrees.  Remove foil and beads, and with a fork poke holes all over in dough.  Bake crust 15-20 min more (or until golden).  Transfer to a wire rack and let cool completely.

To make filling combine mascarpone, honey, agave, sour cream, in a clean bowl with an electric mixer.  Beat until smooth, then adding vanilla extract and nutmeg.  Spread topping into tart and smooth.  Top with fresh fruit of your choosing.  Remove from tart pan, place on a serving platter and enjoy.

Recipe adapted from: Annies Eats

Monday, November 14, 2011

Chocolate Chip Scones

Breakfast treats are some of my absolutely favorite things to make.

Sometimes I think I like them even better than desserts.  There's just something so awesome about eating a homemade baked good for breakfast; to me it screams weekend, relaxation, happiness.

Unfortunately, lately I haven't been able to make breakfast treats on the weekends much at all.  A full course load of classwork along with my two jobs and trying to see my friends and family for fun times have left my weekends spent running around... as opposed to having some time to whip up something fancy for breakfast.

So on a day when I was feeling particularly bugged about this, I did what any self-respecting 22 year old girl would do.

I whipped them up at 3pm in the afternoon and ate them regardless.  

These scones are huge with the just the right amount of sweetness.  They were perfect to snack on one afternoon this October as I watched the snow fall.

"this October as I watched the snow fall"

Our backyard at the beginning of the October freak snow storm.

We ended up getting about 7-8 inches that day and it was absolutely ridiculous.  Snow? In October?  What?

And it was 70 degrees out today.  My only explanation is that the world is going mad.

Even though I wasn't able to make these scones to enjoy on a lazy weekend in, I still loved them that afternoon as I stewed over the fact the world just doesn't make sense some days.

Something I seem to be learning more and more every year.

If you have the time to make breakfast on the weekends, definitely give these a try.

And if you're like me and don't, I promise they taste just as stellar at 3pm in the afternoon.

Break the rules.  Be that person.  Who doesn't love that person?

Once winter break rolls around though, you can expect plenty more breakfast treats from these parts.  I'm not saying for sure, but there might be some Funfetti cinnamon rolls in your future.

Whatever may come, you can bet it's going to be good.


Chocolate Chip Scones
Servings: 10-12

- 1 1/2 cups and 2 Tbsp flour
- 1/4 cup sugar
- 2 tsp baking powder
- dash of salt
- 1 Tbsp unsalted butter (melted)
- 1 cup semisweet chocolate chips 
- 1 cup heavy cream
- 2 Tbsp unsalted butter (melted)
Sugar for sprinkling.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Line a baking sheet with parchment paper or a silicon baking mat (I love my silapats, worth the investment ten-fold.)  In a medium bowl combine flour, sugar, baking powder, and salt.  Whisk to combine.  Pour in chocolate chips and toss to blend.  Create a small well in the center of the bowl.  Pour in 1 Tbsp butter and heavy cream.  Stir until just combined.  Using a large dough scoop (or two spoons) drop scones on baking sheet in mounds (should create 10-12 depending on size).  Brush with remaning 2 Tbsp butter and sprinkle tops with sugar.  Bake for 15-18 minutes (until tops are lightly brown) rotating pan halfway through.  Let cool completely on a wire rack.  Serve and enjoy.

Recipe adapted from:  Annie's Eats

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Sopapilla Cheesecake Bars

I've been having a love affair lately.

A love affair with easy desserts.

I really love baking in general so much, and I do get a kick out of putting together a multi-layer step fancy dessert... but lately my life has just said "No way." and, "Sorry Mary, that just isn't going to work right now."

With working and school and actually having a life, me and easy desserts just started meeting on the side.  And somewhere along the line, we really hit off.

It reminded me of when I was a little girl and my mom used to say to me "You can fall in love with a poor man just as easily as a rich man".  Or maybe it was, "You can fall in love with a rich man just as easily as a poor man"?  

..... We just can't say for sure......

My appended statement to those quotes would have to be:

"You can fall in love with an easy dessert just as easily as a difficult dessert."

At least with a dessert as fabulous as this you can.

Hook line and sinker.  

Sopapilla is traditionally a Mexican dessert of fried pastry dough, a dessert I am sad to say I have never tried myself.  If you have tried Sopapilla and make the variation shown here, please let me know how they compare!  All I know is these are absolutely divine, just as they are.

Crescent rolls + cream cheese + butter + cinnamon sugar = bliss.

(The bliss where you go all weak in the knees and can't stop smiling and start looking 
around for a hidden camera because you don't believe something so simple could be so good.)

So if you're not into involved desserts or baking in general, see how much of a cinch these are to whip up.  See how delicious the end result is.  See how much you're adored.

And if you're only into complex desserts (is anyone out there only into complex desserts?), give these a try and maybe just maybe you'll be converted.

As for me, I'll be ok.  This love affair doesn't look like it'll be dwindling anytime soon and with desserts as easy and delicious as this, I see no reason to break it off myself.

Real life: easy doesn't always mean subpar.

Real life: easy can sometimes mean superb. 

Make these.  You have no reason not to.  And.... go!

Sopapilla Cheesecake Bars
Servings: 10-12

- 1 can crescent rolls
- 1 (8 oz) package cream cheese (softened)
- 1/2 cup sugar
- 1/2 tsp vanilla
- 1/4 cup unsalted butter (melted)

- 1/4 cup sugar
- 1/2 Tbsp cinnamon

Preheat oven to 350.  Unroll can of crescent rolls and split dough in half.  Lay half on bottom of an 8x8 baking dish.   Stretch to make sure it covers the whole bottom and pinch so it has no holes.  Pinch seams closed as well.  In a bowl with an electric mixer combine cream cheese, 1/2 cup sugar, and vanilla, and beat until smooth.  Spread over the crescent rolls.  Top with remaining crescent rolls, being sure to stretch it across the whole pan, and pinching seams closed.  In a bowl combine 1/4 cup sugar and 1/2 Tbsp cinnamon for topping.  Pour melted butter on top of crescent rolls and sprinkle liberally with cinnamon sugar mixture, using it all and making sure no spots are left uncovered.  Bake for 28-32 minutes (rotating halfway through) until the top is golden brown.  Let cool on a wire rack for at least 30 min before refrigerating.  Refrigerate for at least 1 hr before cutting.  Cut and serve and prepare to be wowed.  Enjoy!

Recipe adapted from:  Cookies and Cups

Monday, November 7, 2011

Gooey Pumpkin Butter Cake

I am lucky enough to have two wonderful dogs in my life right now.  I have my baby Sadie, who you can see a picture of in this post here, and then I have my mom's dog Ted.

We adopted Ted from the Trenton SPCA when I was a junior in high school and although we adopted him as a family, he is truly no one else's dog but my mom's.

If you were to take all the dreams left unfufilled in the world and all the stars wished upon not come true... and wrap them up in an 8lb dog, that is Ted.

Ted was approximately 5 years old when we adopted him back in 2007, and we don't know anything of his life or story before then..... but in this time I've been gathering some clues.

1.) Ted was found abandoned in a Taco Bell parking lot... or at least that's where he was picked up by animal control.
2.) Whenever there are gunshots on television Ted goes ballistic, like he's ready for battle.
3.) Ted hates sneezes.

This has lead me to more than one conclusion.  

"Ted have you come from some hard-core life where you were the watchdog, keeping an eye for someone coming to break up the scene?  Was sneezing the signal that something had gone awry with the situation?  Did your crew high-tail it out of there and leave you that night in the Taco Bell parking lot?"

So far in his retirement here, he's not talking.

If only your badass friends could see you now Ted.

Even though Sadie and Ted are polar opposite dogs, I couldn't imagine my life without the two of them. And dressing Ted up for Halloween as a pumpkin certainly made eating gooey pumpkin butter cake that much better.

Wait, this blog is about food right?  Sometimes I seem to forget.

This gooey pumpkin butter cake is one of the best things I have made all fall, thus far.  It was actually so great that I was asked to make it for Thanksgiving in lieu of a pumpkin pie (or any other dessert for that matter).

The use of cake mix in the crust makes it a cinch to whip up, and while I'm a huge fan of butter cake on a whole, I think the addition of pumpkin brings it to a whole new level and makes the perfect variation for the changing seasons.

It was great still warm from the oven, but I personally preferred it after it had sat in the refrigerator for a few hours.  I actually had a "moment" when I took it out the next day and stole a few bites.  However you choose to serve it though, the important thing is that you do.

An absolutely fabulous fall dessert that requires minimal effort.  A must try in my book.  It will be making plenty more appearances in my home for sure.


Gooey Pumpkin Butter Cake
Servings: 8-10

For Crust: 
1/2 bag of yellow cake mix
4 Tbsp unsalted butter, melted
1 egg
For Filling:
4oz cream cheese, softened
7.5 oz pure pumpkin puree (I used canned and love it)
2 eggs
1/2 tsp vanilla
4 Tbsp unsalted butter, melted
2 cups powdered sugar
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp nutmeg

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  With an electric mixer combine cake mix, butter, and egg.  Pat into 8x8 pan and set aside.  In a separate bowl with an electric mixer beat together cream cheese and pumpkin until smooth.  Beat in eggs, vanilla, and butter until smooth.  Beat in powdered sugar as well as cinnamon and nutmeg and pour into pan.  Bake for 42-47 minutes (sides should be brown and center only slightly jiggly).  Cool and serve, or place in refrigerator for up to 1 day and serve.  Enjoy!

Recipe adapted from: Baking Junkie

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Jack Skellington Cupcakes

Scary movies, simply put, are not my thing.

I think in my 22 years of life, I have seen a total of 4 or 5 scary movies.

My first attempt was in 6th grade at a slumber party in a completely well-lit basement.  I had heard great things about "The Sixth Sense" and figured, "How bad could it be?  It's not about monsters or murders or anything THAT scary."

For a person who lives in an older home that creaks during the night, this was an amateur move.  Sure I was just fine that whole day... but come that night... big trouble.

I stayed far far away from scary movies after that until my 19th birthday.  After being taken out to dinner by some friends, they offered to have a movie marathon in a completely darkened basement (should've been my first sign).  The selections?  "Saw I" and "Saw II".  7 years had passed.  I figured it couldn't be as bad as before, right?

I'll let you figure out how sleeping at 3:30am worked out for me that night.

I came this close to seeing "Paranormal Activity" a few years ago, with a boyfriend at the time, but by some chance of fate we arrived 20 minutes late.  I thank my lucky stars we saw "The Hangover" instead that night.  

My sleep filled nights thank my lucky stars we saw "The Hangover" that night.

I'll take my dose of adrenaline in the form of roller coasters and skydiving and bungee-jumping any day thank you very much.  That is the level I can work at.  Adrenaline that lets me sleep at night.

These cupcakes are my kind of level of scary.  They're almost cute.  

What?  You didn't realize scary and cute could co-exist in the same baked good?  Welcome to my world.

Jack Skellington is the iconic character from "The Nightmare Before Christmas", and although I've never seen this movie (don't worry, it's on my list to watch), I've heard so much buzz about it and seen so many Night Before Christmas treats that I knew I had to try some for myself.

The way to make the icing so smooth is to melt it slightly in the microwave and then dip each cupcake in it.  It is one of my favorite ways to decorate cupcakes - I think the end result is awesome.  The full instructions are listed below if you want to try it out.  If not spreading the icing on as is works just fine too.

These were so easy and so adorable it was almost scary! (went there - don't regret it one bit)  Though Halloween may be over for this year, these treats are still a perfect way to bridge the gap between now and the holidays that are coming up soon.

And while you're busy making them I'll get busy watching "The Nightmare Before Christmas" for the first time.  But most likely in the middle of the afternoon.

...With all the lights on....

Preferably with a strong person in tow.  Oh yes.

Baby steps.


Jack Skellington Cupcakes
Servings: 12

- 12 Vanilla Cupcakes (omit cherry pie filling) baked in white paper liners
- 1 Batch Basic Vanilla Buttercream (using only clear vanilla extract)
- Black gel food coloring

Bake cupcakes as directed and let cool completely.  Tint 1/3 cup buttercream black with black gel food coloring (available at craft stores).  

Put the rest of buttercream in a shallow microwavable bowl (a cereal bowl worked just fine for me) and microwave on high for 5-10 seconds.  Take out and stir.  Repeat until icing resembles lightly whipped cream.  (Thin enough to have cupcakes dipped in but thick enough to stay on the cupcake once it's dipped.  Mine took about 15-20 seconds, stirring every 5-10 seconds)  If you overshoot and icing becomes too thin, place in refrigerator and let it firm up some before continuing.  My advice is to take it slow, you can always add more time in the microwave, you can't take it away.  Dip all cupcakes once (or twice) and let harden somewhat (will happen naturally in 15-30 minutes or stick in the freezer for 5 min).  Place black tinted icing in a plastic decorators bag with a small open circle tip.  Pipe eyes and mouth onto cupcakes referring to a picture if necessary.  The best way I found to do this was to trace a light line with a toothpick into the cupcake and to then trace with the icing.  If you're really great at freehand icing work, then totally feel free to skip.  If not, this really helped me.  Decorate and let firm up for 5-10 minutes.

Serve and enjoy.

(I did not adapt my decorating of these cupcakes from anywhere.  This is simply my way of doing it.  A Mary original.  This does not imply I came up with the idea for the cupcakes though. I'm sure there are other variations around.)