Thanksgiving Desserts

Hope you all had a wonderful Thanksgiving filled with delicious food and joyous times with loved ones. This year I spent the day at a friend’s house enjoying said delicious food and joyous times – although I did cook a turkey the following day. At this point though I am kind of turkeyed out! I didn’t go empty handed to the Thanksgiving celebration though; I brought the dessert… three pies, a cheesecake and a chocolate cake. What can I say, I love to bake!

Among the pies was a Pumpkin Pie that I decorated using Fall themed pie cutters. Then there was a Sweet Potato Pie that I decorated with a leaf border. I made this pie because I had never tried sweet potato pie and was curious what the fuss was all about, it was good, but, I am partial to pumpkin. And finally an Apple Pie that I gave a nice twisted pie crust design.

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For the Cheesecake I stuck to a basic recipe that was a hit and topped it with sugared cranberries. The cranberries were so good that I ended up eating the leftovers like they were candy.

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And finally, the Chocolate Cake. The cake had a pumpkin spice mousse filling – it was super simple to make and delish thanks to a box of Jell-O Pumpkin Spice Pudding Mix – and frosted it with chocolate frosting. And to give it a Fall theme I topped it with white chocolate leaves in seasonal colors.

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Maple Walnut Cheesecake

You can pretty much find cheesecake in any flavor these days. Have you ever been to the Cheesecake Factory? Looking at their endless list of options can make you cross-eyed. While there is nothing wrong with the classic, whether you like yours made with ricotta cheese or cream cheese, sometimes you want a cheesecake with an extra hint of flavor and something a little different. Hence me trying out a recipe for a Maple Walnut Cheesecake. Those flavors just seem synonymous with the Fall season and with Thanksgiving just a few days away this may be a good option for you to serve for those guests who are just not into Apple or Pumpkin Pie.

I began by making the crust. I pulsed a sleeve of graham crackers – 9 crackers – in my food processor until they were crushed. I then added in walnuts and brown sugar and continued pulsing the mixture until it was finely ground. Finally I added in melted butter, salt and nutmeg and continued pulsing the mixture until it was combined. Following that I pressed it into the bottom and about an inch up the side of a 9-inch springform pan that I wrapped with aluminum foil. I then baked it in the middle rack of a preheated 350 F oven. On the lower rack of the oven I placed a roasting rack filled halfway with water. Once the crust was light golden, about 10 minutes, I transferred the crust to a wire rack to cool. Once it was cool it was time to make the filling…

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To make the filling I began by creaming together 4 8 oz. packages of room temperature cream cheese in my stand mixer until it was smooth. I then added in maple syrup and granulated sugar. Following that 4 eggs, one at a time. And finally flour, heavy cream, lemon juice and vanilla extract. The original recipe called for maple extract, but, since the recipe only called for a quarter of a teaspoon I didn’t want to buy an ingredient that I was certain I wouldn’t use again anytime soon, if ever.

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Once the filling was ready I poured it into the cooled crust and then placed the cheesecake in the oven directly over the roasting pan with water.

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After baking for about an hour I transferred the cheesecake to a wire rack to cool to room temperature. I knew it was ready because it was set around the edges but slightly jiggly in the middle. After it cooled I covered it with aluminum foil and refrigerated it overnight.

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The following day before removing the springform ring I let the cheesecake sit at room temperature for an hour and then ran a knife along the edges. The ring came off without incident (i.e. no sides of the cheesecake were ripped). I couldn’t wait to enjoy a slice and while the cheesecake was perfectly creamy it didn’t have much of a maple flavor in my opinion. I’m not sure if that’s because I didn’t use the maple extract or because it is meant to be more of a subtle flavor as opposed to one that overpowers the cheesecake. One thing that did stand out was the walnuts in the graham cracker crust; it added a nice nutty flavor.

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Maple Walnut Cheesecake

Ingredients:

For the Crust:

1 sleeve graham crackers, 9 crackers

3/4 cup walnut pieces

1/3 cup light brown sugar

4 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted

Pinch of nutmeg

Pinch of Kosher salt

For the Filling:

4 8-ounce packages cream cheese, at room temperature

3/4 cup pure maple syrup

1/2 cup granulated sugar

4 large eggs

3 tablespoons all-purpose flour

1/2 cup heavy cream

1 tablespoon lemon juice

1/4 teaspoon maple extract*

*I opted to use vanilla extract

Directions:

Fill a roasting pan halfway with water and set on a rack in the lower third of the oven, position another rack in the middle of the oven and preheat the oven to 350 F. Wrap the bottom of a 9-inch springform pan with aluminum foil.

To make the crust; pulse the graham crackers in a food processor a few times until crushes. Add in the walnut and brown sugar and continue pulsing until finely ground. Add in the melted butter, nutmeg and salt and pulse to combine. Press into the bottom and about 1-inch up the side of the prepared springform pan. Bake until the crust is lightly golden, about 10 minutes. Transfer to a wire rack to cool completely.

To make the filling; beat the cream cheese in a stand mixer with the paddle attachment on medium speed until smooth, about 1 minute. Add the maple syrup and granulated sugar and beat until smooth, about 2 minutes. Add the eggs, one at a time, beating after each one. Increase the speed to medium high and beat in the flour, heavy cream and lemon juice and extract until the filling is smooth and silky, about 1 minute.

Pour the filling into the cooled crust and transfer the cheesecake to the oven directly over the water bath. Bake until golden and set around the edges and slightly jiggly in the middle, about 60 -70 minutes. Transfer to a wire rack and let cool to room temperature, then cover and refrigerate until cold and set, at least 5 hours or overnight. Let the cheesecake sit at room temperature for 20 minutes, then run a knife around the edges and remove the springform ring.

Recipe from the Food Network

Key Lime Cheesecake

After making Coconut & Lime Cupcakes last week to celebrate Cinco de Mayo I had quite a few key limes left over. While I normally would just whip up a delicious Key Lime Pie I opted to go a different route and used the key limes to create a Key Lime Cheesecake making a few adjustments – mainly adding in some key lime juice and zest – to the deliciously creamy and not overly sweet cheesecake I made in honor of Pi Day a few months ago.

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I wasn’t sure how much lime juice and zest to add to achieve the perfect balance in flavor. I figured a safe bet would be a 1/4 cup of juice and a teaspoon of the zest and luckily it was the perfect amount. Since I added both prior to mixing in the eggs I was able to do a quick taste test to ensure it would be the right amount.

And after letting the cheesecake cool and removing it from the springform pan, I decided to make some candied lime slices to decorate the top of it to give the cheesecake a little extra pizazz.

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Overall, this cheesecake was amazing! Those were the words a few of my friends used after trying it and I must admit it was quite delicious; the perfect balance of sweetness and tanginess and incredibly creamy. And you can never go wrong with a homemade graham cracker crust!

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Key Lime Cheese Cake – modified from here

Ingredients:

18 graham crackers (2 sleeves)

1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, melted

1/4 teaspoon kosher salt

1 cup plus 4 tablespoons sugar

3 8-oz. packages cream cheese, at room temperature

1/4 cup key lime juice

1 teaspoon key lime zest

2 cups sour cream, at room temperature

1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract

3 large eggs, at room temperature

Directions:

1. Preheat oven to 325 F. In a food processor pulse the graham crackers until fine crumbs form. Add the butter, salt and 2 tablespoons of the sugar and pulse to combine. Press the mixture on the bottom and 2-inches up the side of a 9-inch springform pan.

2. Use an electric mixer to beat the cream cheese and 1 cup of sugar until smooth. Add the key lime juice and zest and then add 1 cup of the sour cream and 1 teaspoon of the vanilla extract and continue beating until combined. Beat in the eggs, one at a time. Pour the mixture into the prepared crust and bake until just set (the center will be slightly wobbly), 50 to 60 minutes.

3. In a small bowl combine the remaining 1 cup of sour cream, 2 tablespoons of sugar and 1/2 teaspoon of vanilla extract. Spread over the hot cheesecake, then bake until set, 3 to 5 minutes more. Let cool to room temperature in pan, then refrigerate for at least 2 hours. Run a knife around the edge of cheesecake before unmolding.

Candied Limes

Ingredients: 

3 limes, sliced thin

1 cup water

1 cup sugar, plus a few tablespoons to coat the candied slices

Directions:

1. Blanch the lime slices. Fill a medium-sized saucepan with water and bring to a boil. Meanwhile prepare an ice water bath. Once the water is boiling add the lime slices and boil for 2-3 minutes. Drain the slices and place them in the ice water bath.

2. In the same pot bring the cup of water and sugar to a simmer and then add the lime slices and simmer them until the pith of the limes become translucent, then transfer the lime slices to a wire rack so they can cool and dry. Place a piece of parchment paper or wax paper below the wire rack just in case the limes begin to drip..

3. Once the limes are dry, at least an hour, pour a few tablespoons of sugar into a shallow bowl and press both sides of the lime slices into the sugar.

Cheesecake… Is it a Pie or a Cake?

Well, for today the answer to that question is going to be pie in honor of Pi Day! Yes, it’s the day that Math lovers around the world celebrate in honor of Pi, the irrational number (meaning it cannot be written as the ratio of two integers) that begins with 3.14 and goes on infinitely. This year’s Pi Day is extra special though because it only comes around once every 100 years… The first five numbers of Pi Day is the date (3/14/15) and to go even further at the time 9:26:53 you will have the first ten numbers of Pi in sequence, i.e. 3.141592653. Okay, I’ll stop being a Math geek now and go back to the pie. The idea of cheesecake falling under the pie category isn’t too much a stretch, especially for this cheesecake. Pies tend to have a crust and this one has a graham cracker crust and they also have a filling, the cheesecake part. Okay, maybe it is a tad bit of a stretch, but, I really couldn’t think of a pie I wanted to make but I have wanted to make a cheesecake.

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I began by making the crust… Using a food processor I ground up 18 graham crackers until they were fine crumbs. I then added in a stick of melted butter, sugar and salt and pulse to combine them. Following that I pressed the crumbs into the bottom and approximately 2-inches up the side of a 9-inch springform pan.

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Next I moved on to make the actual cheesecake. Using a stand mixer I beat three 8-oz. bars of cream cheese with a cup of sugar until it was smooth. It’s important to use room temperature cream cheese to ensure you won’t have any lumps in the mixture.

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I then added in a cup of room temperature sour cream and a teaspoon of vanilla extract; beating until these two ingredients were well incorporated.

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And finally I added in three eggs, one at a time.

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Before pouring it into the crust, I gave the cream cheese mixture a few stirs with a rubber spatula to make sure all of the ingredients were blended together well. I tend to find that sometimes ingredients are left on the bottom of the bowl of the stand mixer untouched since the paddle attachment doesn’t fully hit the bottom of the bowl.

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After pouring the cream cheese mixture into the prepared crust I baked it in a preheated 325 F oven for about an hour; until it was set but still wobbly in the center.

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A few minutes before removing the cheesecake from the oven I combined a cup of sour cream, a few tablespoons of sugar and vanilla extract in a bowl. I was happy that the cheesecake didn’t have any cracks in it – that normally happens when I bake cheesecakes.

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I then spread this sour cream mixture over the cheesecake and then placed the cheesecake back in the oven for about five minutes.

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The cheesecake right out of the oven… I let it cool for a few hours before covering it and placing it in the refrigerator.

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I ended up leaving it in the refrigerator overnight and then added some sliced strawberries on top of it the following morning in the shape of the Greek letter used to represent “Pi.” I had to validate this being a Pi Day pie somehow!

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And how did it taste… It was perfectly creamy and not overly sweet! A winning combination for the perfect cheesecake!

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Classic Cheesecake

Ingredients:

18 graham crackers (2 sleeves)

1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, melted

1/4 teaspoon kosher salt

1 cup plus 4 tablespoons sugar

3 8-oz. packages cream cheese, at room temperature

2 cups sour cream, at room temperature

1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract

3 large eggs, at room temperature

Directions:

1. Preheat oven to 325 F. In a food processor pulse the graham crackers until fine crumbs form. Add the butter, salt and 2 tablespoons of the sugar and pulse to combine. Press the mixture on the bottom and 2-inches up the side of a 9-inch springform pan.

2. Use an electric mixer to beat the cream cheese and 1 cup of sugar until smooth. Add 1 cup of the sour cream and 1 teaspoon of the vanilla extract and continue beating until combined. Beat in the eggs, one at a time. Pour the mixture into the prepared crust and bake until just set (the center will be slightly wobbly), 50 to 60 minutes.

3. In a small bowl combine the remaining 1 cup of sour cream, 2 tablespoons of sugar and 1/2 teaspoon of vanilla extract. Spread over the hot cheesecake, then bake until set, 3 to 5 minutes more. Let cool to room temperature in pan, then refrigerate for at least 2 hours. Run a knife around the edge of cheesecake before unmolding.

 

Sweetened Ricotta Cheesecake

Unbeknownst to me July 30th was National Cheesecake Day and coincidentally that day (I’m a little behind in my postings!) I decided to try out a Ricotta Cheesecake recipe from Marcela Valladolid that I came across in People magazine. What interested me in the recipe was that instead of using sugar as the sweetener it uses sweetened condensed milk. It was also super simple to follow which is always a plus.
 
I started off by making the crust. While I know there are traditionalist out there who like to crush their own graham crackers to make their crust – I’ve done it a few times and this recipe actually called for that as well – I am not a big fan of graham crackers so buying a box of them is a waste so I opt to buy them already crushed and ready to use for the specific purpose of making a crust.
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Along with my graham cracker crumbs I needed butter and sugar for the crust.
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I mixed all of the ingredients together….
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And then pressed the crumbs into the bottom of a 9-inch springform pan and about an inch and a half up the sides.
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After baking for 7 minutes I let the crust cool while I got to working on the cheesecake filling.
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The ingredients were basic: cream cheese, ricotta cheese, sweetened condensed milk, eggs, vanilla extract and orange zest.
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I started by beating together the cream cheese and the sweetened condensed milk.
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Following that I added in the ricotta cheese, vanilla extract and orange zest.
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Prior to adding in the eggs I couldn’t resist the temptation of trying the filling and I found it to be awfully sweet and was concerned that the final product would be so as well, but, after adding in each of the four eggs individually the sweetness level of the filling dropped considerably. While I know some people would say it’s not a smart idea to try batter with raw eggs in it I haven’t got sick yet… I’m going to go knock on some wood now!
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And finally I poured the filling into the cooled crust.
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After baking for about 50 minutes in a 350 degrees oven the cheesecake was done and looked perfect – yes, it’s a little brown, but, it didn’t crack which I was very happy about!
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I did attempt to make a quick strawberry topping for the cheesecake by heating strawberry jam, sugar and fresh strawberries in a saucepan on the stove, but, it was a completely fail. I believe the jam I used wasn’t the best quality and it produced a horrible flavor. Luckily though the cheesecake was perfect on its own.
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Ricotta Cheesecake
by Marcela Valladolid
 
18 cinnamon-sugar graham crackers
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, melted
8 oz. cream cheese, softened
1 (14 oz.) can condensed milk
15 oz. fresh ricotta or requeson cheese
1 tbsp. vanilla extract
1 tsp. fresh orange zest
4 large eggs
 
1. Adjust oven rack to middle position. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
2. Process graham crackers in food processor until finely crumbled. Add butter; process until blended. Pat crumbs over bottom and 1 1/2 inches up sides of a 9-inch springform pan. Place on baking sheet; bake 10 minutes until golden. Cool completely.
3. Beat cream cheese and condensed milk at medium speed in bowl of electric mixer until smooth. Add ricotta, vanilla, and orange zest; beat until smooth. Add eggs 1 at a time, beating well after each addition.
4. Pour mixture into cooled crust. Bake 50 minutes until cheesecake is puffed and golden and a tester inserted 1 inch from center comes out clean. Cool on wire rack for 35 minutes. Cover and chill at least 2 hours. Serve at room temperature.

Bite-Sized Goodness

As they say good things come in small packages and bite sized treats are no exception. You get all the flavor in a nice small portion. For Mother’s Day I decided to bake up some small treats as opposed to a large cake or pie and it was an overall hit.

First up are Mini Chocolate-Chip Cheesecakes. I came across this recipe a few years ago in a now defunct magazine and it was an instant hit amongst my friends. It’s been a while since I’ve made them so needless to say they didn’t last all that long.

I started off by making the cheesecake part of the bites by mixing together cream cheese, an egg and sugar. I then folded in the mini-chocolate chips and set this aside while I made the cake portion.

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To make the cake portion I mixed together sugar, flour, cocoa, baking soda, water, oil and vanilla.

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Now it was time to assemble the mini cheesecakes. I spooned the chocolate mixture into the muffin tins until they were half full and then dolloped about a tablespoon of the cheesecake mixture on top.

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And after baking in a 350 degrees pre-heated oven for about 20 minutes they were all done.

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Up next… Pineapple Upside-Down Bites. I clipped this recipe out of the May 2013 issue of  Everyday with Rachael Ray. The recipe sounded quick and simple and only required a few ingredients: butter, light brown sugar, maraschino cherries, pineapple and yellow cake mix.

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I started off by preparing the cake mix per the directions on the package. The recipe actually calls for a 16.5oz box of cake mix, but since the recipe states that there would be cake batter left over I decided to use a smaller bag that is meant for 12 cupcakes or an 8×8 cake.

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Up next it was time to prepare the muffin tin for the pineapple portion of these mini bites.

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I spooned a 1/2 teaspoon of melted butter into each cup of the tin and then layered a 1/2 teaspoon of brown sugar, a cherry piece and a layer of pineapple on top of it. Also, while the recipe didn’t call for it I sprayed the muffin tin with baking spray to ensure that the bites wouldn’t stick to it.

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I then spooned about a tablespoon of cake batter into each cup and then baked it in a 350 degrees preheated oven for 12 minutes.

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Once out of the oven I inverted the muffin tin on a baking sheet so the pineapple bites could cool.

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They tasted as good as they looked…

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Mini Chocolate-Chip Cheesecakes

Makes about 4 dozen

1 1/2 lbs (2 12-oz packages) cream cheese

1 egg

1 1/3 cups sugar

1 1/4 mini chocolate chips

1 1/2 cups flour

1/4 cup cocoa

1 tsp baking soda

1 cup water

1/3 vegetable oil

1 tsp vanilla

1. In a bowl, mix cream cheese, egg and 1/3 cup sugar

2. Add mini chocolate chips

3. In another bowl, mix remaining sugar with flour, cocoa, baking soda, water, oil and vanilla

4. Spoon chocolate mixture into mini muffin cups until half full

5. Place 1 teaspoon cream cheese mixture on top of each cupcake

6. Bake at 350 degrees for about 20 minutes or until top springs back when gently pressed

7. Cool on rack for 10 minutes before serving

 

Pineapple Upside-Down Bites

Makes 24

Prep 30 Minutes

Bake 15 Minutes

1/4 cup unsalted butter, melted

1/4 cup (packed) light brown sugar

5 maraschino cherries, quartered

1/3 cup diced pineapple, patted dry

1 box (16.5oz) yellow cake mix, prepared into batter

1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. In the cups of two 12-cup mini muffin tins, layer 1/2 teaspoon butter, 1/2 teaspoon brown sugar, a cherry piece, a single layer of pineapple (about 5 pieces) and about 1 tablespoon cake batter (cups should be about two-thirds full; save remaining cake batter for another use).

2. Bake until golden-brown and a toothpick comes out clean when inserted into the center of the cupcakes, about 12 minutes. Immediately run a knife around the edge of each cake and invert to cool on a baking sheet. Serve warm or at room temperature.

Cinco De Mayo Treats

Happy Cinco De Mayo! In honor of the day I decided to make a Sopapilla Cheesecake and Mexican Wedding Cookies. While it probably would have been more traditional to make Churros or a Tres Leches Cake… I attempted to make Churros in the past and the end result wasn’t all that great and while I have wanted to make a Tres Leches Cake for quite some time, I was already planning on making a Strawberry Shortcake for my dad’s birthday this weekend so I figured one cake per weekend is more than enough. When Sopapilla is made as a dessert it is essentially fried dough with something sweet drizzled on it – a fruit sauce, powdered sugar, cinnamon sugar or honey. I tend to shy away from anything that needs to be fried due to past experiences (i.e. the Churros) so when I came across a cheesecake version I was excited to try it, especially since it sounded super easy and only required six simple ingredients. I actually remember eating something similar to Sopapillas when I was younger – Domplines – which I usually ate with beans. As for the Mexican Wedding Cookies, they are actually known by quite a few different names… Russian Tea Cakes, Italian Wedding Cookies, Butterballs or as they are commonly known as in Spanish Polvorones. Stemming from the Spanish word polvo – meaning powder or dust.

First up were the Mexican Wedding Cookies. I assembled all of my ingredients before I got started: butter, confectioners’ sugar, vanilla extract, flour and pecans.

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I started by creaming the butter and sugar together and then adding in the vanilla extract.

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I then added in the flour so the dough for the cookies could really come together.

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Although I did buy chopped pecans I decided to chop them up a little more to make them a more appropriate size for these bite-sized cookies.

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To add in the pecans I folded them in as opposed to mixing them in with the mixer. Now it was time to form the cookies. While these cookies are usually crescent shaped I opted to just form them into small rounds and popped them in a 275 degree F oven for 40 minutes.

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Fresh out of the oven. I must say they didn’t look that much different cooked from when they were raw.

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After letting them cool for a few minutes it was time to cover them in confectioners’ sugar.

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Once I was done with the cookies it was time to start on the Sopapilla Cheesecake. This by far was one of the simplest things I have ever made. It definitely helped that I didn’t make the dough from scratch but used crescent rolls and the filling was simply made with sugar, cream cheese and vanilla extract.

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I started off by spraying a 9×13 baking dish with cooking spray and pressing one of the two crescent rolls into it. It was quite comical trying to open the crescent rolls. I have never had a hard time unwrapping them but for some reason both of these packages didn’t want to pop open when I unwrapped them. With one of them I had to actually release the pressure in it by making punctures in it with a knife and then the second one just popped open as I was doing something else.

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To make the filling I mixed the cream cheese, sugar and vanilla extract until it was smooth.

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I then spread the filling over the bottom crescent roll and pressed the second crescent roll over it. Now it was time to add the topping.

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I brushed the top with melted butter and sprinkled the cinnamon sugar evenly over it. I must say that while the recipe called for 1/2 cup of sugar that was too much for my taste and probably only used about 1/4 cup.

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After baking for 30 minutes in a 350 degrees F oven it was time for it to come out of the oven and it looked and smelled DELISH!

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Final verdict… The cookies and cheesecake were declared to be “moreish” by my friends… Definitely a good thing to hear!

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Mexican Wedding Cookies

Courtesy Paula Deen

Ingredients

1 cup unsalted butter, at room temperature

1/2 cup confectioners’ sugar, plus more for coating baked cookies

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1 3/4 cup all-purpose flour, plus more for dusting hands

1 cup pecans, chopped into very small pieces

Directions

Preheat the oven to 275 degrees F. Line cookie sheets with parchment paper.

Using an electric mixer, cream the butter and sugar at low speed until its smooth. Beat in the vanilla. At low speed gradually add the flour. Mix in the pecans with a spatula. With floured hands, take out about 1 tablespoon of dough and shape into a crescent. Continue to dust hands with flour as you make more cookies. Place onto prepared cookie sheets. Bake for 40 minutes. When cool enough to handle but still warm, roll in additional confectioners’ sugar. Cool on wire racks.

Sopapilla Cheesecake

Courtesy Allrecipes

Ingredients

1 (8 ounce) package cream cheese, softened

1 cup white sugar

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

2 (8 ounce) packaged refrigerated crescent rolls

1/2 cup melted butter

1/2 cup white sugar

1 teaspoon ground sugar

Directions

1. Preheat an oven to 350 degrees F (175 degrees C). Prepare a 9×13 inch baking dish with cooking spray

2. Beat the cream cheese with 1 cup of sugar and the vanilla extract in a bowl until smooth; set aside

3. Unroll the cans of crescent roll dough, and use a rolling pin to shape each sheet into 9×13 rectangles. Press one sheet into the bottom of a 9×13 inch baking dish. Evenly spread the cream cheese mixture into the baking dish, then cover with the remaining piece of crescent dough, and brush with melted butter. Stir together 1/2 cup of sugar with the cinnamon in a small bowl, and sprinkle evenly over the top of the cheesecake.

4. Bake in the preheated oven until the crescent dough has puffed and turned golden brown, about 30 minutes. Allow to cool 10 minutes before serving.