Thursday, January 23, 2014

Mini Cherry Cheescakes With a Shortbread Crust

Recently, I made a TON of desserts—literally enough for a couple hundred people, when we “only” had 23 guests. I think there’s something really fun about having a big selection of desserts to choose from.
One of the desserts I made was mini cherry cheesecakes. I made a shortbread crust, topped them with cherry pie filling, and garnished them with piped whipped cream. Each cheesecake was 3-inches in diameter. To me, that is the perfect size—not too big or too small. My recipe makes around 15-16  individual-sized 3-inch cheesecakes.

Shortbread Crust:
1 cup unsalted butter
¾ cup granulated sugar
2 large egg yolks
1 ½ tsp. vanilla extract
3 cups white flour (all-purpose or unbleached)

Cream butter and sugar together. Add egg yolks and vanilla and beat until fluffy. Blend in flour. Refrigerate about 30-45 minutes to firm up dough. Lightly grease the bottoms of the pans with unsalted butter. Press about half of the dough onto the bottoms of the cheesecake pans (so that the crust is about 1/8 to 3/16 inch thick). Bake crusts in a 375 degree oven for about 10 minutes—until crusts are starting to turn golden brown around the edges. Remove from oven and let cool. When cool, lightly grease the sides of the cheesecake pans with unsalted butter. Press the remaining dough around the sides of the pans, so that the crust is about 1 ½ inches high. Refrigerate or freeze until ready to fill. (Do-ahead tip: at this point you can wrap the pans with plastic wrap and freeze until you are ready to fill the crusts.)

3 (8-oz.) pkgs. cream cheese, softened and at room temperature
1 ½ cups granulated sugar
4 large eggs
2 tsp. vanilla extract
1 cup sour cream
1 cup heavy whipping cream

Beat cream cheese and sugar together until smooth. Add eggs and vanilla and beat until fluffy. Blend in sour cream and whipping cream. Pour into prepared crusts, and bake about 30 minutes. Cheesecakes will appear “poofed up” and be golden brown on top. When done, turn off the oven and allow the cakes to cool in the open oven for about a half hour. Then remove the cakes from the oven and cool at room temperature until completely cooled. Refrigerate several hours. Then add topping and garnish.


2 cans cherry pie filling
1 pint heavy whipping cream
1/3 cup powdered sugar
1 tsp. vanilla extract
Optional: 1 packet “Whip-It” whipped cream stabilizer
Drain excess liquid from cherry pie filling. Put a heaping tablespoon worth of cherries centered on the top of each mini cheesecake. Whip the cream with the powdered sugar, vanilla extract and whipped cream stabilizer. Pipe whipped cream around the edges of each cheesecake. Refrigerate until serving time.

Here’s a photo of the mini cheesecake pans I use for this recipe:

I know of two very good manufacturers that make professional-quality 3-inch by 2-inch cheesecake pans, that are available for purchase by the home baker. One is made by Fat Daddio, and these are available from The other is available online from the WEBstaurant Store ( I have a collection of mini cheesecake pans from both manufacturers. As I mentioned in the beginning of this point, I think these pans make the perfect size mini cheesecakes. I also have 4 ½ inch springform pans, but I think these make dessert cheesecakes that are a little too large to be considered single-servings. I also have some 12 cavity pans that make 2 inch by 1.6 inch cheesecakes, but those are a little small to be considered a dessert and they are a hassle to put the crust in, plus they don’t tend to bake up as nicely in my experience (they poof up when baking and then the filling doesn’t fall back in place as nice when cooling). So I highly recommend these pans.

Enjoy your baking!

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Carrot Custard Pie

I love to bake pies. It’s my favorite dessert to serve to company. This past week I got really creative and made a pie out of carrots. It kind of tastes like pumpkin or sweet potato pie, yet a little different. My tasters love it! You might too!
Carrot Custard Pie
1 cup granulated sugar
½ tsp. salt
¼ tsp. ground ginger
¼ tsp. nutmeg
¼ tsp. cloves
1 ½ tsp. cinnamon
2 large eggs, at room temperature
2 lbs. raw carrots, cooked and pureed in food processor
1 cup heavy cream, at room temperature
½ cup light cream (half and half), at room temperature
1 deep dish (9-inch) pie shell, unbaked
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Combine sugar, salt, ginger, nutmeg, cloves and cinnamon in large mixing bowl. Add the eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition. Beat in the carrot puree. Stir in the heavy cream and half and half. Pour filling into the pie shell. Bake for 15 minutes. Reduce oven temperature to 350 degrees and bake for 45 minutes longer or until filling is set. Cool to room temperature, and then chill in the refrigerator 2-3 hours or overnight. Serve with whipped cream. Enjoy!

How to Make Roasted Pepper Ricotta Puffs

I am always looking for short-cuts and do-ahead ideas for entertaining, and for making foods that taste delicious and look “fancy” even though they’re easy to prepare. The prepared puff pastry made by manufacturers like Pepperidge Farm really fits the bill here. You can make up some fantastic appetizers and desserts using the manufactured puff pastry, and it tastes just about the same as if you spent hours making the puff pastry yourself.

Just recently I made up some Roasted Pepper Ricotta Appetizer Puffs. I used a recipe that I found in Camilla Salisbury's book, Puff Pastry Perfection, which I “tweaked” slightly. I am having a large formal dinner party in a few weeks, and I have been making up some appetizers ahead of time that I can freeze, and then just pull out of the freezer right before baking and serving time. I thought the puff pastry appetizer puffs would be a hit. I made a double batch, and I’ve already baked up a few for my sons. They like them a lot. You might too.


1 17.3 oz. pkg. frozen puff pastry, thawed

½ cup part-skim ricotta cheese

¾ cup chopped roasted sweet red pepper (from a jar)

1/2 cup grated Romano cheese

2 T. fresh parsley, minced

1 tsp. dried oregano

½ tsp. ground black pepper

1 large egg, beaten

Thaw the puff pastry for 30 minutes at room temperature or overnight in the fridge. Using a sharp knife, cut each sheet into nine 3-inch squares. In a medium bowl, combine the ricotta cheese, red pepper, ¼ cup of Romano cheese, parsley, oregano and black pepper. Set aside.

Brush the edges of the four sides of each puff pastry square with the beaten egg. Spoon about 2 teaspoons of filling into the center of each square. Fold each square of pastry in half diagonally into a triangle, bringing one corner to the opposite corner. Using your fingertips, press the edges together, trying to keep all the filling sealed inside.  Then seal the edges together using the tines of a fork. Using a sharp knife, cut a couple slits on the top of each pastry to allow the steam to escape. Brush the top of each pastry with some of the beaten egg. Sprinkle the remaining ¼ cup of Romano cheese on the tops of the pastries.

Line baking sheet with parchment  paper and arrange pastries on top, allowing a couple of inches of space between pastries. Bake for 18-20 minutes, or until golden brown. Cool for 5 minutes before serving.

Do-head tip: These puffs can be frozen (unbaked, with the egg and grated Romano sprinkled on top) for 1 month before  serving. Thaw at room temperature for 30 minutes before baking, or overnight in the refrigerator.



How to Make Sweet Potato Bread

I found a great recipe online for sweet potato bread. The website is

I made the recipe a couple weeks ago and again last night, and both times it turned out great. I thought I’d share the recipe here:

Sweet Potato Bread with Pecans

Recipe courtesy Bill Kelly

2 1/3 cups sugar

2/3 cups water

2/3 cup oil

4 eggs

2 cups mashed sweet potatoes

3 1/3 cups all-purpose flour

2 teaspoons baking soda

1/2 teaspoon baking powder

1  teaspoons salt

1 teaspoon cinnamon

¼ tsp. nutmeg

1 ½ cups coarsely chopped pecans

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Combine sugar, water, oil, eggs, and sweet potatoes and mix thoroughly. Add dry ingredients and mix to combine. Add pecans and mix well. Divide between 2 greased loaf pans and bake for 50 minutes. Cool in pan to room temperature. Makes 2 large loaves or 6-8 mini loaves.
I did make a few “adjustments” to Bill Kelly’s recipe (added nutmeg, decreased salt a bit, added a little more pecans). But oh, it’s a scrumptious bread! And so easy to make. We have a lot of frozen mashed sweet potatoes in our freezer, from our garden two summers ago. I am trying to use up some of the sweet potatoes!
Actually I really like quick breads like this (pumpkin and banana are favorites too) to freeze. These kinds of breads are great to have on hand for overnight company—to be able to serve with an easy continental breakfast in the morning with your coffee. Quick breads freeze really well, and if you pull them out from the freezer the night before you want to serve them (or even a couple days and keep the breads in the fridge) they taste as fresh and moist as ever when you want to serve them.

Anyway, just wanted to pass on a great recipe!


Decorative Dinner Table Setting Ideas

Earlier, I made a post about how to set a formal dinner table. I love the look of an elegantly-set formal dinner table! The traditional white table cloth and matching cloth napkins, bone china plates, crystal water goblets and wine glasses, silverware, fresh flower centerpieces, and crystal candlesticks and white candles will never go out of style. They will always be the traditional and very classy first choice for a very formal table setting.

Sometimes, though, you may want to go a little less formal, but still make your sit-down dinner really nice. Maybe you don't have space on your table for all the extras like bread plates and both red and white wine glasses, so you’re not going to have all of those set out. That’s the case for most of my formal dinners. I have a somewhat petit Queen Anne style dinner table and my table space is limited, so unfortunately I have to limit what items I put down for each place setting.

Rather than use my more traditional teal and gold Royal Doulton bone china (which I still really like) for this dinner, I wanted a deep purple and gold color scheme for the tables. I wanted something different from my usual formal dinner look, and I wanted to see some new, vibrant colors on the table and a lot of visual appeal, but I still wanted the tables to be on the “formal” side. A primarily white formal dinner table can seem a little hum-drum and boring if that’s all you ever do. Sometimes you might want something a little more festive or lively.

In today’s post, I thought I’d share some pictures of my table settings for this dinner. I actually set three tables, all with a deep purple and gold theme. This may give you some ideas for what you can do for your next formal dinner.

I went with a traditional white eyelet lace table cloth. I didn’t want to overdo the purple or gold on the table, so white was the obvious choice for linens. [However, I have set some very nice formal (or at least semi-formal) tables in the past with a solid colored table cloth and white china plates. You could also use a white base table cloth, and top that with a printed or solid color cover sheet. Napkins could match the colored top sheet. The plates should be white or a lighter shade of the color of the tablecloth. It can all be very elegant, yet formal, while using a fun burst of colors. Using a solid colored table runner on top of a white table cloth can also be very striking.]

For plates, I used my white and gold band plates from Ten Strawberry Street. There are many manufacturers out there that make a similar design plate—plain white with a gold, silver or platinum border of some kind. What I really like about the plain bone china is that it’s so versatile. You can create any table color scheme with these plates, because you’re not limited to the colors found on the china with the ornate designs. Ten Strawberry’s gold band china has an added plus of being very inexpensive.

I don’t always use charger plates, but this time I did. Chargers are placed underneath the dinner plates. They are a purely decorative element—not meant to be eaten upon—and enhance the color scheme of the table and add a little textural variety. In my case, they added a lot of “gold” to the table. I got these charger plates at Hobby Lobby, for about $2 each. It was a small investment for how much they added to the table. Hobby Lobby also carries silver charger plates. You can find a lot of other colors and designs for chargers at other retailers like World Market.

I shopped and shopped for purple napkin rings. I looked at what online retailers had to offer and local stores as well. I couldn’t find anything close to what I had in mind. So I decided to make my own. I used about 10 packages of crystal beads, which I found at Hobby Lobby, and made my own napkin rings. It was just a matter of stringing the beads on a 20 guage wire (the same wire that’s used in a lot of jewelry making and craft projects) and tying them into 2-inch circles. The color of the beads matched my color scheme perfectly, and I probably spent far less making my own, than if I would have been able to find similar napkin rings in a retailer outlet somewhere (but of course, I couldn’t!). And this way, I got exactly what I wanted for the table. Besides Hobby Lobby, Michael’s also carries a large selection of beads for jewerly making. They’re ideal for turning into napkin rings.

You can also easily make some very creative napkin rings out of silk flowers—which again, Hobby Lobby carries a lot of. This is another way to really bring on some vibrant color to your table. Craft stores like Hobby Lobby and Michael’s, and even Super WalMart sometimes, often have a large selection of silk flowers. Chose one with a 2 to 4 inch diameter flower, and make sure there is at least 12-inches of stem attached to the flower. The stem should be made out of bendable wire. Using pliers, bend the stem of the flower to form a circle that is about 2 inches wide (just enough to put your cloth napkins through). Wrap the stem into a circle several times. That makes a nice napkin ring. If desired, you can wrap the wire stem with cloth ribbon, and glue that in place with a glue gun.

You can save a lot of money making your own napkin rings, and again, you can create some unique table accents this way. Usually department stores and home stores primarily carry the more traditional napkin rings made out of plastic, ceramic, metal or wood—and they’re often pricey and may very well not come in the color you’re looking for.

You should have at least one large centerpiece at your table. Or, you might go with several smaller centerpieces at each table, and those would be set at every two place settings. I went with floating candle centerpieces for my dinner party this past weekend . I was able to find dark purple floating rose candles, which matched the other purple decorations I had already selected for my table. I really like using a floating candle centerpiece, for a change of pace from the more usual fresh flower centerpiece. Some people associate floating candle centerpieces with weddings, and they are indeed great for weddings, but they add a special touch to dinner parties too. There is something really special about a candle floating on water.

Around the base of the floating candle centerpiece, and along the centers of each of the tables, I placed purple silk rose petals and scattered purple acrylic “confetti” crystals on top of the petals. I found these items at Hobby Lobby, in the wedding supplies aisle, and the crystals from some online retailers (many of which sell their products on You could also scatter glitter, florist’s glass gems, vase stones, or small pieces of curled curling ribbon on your table. If you find these items in the right colors, it can really add to your color scheme.

For place card holders, I used the small vases which were filled with deep purple carnations, which I wrote about in my last post. To further add some “gold” to the table, I used a gold ink calligraphy pen, and wrote each of my guests’ names onto small place cards.

I found the place card holders in the wedding aisle at Hobby Lobby. Similar vase place card holders, along with a huge selection of other styles of place card holders, can be found online. Place card holders are one of those things that can be hard to find in home and department stores. I think they’re an essential element of the formal dinner table, especially if you’ve got a large number of dinner guests. But they’re hard to find for “home use.” If a store carries them, they usually only have one or two styles, if that. But there are hundreds and hundreds of styles of place card holders available from online wedding supply retailers. Really, I have found some of my best table decorations from wedding retailers and craft stores like Hobby Lobby and Michaels.

These are some of my ideas for how to add pizzazz to a dinner table. If any of you reading this have any of your own ideas, please share them. I’d love to hear from you!