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RECIPE: Robin’s Egg Cheesecake

For spring, we love a “robin’s egg” cake: a speckled exterior, garnished with some chocolate Easter eggs.

Last year we made this Speckled Egg Malted Milk Egg Cake.

This year, McCormick sent us a speckled cheesecake recipe, developed by Amanda Rettke of I Am Baker.

For step-by-step photos and a video, visit Amanda’s recipe page.

Two white cake layers sandwich a bright yellow lemon cheesecake layer.

For even more springtime color splash, tint one of the white layers pink. Just add 3-5 drops of red food color to the white batter until you reach the desired shade.

RECIPE: SPECKLED ROBIN’S EGG CHEESECAKE

Ingredients

  • 1 white cake recipe (you can use a box mix)
  • 1 lemon cheesecake (recipe below)
  • Garnish: candy grass and speckled eggs
  •  
    For The Lemon Cheesecake

  • 2 packages (8 ounces each) cream cheese, softened
  • 1/2 cup granulated sugar
  • 1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
  • 1 tablespoon McCormick Lemon Extract
  • 2 eggs
  •  
    For The Buttercream

  • 3 cups powdered sugar
  • 1/3 cup butter or margarine, softened
  • 1-1/2 teaspoons vanilla
  • 1 to 2 tablespoons milk
  • 1 teaspoon Sky Blue food color, McCormick’s Colors From Nature (photo #3)
  •  
    Cocoa Water For The Speckles

  • 1/4 cup water
  • 1 tablespoon cocoa
  • 1/4 teaspoon Sky Blue food color
  •  
    Plus

  • Whisk
  • Cake stand
  • Small offset spatula
  • Bench scraper
  • Paint brush
  •  
    Preparation

    1. BAKE the white cake layers per box instructions. Set aside. (We baked the cake layers the day before and wrapped them in plastic after cooling.) When they are cool, level the tops if necessary.

    2. PREPARE the cheesecake: Heat the oven to 350°F. Prepare a springform pan: Line with parchment and spray with non-stick spray.

    Allow it to cool for at least 3 hours before assembling the cake.

     

    Robin's Egg Cheesecake

    Robin's Egg Cake

    McCormick Colors From Nature

    Blue Eggs

    [1] and [2] A cake for Easter or other spring celebration (photos courtesy I Am Baker). [3] The blue color is created with McCormick Colors From Nature. [4] The real deal, robin’s eggs in their nest (photo courtesy Erica Lea | Flickr).

     
    3. COMBINE the cream cheese, sugar, lemon juice, and lemon extract in the bowl of a stand mixer, until well blended. Add the eggs; mix just until blended. Pour into the springform pan.

    4. BAKE for 40 minutes or the until center is almost set. Cool. Refrigerate 3 hours or until firm.

    5. PREPARE the buttercream. In medium bowl, mix the sugar and butter with a spoon or an electric mixer on low speed. Stir in the vanilla and 1 tablespoon of the milk. Gradually beat in just enough remaining milk to make the frosting smooth and spreadable. If too thick, beat in more milk, a few drops at a time. Add 1 teaspoon of the sky blue food coloring. You can add more or less to reach your desired color. Set aside.

    6. ASSEMBLE the cake. Place the first layer of white cake on a cake stand. Carefully place the lemon cheesecake directly on top. Set the final layer of white cake on top of cheesecake. You may need to trim and level the cheesecake before putting the cake together. (No frosting between layers is necessary.)

    7. COVER the cake in buttercream and smooth with a small offset spatula. Go back with a bench scraper to get extra-smooth sides and top.

    8. WHISK together the speckling liquid ingredients. Place the cake on a table lined with newspaper and wear a protective apron. Dip the brush into the cocoa water and then hold it in your left hand near the cake. With your pointer finger of your right hand, run your finger along the bristles of the paint brush. The first time you do this, try to be a little farther away from the cake, just so you are able to gauge how much pressure you can use, how much liquid you need on your brush, and how close you need to be.

    Spatter the speckles all over the top and sides of the cake. If you get a big spot or an area you don’t like, you can carefully dab a paper towel onto the area and remove most of the brown, while still blending in with the cake. When done, clean off the edge of the cake stand.

    9. GARNISH the top with candy grass to center and add small chocolate eggs. Chill until ready to serve.

      

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    RECIPE: Carrot Cupcakes with Cream Cheese Frosting

    Mini Carrot Cupcakes

    Mini Carrot Cupcakes Recipe

    Carrots

    Lactose Free Cream Cheese

    [1] and [2] Mini carrot cupcakes are a lighter version of dense carrot cake (photos courtesy Kraft). [3] Shred extra carrots and add them to a salad (photo courtesy Stylepresso. [4] Lactose intolerant? Use Green Valley Organics’ lactose-free cream cheese. You can also substitute ghee for butter, at a 1:1 ratio.

     

    Yesterday we made carrot cupcakes. Mini ones. With a recipe from Kraft.

    While we usually dig into a slice of dense loaf cake instead of airy cupcakes, we deemed these just right for Easter week.

    We don’t add pineapple to our carrot cake, but the fruitiness was just perfect in these cupcakes.

    Bring them to work, bring them to neighbors, or enjoy the entire batch at home.

    A BRIEF HISTORY OF CARROT CAKE

    According to the Carrot Museum in the U.K., food historians believe that modern carrot cake most likely descended from medieval carrot puddings.

    During the Middle Ages, sugar and other sweeteners were expensive and difficult to come by, and carrots had long been used for their sweetness.

    Printed recipes for carrot pudding have been found as far back as 1591, but no reference to carrot cake appears until the 19th century. Thus, we don’t know how cake got to here from there.

    In the New York Cookbook (1992), Molly O’Neill says that in 1783, George Washington was served a carrot tea cake at Fraunces Tavern in lower Manhattan.

    She notes that an adaptation of that early recipe, which was printed in The Thirteen Colonies Cookbook (1975), is quite close to the carrot cakes of today.

     
    RECIPE: MINI CARROT CUPCAKES

    Ingredients

    For The Cake

  • 3 eggs plus 1 egg white
  • 1-1/4 cups sugar
  • 1 cup vegetable or canola oil
  • 1/2 cup applesauce
  • 2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 2 cups grated carrots
  • 1/2 cup crushed pineapple, including juice
  • Optional: 2/3 cup crushed pecans, plus more for optional garnish
  •  
    For The Cream Cheese Frosting

  • 1 package (8 ounces) cream cheese, softened
  • 1/2 cup (1 stick) butter, softened
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 4 cups powdered sugar
  • 2 to 3 tablespoons whole milk
  •  
    Preparation

    1. PREHEAT the oven to 350°F. Combine and mix the eggs, egg white, sugar, oil and applesauce in a mixing bowl.

    2. COMBINE all the dry ingredients in a separate bowl. Add the egg mixture to the dry ingredients and beat together. Add the carrots, pineapple, and pecans and mix again. Spoon into 24 lined muffin cups, filling about 2/3 full.

    3. PLACE the pan on the middle oven rack and bake for 20 minutes, until a toothpick inserted into the middle comes out clean. Remove from the oven and let cool for 5 minutes; then remove from the pan. Allow the cupcakes to cool completely on wire racks before frosting.

    4. MAKE the frosting. In a large mixing bowl cream together the butter, cream cheese and vanilla extract. Gradually beat in the powdered sugar. Add milk to the desired consistency. (Don’t make it too thin or the frosting will slide off the cupcakes.)

    5. FROST the cupcakes with a small spatula, or use a pastry and tip for a fancier presentation (you can use a plastic bag with no top, as shown in photo #2). Garnish with crushed pecans, if desired.
     
      

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    TIP OF THE DAY: Make Easter Eggs Filled With Cake!

    Steph of The Cupcake Project created a recipe called How to Make Cupcakes in Egg Shells.

    But, if you decorate the eggs before serving, you have Easter Egg Surprise: an egg with cake inside.

    It’s fun and memorable: Most people won’t have seen anything like it.

    Here’s the recipe.

    We took it one step further, using white eggs and decorating them.

    This protects everyone from any bacteria on the egg, and protects the eggshells from any oils on hands that may prevent the dye from adhering.
     
    HOW TO DECORATE CAKE EGGS AFTER THEY’RE COOKED

    We used a wide paintbrush and took the advice of Incredible Egg to use water warmer than the eggs.

    They also caution that hands should be washed in hot, soapy water before and after handling eggs—even if they’ve already been cooked or decorated.

    Because a hole has been punched into the top of the shells to insert the cake batter (photo #1), you can’t fully dip cooked cake eggs in dye (well…maybe if you use dark chocolate cake, a bit of color won’t show).

    Instead, you can try one of these three techniques.

  • Option 1: Try this if you have an exceedingly nimble grip, and can hold the eggs at the top while dipping them into the dye. We filled a juice glass with dye (diluted in water) that would not reach the top of the egg when the egg was added to the glass. The narrow glass held the egg upright. We could lift the egg out using doctors’ gloves and a spatula, but it wasn’t easy.
  • Option 2: We next moved to the hand-painted approach. Using wide hobby paintbrushes, we placed food coloring in ramekins, placed the egg upright on a nonslip mat and held it with one hand, as we painted swaths of color with the other.
  • Option 3: We didn’t try this one for lack of time, but we think it will work and could be the easiest. Dye the eggshells before adding the cake batter, and bake the cake in the colored shells. The cake eggs bake at 350°F for 23 minutes, so they should retain their colors.
  •  
    You can practice the first two techniques with the raw eggs in your fridge (and return them for subsequent cooking).

    Or, you can color whole eggs and then bake them in the oven to get hard boiled eggs.

    The hard boiled eggs look and taste the same.

    THE HISTORY OF EASTER EGGS

    The tradition of painting hard-boiled eggs during springtime pre-dates Christianity. Fertility and rebirth are fundamental to life—not just for people but for the crops and animals that sustain them.

    The most ancient known decorated eggs are 60,000 years old: engraved ostrich eggs found in Africa. Decorated eggs have also been found from prehistoric Egypt and the early cultures of Mesopotamia and Crete [source].

     

    Cake Easter Eggs

    Cake Easter Eggs

    Dyed Easter Eggs

    [1] and [2] It’s an egg. No, it’s a little cake (photos courtesy Cupcake Project). Use white eggs if you plan to color them. [3] Here’s how to get these beautiful colors, from Urban Comfort.

     
    Easter was a pagan holiday adopted by Christians; it has no relation to Christ.

    The Christian custom of Easter eggs began among the early Christians of Mesopotamia, who stained eggs with red dye in memory of the blood of Christ (more).

    The Easter holiday itself is named for the Germanic goddess Eostre (Eostra, Eostur, Ostara, Ostare, Ostern and other names), a fertility goddess. Her name derives from the ancient word for spring, eastre,

    She was very popular with Anglo-Saxon pagans in Brittania as well, many of whom were descended from Germanic tribes who migrated to the island.

    Eostre’s sacred animal is the rabbit, a symbol of fertility; and the egg is her symbol of fertile purity, both of which involve the spring and new birth.

    In Old German, the month of April was called Ostar-manod: Easter month, or month of the Goddess Eostre. In Old English, it became Easter-monab (pronounced eh-AH-ster moh-NATH).

    The English word April derives from the Latin aperire, to open (e.g. buds).

      

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    PRODUCT: Easy Coconut Macaroon Mix For Passover

    Macaroons are a delicious cookie year-round. The originals were invented by Italian monks from ground almonds. The name derives from the Italian maccherone.

    Italian Jews adopted the cookie for eight-day observation of Passover, because it was free of restricted ingredients like flour and leavening.

    The macaroon was introduced to other European Jews and became popular as a year-round sweet. Over time, coconut was added to the ground almonds and, in certain recipes, replaced them.

    Macaroons arrived in France in 1533 with the pastry chefs of Catherine de Medici, wife of King Henri II.

    But the French macaron, a meringue sandwich, was centuries away.

    The concept was invented by Pierre Desfontaines Ladurée, who, at the beginning of the 20th century, had the idea to join two meringues and fill them with ganache.

    Here’s more history of macaroons and macarons.

    MAKE MACAROONS FOR PASSOVER

    You can make them from scratch, or pick up a box or two (or three) of King Arthur Flour’s Coconut Macaroon Cookie Mix.

    It’s $5.95 per box, yielding approximately 2 dozen macaroons; and it’s certified kosher.

    They’re super-easy to make: Just add water to the mix, scoop them into balls and bake.

    If you love coconut, this is your cookie. Ever so slightly toasty on the outside, moist and chewy inside.

    They’re as good or better than any from-scratch recipe we’ve had.

    While the ingredients themselves do not have gluten, the mix is not certified gluten-free because it hasn’t been tested for the presence of gluten.

    VARIATIONS

    You can dress them up macaroons by:

  • Dipping them in quality chocolate, all dipped or half dipped.
  • Drizzling them with chocolate.
  • Adding mini chocolate chips or toffee chips to the batter.
  • Making them thumbprint style, with a chocolate or other flavor disk on top (photos #1 and #2).
  • Baking squares with a chocolate bottom (photo #3).
  •  
    BAKING TIPS

    Use parchment so the white bottoms don’t get too dark or scorch, and reduce the oven temperature to 350°F,

    Even so, watch them closely as they bake.

    If the mix is too dry, before baking, add another 1/4 cup of water (or as needed).

     

    White Chocolate Coconut Macaroons

    Chocolate Coconut Macaroons

    Chocolate Coconut Macaroons

    Coconut Macaroon Mix

    All photos courtesy King Arthur Flour.

     

      

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    TIP OF THE DAY: Piñata Cake

    Our job includes a lot of research, which often turns up surprising things.

    One of this is piñata cake, a concept that originated in the U.K. and is also popular in Australia.

    We also found it in Germany, called surprise cake.

    You don’t hit a piñata cake with a stick. It’s when you cut into the cake that the treasures (candy) spill out.

    The treasures are theme candies that fill a “secret” center well in the cake. The well is cut after the layers are baked, so you can place anything in the well without fear of melting.

    (If you’re in the chips, silver dollars would be nice!)

    The uncut top layer then goes on top of the well layers, and the whole cake is frosted.

    A four-layer cake is recommended to have enough room for lots of candy to tumble out.

    You can make them in any occasion. We’re keeping a recipe for a Valentine’s Day: a red velvet cake in red and pink layers, filled with Valentine candy.
     
    IT’S EASY!

    “We can’t stress enough just how easy these cakes are,” says The Whoot in Australia. “Everyone will think you must have gone to so much effort.

    “It has a very festive look and you can make it in colors to suit any theme.”

    The only caveats are:

  • You need to bake a dense cake. The cake circle needs to be hardy to hold the sweets in the well.That means no no airy cakes, angel cakes or sponge cakes.
  • Don’t cut too wide a well. The perimeter needs to be sturdy enough to hold up the cake.
  •  
    THE HISTORY OF PIÑATA CAKE

    A 2015 article in London’s The Daily Mail says that “Asda kicked off the trend last year with their Smartie pinata cake and Lakeland [a manufacturer] soon followed, selling all the paraphernalia needed to create ‘surprise’ cake.”

    Asda is a supermarket chain in the U.K., that first created the cake for sale in its stores.

    After the success of the cake, Asda printed the recipe on its lifestyle website.

    The first cookbook with a piñata cake recipe seems to be Cakeology by Juliet Sear, published in 2015.

    She notes that piñata cakes had become popular in the past year, i.e., 2014.
     
    PIÑATA CAKE FOR EASTER

    For a holiday in which the Easter Bunny brings baskets full of surprises, piñata cake this makes a great holiday cake.

    Carrot cake, the favorite of the Easter Bunny, is both theme-appropriate and dense.

    If you have the frosting skills, you can you can make a basket weave frosting, turning the “piñata” into an Easter basket filled with Easter treats.

    Of course, piñata cake works for any holiday, any occasion, any theme colors. The decorations on top can be as simple or ornate as you wish.

    Ask someone else to cut the cake, and be the first to see the surprise.

     

    Pinata Cake

    Pinata Cake

    Pinata Cake

    Pinata Cake

    Some of the many ways to create a piñata cake. Links to the recipes are below.

     
    RECIPES

    Here are the recipes in the photos:

  • Cake #1: piñata cake recipe in spring pastels, from Australia’s In The Playroom.
  • Photo #2: a glamorous piñata cake recipe* from Germany’s Dr. Oetker, which calls it a surprise cake.
  • Cake #3: a rainbow piñata cake recipe from Bakers Corner, Australia
  • Cake #4: The secret well. Photo courtesy Cakeology.
  •  
    CHECK OUT THE DIFFERENT TYPES OF CAKES IN OUR CAKE GLOSSARY.
     
    ________________

    *The recipe is in German and uses Dr. Oetker baking products. We present the photo as a guideline for the most elegant piñata cake we found. You can cut and paste the recipe into Google Translate if you want a translation.

      

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