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RECIPE: Super-Easy Brownie Cheesecake

Brownie Cheesecake

Blondies

Cheesecake With Lemon Curd

[1] Top any cheesecake with brownie cubes and drizzle with caramel sauce (photo courtesy iGourmet). [2] Want cake without all the chocolate? Go for blondies instead (photo courtesy Valrhona). [3] Key lime or lemon bars also do the trick, although more jiggly than brownies and blondies (photo courtesy Baking Obsession).

 

If you don’t have the time or inclination to bake from scratch, the easiest specialty cheesecake starts with a purchased cheesecake base.

In the case of this Brownie Caramel Cheesecake (photo #1), you can purchase the brownies, too; or make a quick batch from a mix.

RECIPE: BROWNIE CARAMEL CHEESECAKE

Ingredients

  • 1 cheesecake
  • Brownies to taste (top the cake with as many or as few cubes as you like)
  • Caramel sauce
  •  
    Topping Variations

  • Blondies (blonde brownies—photo #2) with chocolate sauce
  • Linzer shortbread bars with raspberry sauce
  • Pecan pie bars with chocolate sauce
  •  
    Preparation

    1. CUBE the brownies/bars. Place as desired atop the cheesecake. We made concentric circles and covered the whole top.

    2. WARM the sauce as needed to drizzling consistency, and drizzle over the cake. Refrigerate until ready to serve.
     
    OTHER CHEESECAKE TOPPINGS

    Fruit Curds

    Spread the top of the cheesecake with fruit curd (photo #3).

    Commonly available choices are cranberry, Key lime, lemon, orange or passionfruit.

    It’s easy to make fruit curd from scratch; but it takes a bit of time and clean-up.
     
    Cookies & Candy

  • Cookies: Top with gingersnaps, Oreos or other favorite cookies. Place them flat or standing up around the rim.
  • Candy: The celebrant’s candy of choice will look great atop the cake. After Eight Mint Chocolate Thins, chocolate bark, M&Ms, mini peanut butter cups, pecan pralines, smashed toffee, etc.
  •  
    For fruit curd, cookies or candy, no sauce is necessary. Instead, you can serve the cake with an optional dab of whipped cream.
     
    There are many other ways to dress up a store-bought cheesecake, from pie filling to shaved chocolate.

    We love a cheesecake iced with chocolate ganache.

    Here’s a tip on top of that:

     
    THE GRIMBLETORTE: GRAND MARNIER CHEESECAKE COVERED IN GANACHE

    Long before there were “foodies,”* those who a decade later would bear the mantle sought out the famous Grimbletorte.

    This spectacular cheesecake from Miss Grimble’s, one of the early gourmet cheesecake bakers in New York City. Its point of differentiation was simple: liqueur in the batter and ganache on the top and sides.

    Miss Grimble (Sylvia Balser Hirsch, 2019-2006) sold the business around 1989 and retired. The subsequent owner discontinued the Grimbletorte.

    Here’s more about the original Miss Grimble.

    To approximate the Grimbletorte:

  • If baking a New York-style cream cheese cheesecake from scratch (2 pounds cream cheese, 5 jumbo eggs), add 1/4 cup Grand Marnier or other orange liqueur to the cheesecake batter.
  • If you have a ready-made cake, you can still get a bit of the flavor. Brush the cake with the liqueur before adding the ganache.
  • In theory, you can add the liqueur to the ganache, but we’ve always loved the great chocolate flavor against the orange-accented cheesecake.
  •  
    Mrs. Hirsch’s cake decorators wrote “Grimbletorte” across the top of the iced cheesecake, also in ganache. Proust may keep his madeleines; we want our Grimbletorte.

    ________________

    *What’s the difference between a foodie, connoisseur, gourmet, gourmand, gastronome, epicure and glutton? Check it out.
     
      

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    TIP OF THE DAY: 3-D Animal Crackers

    If you like to bake cookies, try your hand at something different: 3-D cookies.

    They’re sold by a British novelty products company called Suck UK (why ask why?), and available on Amazon.

    The zoo animal cookie cutter set contains a mother and baby. Each set has four cutters: two bodies and two pairs of legs, large (mom) and small (baby).

    Cut out the cookie dough, bake, then slot the pieces together. The larger cookie is 7″ tall by 4.5″ wide. Instructions are included.

    For Valentine’s Day, you can affix a candy heart with icing.

  • Elephant
  • Giraffe*
  • Hippo
  • Lion
  •  
    NOTE: For those who pay close attention, we know that these are not 3-D cookies, but 2-D (flat) cookies that stand up. But that’s what the manufacturer calls them, and no one has called them on it.
    ________________

    *We couldn’t find the giraffe on Amazon, but found it on another site, a bit more expensive.

     
    THE HISTORY OF ANIMAL CRACKERS

    Americans grow up on animal crackers. But the concept actually originated in England in the late 1800s, as animal biscuits (the British term for cookies).

    In 1889, when P.T. Barnum toured England with his circus, several manufacturers took advantage of the marketing opportunity and named their animal biscuits “Barnum’s.”

    The animal biscuits were exported to America, inspiring local bakeries to make their own.

    The National Biscuit Co. (today, Nabisco), introduced theirs in 1902 as “Barnum’s Animals” (they added the word “Crackers” in 1948).

    The “circus car” box with the string handle was introduced later in the year, as a Christmas tree ornament for Christmas 1902.

    (Neither P.T. Barnum nor the Barnum & Bailey Circus ever got a cent in licensing fees from any “Barnum’s” crackers or biscuits. Where were their lawyers?)

       

    Giraffe Cookie Cutter

    Elephant Cookie

    Hippo Cookie Cutter

    [1] Giraffe, [2] elephant, [3] and the hippo cookie cutters (photos courtesy Suck UK).

     

    Homemade Animal Crackers

    Homemade Animal Crackers Recipe

    Homemade Animal Crackers Recipe

    [4] Even if you don’t want to take on 3-D cookies, you can make better-tasting animal crackers with this recipe from Williams-Sonoma Kitchen. [5] and [6] Use a toothpick or other implement to make designs in plain cookies (photos courtesy Chicago Metallic).

     

    RECIPE: ANIMAL CRACKERS

    If you have an animal cookie cutter hanging around, here’s a recipe for that animal cracker taste, from Williams-Sonoma Kitchen.

    They used a set of plunger animal cookie cutters that create the marks on the cookies. Those cookie cutters are no longer available, but we found something similar on Amazon. Alternatively, you can:

  • Make the grooves with a toothpick, ice pick or other utensil.
  • Leave the cookies plain.
  •  
    Prep time is 45 minutes, cook time is 16 minutes. You can make the dough up to two days in advance.

    Ingredients For 20† Cookies

  • 2-1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/8 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
  • 1/8 teaspoon mace
  • 12 tablespoons (1-1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1 egg
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • ________________

    †The number of cookies will vary based on your cookie cutter size.
    ________________

    Preparation

    1. SIFT together the flour, baking powder, salt, nutmeg and mace over a small bowl. Set aside.

    2. FIT an electric mixer fitted with the flat beater and beat the butter on high speed for 2 minutes. Reduce the speed to medium, slowly add the sugar and beat for 2 minutes, stopping the mixer occasionally to scrape down the sides of the bowl. Add the egg and vanilla and beat for 1 minute, stopping the mixer once to scrape down the sides of the bowl.

    3. STOP the mixer and add half of the flour mixture. Beat on low speed until most of the flour has been incorporated. Add the remaining flour and beat until all of the flour has been absorbed and the dough starts to pull away from the sides of the bowl, 2 to 3 minutes.

     
    4. TURN the dough out onto a work surface and divide into 2 equal balls. Shape each into a disk and wrap separately in plastic wrap. Refrigerate for at least 2 hours or up to 2 days. When ready to bake…

    5. PREHEAT the oven to 350°F. Let the dough stand at room temperature for 5 minutes. Place each dough disk between 2 clean, large pieces of plastic wrap. Roll out the dough to 1/8-inch thickness. (If the dough cracks while rolling, let it stand at room temperature for 5 to 10 minutes more.) Remove the plastic wrap and place the dough on a floured work surface. Lightly dust the top of the dough with flour.

    6. LINE several baking sheets with parchment paper. Dip the cookie cutters into flour just before using and cut out the shapes. With plunger cookie cutters: Hold each cutter over a prepared baking sheet and lightly depress the plunger to remove the cutout; the plunger will also imprint the tops of the cookies. With regular cookie cutters: Place the cut-out shapes on the baking sheet one at a time and decorate as desired with a toothpick.

    7. FREEZE the baking sheets for 15 minutes, or refrigerate for 30 minutes. Gather up the scraps, reroll and cut out more cookies.

    8. BAKE the cookies until very light golden brown, 14 to 16 minutes. Transfer the baking sheets to wire racks and let the cookies cool to room temperature.

      

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    TIP OF THE DAY: Turn Your Favorite Cake Into Mini Cupcakes

    A new book, The Case Against Sugar, is pretty; scary.

    For a synopsis, read the review in The New York Times. The one-sentence message: Beyond our diabetes and obesity epidemics (had these been infectious diseases, according to the book, sugar is probably related to heart disease, hypertension, many common cancers and Alzheimer’s.

    But we’re not here to scare you. we’re here to offer one of our favorite work-arounds to eat less sugar: mini cupcakes with much less frosting.

    Mini cupcakes are nothing new. It’s easy to find them, whether for kids or as an alternative to regular cupcakes, that are three- or four-times the size.

    But rather than buy some average cupcake made with some average mix—even at a cupcake boutique—they’re so much better when you make them with your favorite cake recipe.

    (Disclosure: We don’t like airy, fluffy cakes, preferring more dense styles like carrot cake, banana bread with chocolate chunks and chocolate cake enriched with sour cream).

    This recipe from Kraft uses a cake mix for this recipe, but you can use your own.

    Prep time is 20 minutes, bake time is 12 minutes; total time is about an hour.

    RECIPE #1: CARROT CAKE MINI CUPCAKES

    Ingredients For 48 Mini Cupcakes

  • 1 package (2-layer size) carrot cake mix
  •  
    For The Frosting
    (See Our Alternative Frostings Below)

  • 1/4 cup butter, softened
  • 1 package (8 ounces) cream cheese, softened
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 cup powdered sugar
  •  
    Plus

  • Mini muffin/cupcake pans
  • Paper liners
  •  
    Preparation

    1. PREPARE the cake batter as directed on the package. Spoon into 48 paper-lined mini muffin cups. Bake for 10 to 12 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the centers comes out clean.

    2. COOL in the pans 10 minutes. Remove to wire racks and cool completely. As the cupcakes cool…

    3. MAKE the frosting. Beat the butter and cream cheese in medium bowl with mixer until creamy. Blend in the vanilla. Gradually add the sugar, mixing well after each addition. Spread onto the cupcakes.

    ALTERNATIVE FROSTINGS

    Use a small (flat) amount of anything you like. The biggest caloric bargain is aerosol whipped cream, such as Reddi-Wip, at 15 calories per tablespoon.

    The idea is simply to spread it with a spatula, not mound it on! Some cupcakes can seem like a base for eating frosting!

  • Chocolate ganache
  • Greek yogurt, with agave or non-caloric sweetener and other flavorings (cocoa powder, lemon zest, etc.)
  • Ice cream, softened*
  • Reddi-Wip* or homemade with a canister
  • Stabilized whipped cream (recipe below)
  •  
    Garnish

    For color, flavor, and minuscule calories, top with a berry.
    ________________

     

    Mini Carrot Cakes

    Chocolate Mini Cupcakes

    Lemon Mini Cupcake

    Angel Food Mini Cupcakes

    [1] For smaller portions, turn your favorite cake into mini cupcakes. The recipe for these carrot cake minis is below (photo courtesy Kraft). [2] The next step is to minimize the frosting. Chocolate ganache requires just a smear, not a pile (here’s the recipe from Life In The Lofthouse). [3] Another icing tip: Whipped cream has fewer calories because of all that air (photo courtesy Rose Bakes). [4] For the finale, add a fresh berry (here’s the recipe for these angel food cupcakes from Cooking Classy).

    *With “collapsible” frostings, frost the cupcakes immediately before serving, or bring the frosting to the table for self-service.
     
    RECIPE #2: CREAM CHEESE-STABLIZED WHIPPED CREAM FROSTING

    We love stabilized whipped cream as a frosting and filling. It holds its shape for two days without collapsing.

    The stabilizing agent is typically stabilized with gelatin. Here, we use cream cheese.

    As you can guess, it’s richer in flavor and texture when you substitute cream cheese.

    This recipe makes enough to frost a cake; but there are only four tablespoons of sugar in all five cups!

    Add cocoa powder for chocolate frosting/filling.

    Ingredients For Five Cups

  • 1 package (8 ounces) cream cheese, room temperature
  • 2 cups heavy/whipping cream
  • 4 tablespoons powdered sugar (or to taste)
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • Optional: 2 tablespoons cocoa powder
  •  
    Preparation

    1. WHIP the cream cheese in a small bowl until soft and aerated. In a larger, chilled bowl, whip the cream until it forms soft, collapsible peaks that.

    2. ADD the cream cheese to the cream and continue whipping on high speed until the mixture forms stiff peaks. Beat in the sugar, vanilla and optional cocoa powder.

    3. REFRIGERATE until ready to use.

      

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    GLUTEN FREE: Cheryl’s Cookies

    Cheryl's Gluten Free Cookies

    Gluten Free Cookies

    You can’t tell that these gluten-free cookies are gluten free! Photo courtesy Cheryl’s.

     

    We have dear friends and readers with gluten sensitivity, so we keep an eye out for anything above the ordinary that they might enjoy.

    When Cheryl’s offered us a taste test of their conventional versus gluten-free cookies in advance of National Gluten Free Day (January 13th), we didn’t hesitate to bite.

    They said we wouldn’t be able to taste the difference, and they were correct.

    No one could tell that the GF cookies were gluten free. The texture had no graininess or other telltale sign of most gluten free cookies.

    The one difference is that the GF cookies are less sweet than the conventional ones. But this feature would only be noticed in a side-by-side tasting.

    So if you want cookies for yourself, or are looking to Valentine’s Day gifts, head to Cheryl’s.

    There are gift boxes of every description, filled with:

  • Brownie walnut cookies
  • Snickerdoodle cookies
  • Chocolate chip cookies
  • Buttercream-frosted sugar cookies
  • Fudge brownies
  •  
    (We tasted only the chocolate chip and snickerdoodle GF flavors.)

    The cookies are produced in a dedicated gluten-free facility, and are individually wrapped for grab-and-go as well as freshness.

    Check out the selection at Cheryls.com.

     

     
      

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    ELVIS RECIPE: Graceland Cupcakes

    Elvis would be 82 today; “The King” was born January 8, 1935.

    While Elvis Presley is not exactly known for being a foodie, we, along with millions of fans worldwide, like to celebrate his birthday with a few hours of Elvis tunes and his favorite snack food: a fried sandwich filled with peanut butter, sliced banana and bacon (photo #1: here’s the recipe).

    This recipe was developed in honor of Elvis, whose favorite sandwich was PB, bacon and banana.

    Past celebrations at THE NIBBLE have included an:

  • Elvis Burger
  • Elvis Sandwich
  • Elvis Sundae
  •  
    Inspired by the king of rock and roll, these cupcakes are packed to the core with peanut butter. Top them off with candied bacon for a royally delectable dessert.

    RECIPE: GRACELAND MINI CUPCAKES
    (BANANA CUPCAKES WITH PEANUT BUTTER & BACON)

    You can use lowfat versions of the sour cream and cream cheese; but why bother? These are mini cupcakes, after all (photo #3).

    Instead, have one with the diet version of one of his favorite soft drinks: Pepsi Cola, Nesbitt’s Orange and Shasta Black Cherry.

    For The Cupcakes

  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 4 ripe bananas, the browner the better
  • 1/2 cup lite sour cream
  • 4 tablespoons unsalted butter at room temperature
  • 2 tablespoons canola oil
  • 3/4 cups sugar
  • 2 large eggs at room temperature
  • 1 large egg white at room temperature
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  •  
    Peanut Butter Filling

  • Approximately 1/4 cup creamy peanut butter
  •  
    Bacon Topping

  • 4 slices bacon
  • 1/2 cup brown sugar
  •  
    Frosting

  • 8 ounces low fat cream cheese
  • 1/2 cup butter
  • 1/2 cup creamy peanut butter
  • 2 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 3/4 cups confectioners’ sugar
  •  

    PB Banana Sandwich

    Elvis Burger

    Elvis Cupcakes

    [1] Don’t want an Elvis sandwich (recipe and photo from Hipsubwg | Blogspot). Have some [2] If Elvis had only thought of it, he’d have liked this The Elvis Burger, with bacon and peanut butter sauce (photo courtesy Helen Graves | Food Stories. [3] Graceland Cupcakes (photo and recipe courtesy Peanut Butter Lovers).

     

    Preparation

    1. HEAT the oven to 350°F. Line cupcake tins with paper liners and lightly spray with cooking spray. Line a baking sheet with foil.

    2. MAKE the batter. In a medium size bowl combine the flour, baking powder and salt. Stir until blended.

    3. MASH the bananas and add sour cream in small bowl. Mix well and set aside.

    4. BEAT until incorporated, with an electric hand mixer, the butter, oil and sugar (3-5 minutes). Add the eggs, egg white and vanilla. Mix until combined. Slowly add half of the dry ingredients and mix until almost incorporated. Add the sour cream and banana mixture and gently fold into the batter. Add the rest of the dry ingredients until combined. Spoon the batter into lined cupcake pans.

    5. BAKE for 18 to 20 minutes and let cool (do not turn off the oven). Once cool (about 30-45 minutes), use a paring knife to cut a small circle in the middle of the top of the cupcakes and remove the plug, creating a well about halfway down the cupcake. Using a piping bag, pipe the peanut butter to fill each hole. Set aside.

    6. PLACE brown sugar in medium size bowl and dredge the bacon slices on both sides. Place them on the baking sheet and bake for 10 minutes. Flip bacon and bake for another 6-8 minutes. Remove bacon from oven and place on plate to cool. Do not put bacon on paper towels: It will stick. Once cool, chop the bacon and set aside.

    7. MAKE the frosting. In a large bowl combine the cream cheese, butter, peanut butter and vanilla extract. Mix until combined. Add the confectioners’ sugar and mix until well combined. Add to a piping bag. Pipe a dollop of frosting onto each cupcake and sprinkle with the candied bacon pieces.

      

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