Mascarpone Cheesecake with Orange & Amaretto

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I am unashamed to admit that I am currently involved in a love affair with a cheesecake.  I have to say, this is fairly out of character for me, considering I’m not a huge cheesecake fan – cheese = yay!  cake = yay!  cheesecake = meh.  Many of my friends and family are cheesecake lovers, but I tend to fall more towards the creme brulee side of the custard spectrum – I can’t resist a burny-caramely top, and I hold firmly to that belief.  I find many cheesecakes to be a little too creamy, or even worse, crumbly, and oftentimes they aren’t sweetened enough, leaving the filling reminiscent of a bagel that’s been sitting on the counter getting cold.  Not a pretty visual there?  Well, that’s how the cookie  cheesecake crumbles, and I think there absolutely needs to be a seminar on how to properly bake a damn cheesecake.  Sorry, not sorry – I’m putting an end to this.

Okay, maybe I have a holier-than-thou attitude towards cheesecake, but seriously, have you ever read reviews on any NY cheesecake recipe?  Good lord, those east-coast peeps have a cheesecake power complex of epic proportions.  (Okay, I really do get it though – you’re a tried and true New Yorker, and you’re desperately trying to recreate the cheesecake your grandmother used to throw together sans recipe.  I promise, my family has been trying to do this with my grandmother’s enchiladas for years, and we can’t get it right – this is what happens when you let a Norwegian woman make Mexican food).

Anyhow, let me tell you, those recipe-reviewing-cheesecake-aficionados know their craft – crumbly cheesecake?  Waterbath.  Chunky chunks of cheese?  Room temp the cheese and eggs!  Genius.  Props to you guys (and your grandma’s tips!).  I appreciate you and your power complex (;

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And on another note, here I am about to crush your OG-cheesecake loving souls.  Because I added mascarpone to my cheesecake.  And I added orange zest.  And I added amaretto.  And the crust is made with almond cookies.  And it’s the most delicious, light, wonderful cheesecake I ever did eat.  If it makes anyone feel better, I’ve heard a lot of Italian cheesecakes use mascarpone and amaretto!  Does that help?  Bueller, Bueller?

Anyways, I decided to use mascarpone, because as I said earlier, I don’t love the super-thick, creamy cheesecake in most restaurants (I’m especially looking at you Cheesecake Factory).  However, the mascarpone rids of that overly-rich cream cheese taste and adds a fluffy, light texture that I adore.  Orange zest was added to get away from the lemon that typically adorns cheesecakes.  As for the amaretto, it was almost not added – I stared at that bottle  in the grocery store for approximately 15 minutes, walked away from it, and thought, “Sara, that is so not the spirit”, turned back to the liquor aisle, and added it to my cart.  It was a dilemma of vast proportions, but it made the cut, and I’m so relieved it did.  Alcohol helps desserts always.

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Btw I brought this cheesecake to my parents’ house for a family dinner and, I almost freaking DROPPED it while slipping on ice.  But not to fear, my clumsy footing still appreciates the sanctity of $12 worth of cheese.  I held onto that cheesecake like Harry held onto the Sorcerer’s Stone.

Yes, I did just make a HP reference, and I stand by that decision.

XO Sara Lynn

*Song of the Day: Stay This Way by Peter Bjorn and John

 

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Spice Cupcakes with Penuche Frosting

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Merry merry merry merry merry merry Christmas!  Yesterday, I spent the entire day making Christmas treats with my mom.  This year we made my grandma’s butter cookies with walnuts, snickerdoodles, nut caramels, sugar cookies, and I also made a new recipe I’ll be posting about soon!  After all the baking commenced, we went to look at a huge Christmas light display held in Reno every year, and then we grabbed beers and burgers  for good measure.  It was the perfect way to celebrate my day off after my last final exam!

Although I will not be active over the next couple of days due to Christmas, I wanted to post one last recipe if you’re looking for yet another thing to bake for neighbors and friends (:  Around the holidays, I get a little cookied out (okay, sugared out in general), but every once in a while, I want to grab a piece of bread or pudding or something instead of another cookie.  This year, I decided to make spice cake with my grandma’s penuche frosting.  If you’ve never had penuche frosting before, 1. Um, why?, and 2. It’s this amazing, brown-sugar, caramely flavored frosting you make in 5 minutes on your stovetop.  It’s a frosting I never remember to make enough, and when I do, I’m transported back into family dinners as a little kid, eating this frosting but not knowing quite what it was.  And now I present it to you as I share some of my family nostalgia!

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As I’ve shared in the past, Reno is higher-altitude, so I made my high-altitude cake recipe, but I also have adjustments to make it at sea-level.  I like to use a different combination of spices each time in my cake, depending on what I have in my pantry at the time, but cinnamon always makes an appearance, because, well cinnamon.  Feel free to add spices if you like reeeally spicy cake, or cut back if spices aren’t your thing.  I love adding ginger, but you could always add a few grinds of black pepper and some cardamom for a chai-spiced cake, or you could add a little cayenne if you’re really feeling really crazy*.  Do what feels right.

*Clearly, my idea of getting crazy is disappointing, but if you add a little whiskey or wine to your holiday-baking spree, I’d be supes proud.

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P.S. This recipe is not exclusive to Christmas – it’s good year-round, especially in the fall!  I just posted it at Christmas, because I’m missing my grandparents (:  One of my favorite memories is making lefse with my grandma around the holidays for our traditional Norwegian dinner on Christmas Eve!  This year, I didn’t get around to making any, so if you’re a fellow Norwegian (Norski?  Norwegianite?) and have some laying around, send it my way!

XO Sara Lynn

*Song of the Day: Must Be Santa by She & Him

High-Altitude (and Sea-Level) Yellow Cupcakes with Chocolate Buttercream

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My life of late has been one big mess of a situation, and normally when that happens, I like to revert to simplicity rather than complicate things with multiple different factors.  Aside from a number of other difficult life events happening, last week I lost my grandmother unexpectedly.  Don’t worry though, this isn’t going to be a gloomy post :).  While of course I am incredibly sad, I also have some amazing memories of my grandma, growing up visiting her ranch out in Washoe, Nevada and riding horses.  My grandma loved Native American history and traveled around Nevada for archaeological digs. She had a huge passion for animals, particularly horses and dogs, and she loved making large, comforting meals for the family – and the dogs.  True story.  One time, my aunt had a friend over, and when she learned that the 2 roasted chickens resting peacefully on the counter were for the dogs, she may have lost her faith in humanity.

However, that was my grandma.  She was quiet, but she always made me laugh with her simple, non-obvious sense of humor.  Before we went shopping one day, we were walking out the door, and she raised her fist in the air and said with passionate spirit, “Let’s go kill something!”.  She could go to Sephora and spend $400 on just eyeshadow and nail polish.  She loved going to restaurants and talking to me about my plans for my education and travel.  She taught me to never take no for an answer.

And yellow cake with chocolate buttercream was her favorite cake.  She passed that on to the whole Hunt family, and aside from a special recipe for chocolate cake, this was always a family favorite that I associated with my grandma.

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Going back to simplicity, I think yellow cake with chocolate frosting is one of those classic recipes that everybody has some kind of connection with.  I love when food has a story behind it, and I definitely can think of happy memories behind this recipe.

Since moving to Reno, I have not been able to make a normal cake without it sinking and turning crusty.  I can make any other type of baked good, and it comes out beautifully, but cake does not come out ever.  I have since resorted to using high-altitude cake recipes, which at first I was sad about, because I have a perfect sea-level cake recipe, but luckily, I was able to find an amazing high-altitude cake recipe that I have tweaked to my liking.  It’s super easy, delicious, simple, and adaptable.  (But no worries!  If you live at sea-level, I have those adjustments for you also).

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*Adapted from Good Life Eats

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Sea-level adjustments: Use 1 Tbs. baking powder, 1 1/4 c. buttermilk, and 1 1/2 c. sugar.  Bake at 350*F for 14-16 minutes.

Cheers to an amazing lady.  I love you Gram!

XO SaraLynn

*Song of the Day: Songbird by Fleetwood Mac

Chocolate Fondue for 2 (or 4 or 6 or…)

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For my boyfriend’s birthday, I promised I would make him dinner, because in all reality, I am much better at making food than I am trying to figure out what to buy people.  When I get a good gift idea in my head, I can’t be stopped, but when I cannot think of an amazing gift, dinner and dessert happens instead.  Not that dinner and dessert isn’t a good gift (because it’s one of my personal favorites), but it’s also fun to hand an SO something wrapped in a big bow.  But back to the boyfriend b-day dinner!…Long story short, the guy’s birthday was in late March and I just got around to making the dinner about a week ago.  Aaaaaand the best girlfriend award goes to…not me.  At least not in the timeliness category.  However, I think I made up for it plenty with chicken pot pie and chocolate fondue!  You can’t be sad with chocolate fondue, right?  RIGHT?

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How you choose to fondue is up to you (I’m having too much fun with the rhyming, someone stop me), but the bf and I enjoyed it sitting on the floor at my coffee table while watching Lady and the Tramp (his choice, not mine!  Ugh <3).  I’m not going to tell you that doing it any other way is wrong, but this is probably the right one.  Lady and the Tramp included.

Now a quick story about the chocolate fondue:  The reason you see the fondue itself in a ramekin stuffed in a fondue pot is simple…When you are making chocolate fondue for 2, there is not enough volume for a large fondue pot which leads to the chocolate seizing, burning, and thickening.  Now, if you want to spend your dipping time adjusting temperature, stirring, and adding more cream, I promise you’ll still have fun, because that’s what my boyfriend and I had to do.  However, if you want to make your life easier, I have found that placing the chocolate fondue in a ramekin surrounded by water in the in a hot fondue pot leads to a smoother, less fussy product.  Wah-lah!  If you are making this recipe for 4 or more people, no need to worry about it!  There should be enough volume to cause no problems.  Also, if you do not have a fondue pot, you can easily make this in a heat proof bowl and just heat it back up in the micro as necessary!

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I served my fondue with strawberries and homemade almond pound cake, but you can do marshmallows, pretzels, donuts, oranges, grapes, pineapple, potato chips, or whatever fun thing you have laying around your house.  However, I cannot recommend almond pound cake enough!

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XO Sara Lynn

*Song of the Day: Lust for Life by Girls

Cinnamon Swirl Coffee Cake Muffins

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I wish I had that muffin right now.

Because I made them 2 weeks ago, and have been meaning to post the recipe since then.

And I’ve been a bad blogger.  I apologize.  I was sick all last week, which seems like the perfect time to blog if I hadn’t been sleeping the whole time.

But on another note, we finally got a new investment home my boyfriend and I will be living in for the next few years!  We are so excited to start painting and moving.  I also can’t wait to have such an awesome kitchen that I get to start cooking in.  Nice and sunny for perfect food pics!

Back to the muffins.  They are super yummy, cinnamon-y, and kind of have a caramel undertone to them.  Everything is good about these muffins.

They took a little trial and error at first, but the muffins eventually became just right!  The only downside is they fell a little flat which I wasn’t expecting.  Apparently, I need to work on a little baking soda/powder ratio.

However, the flatness did not take away from the taste at all!  They are definitely worth a try for Christmas morning or brunch with your family.

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Ingredients:

Muffins

2 c. AP flour

1 Tbs. baking powder

Pinch of salt

2 tsp. cinnamon

1/8 tsp. nutmeg

1/2 tsp. allspice

2 eggs

1 c. sugar

1/4 c. melted butter, cooled

1/2 c. buttermilk

1 tsp. vanilla

1/2 c. milk (about; I estimated a little)

Topping:

1 c. flour

1/2 c. brown sugar

1/2 tsp. cinnamon

1/4 tsp. allspice

1/4 c. butter, softened

1/2 tsp. vanilla

Cinnamon Swirl:

3 Tbs. butter, melted

1/2 c. brown sugar

1/2 tsp. cinnamon

Glaze:

1 c. powdered sugar, sifted

2 Tbs. milk

1/2 tsp. vanilla

Preheat the oven at 350* F.  Whisk together the flour, baking powder, salt, and the spices.  Set aside.

Whisk the eggs, sugar, and cooled butter together.  Add the dry ingredients, buttermilk, and vanilla.

 Mix the milk in lastly until just mixed.  The muffins will be dense if you overmix!

For the topping, mix the first four ingredients.  Then mix the butter and vanilla in until crumbly.  Set in the fridge.

Combine the brown sugar, butter, and cinnamon until the brown sugar combines into it.  Microwave for a few seconds if necessary.

To assemble, spoon the batter into lined muffin tins.  Using a toothpick, swirl 1 Tbs. of brown sugar/butter mixture into the batter, and top with 1-2 Tbs. of topping.

Bake the muffins for 12-14 minutes.

While the muffins bake, mix together the powdered sugar, milk, and vanilla.

When the muffins are finished baking, drizzle the glaze over the warm muffins.  Then they are ready to eat!

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I really might need to make these again this weekend.  They take a little bit of time, but they are by far worth it.

  • Gluten Free Version: Replace flour with quinoa or rice flower
  • Vegan Option:

Let me know what you guys think.

Stay Serendipitous!

XOXO Sara