Mini Pumpkin Cheesecake Tarts

.  HAPPY [almost] HALLOWEEN! 

Hope everyone is having a wonderful weekend thus far, I can imagine all of the crazy costume parties there have been!  My parents decided to make the trek down to Omaha for the 'holiday' weekend, so Robbie and I will be spending some quality time with them eating, carving pumpkins, and enjoying this beautiful Fall weather NE has given us lately.  But I couldn't send you all off to enjoy a candy-filled Halloween without my own little contribution.

Enter: Mini Pumpkin Cheesecake Tarts.  These little guys are scrumptious and portable, what more could you ask for?!  The cheesecake is creamy and spiced-pumpkiney, set atop an Oreo [yes, OREO!!] crust.  To finish, a smooth, vanilla homemade whipped cream adorns these individual servings.  Nom, nom, nom!

I wish everyone a very happy and safe Halloween!  And don't forget to hand out candy to those kiddies ☺ .

My Notes:
  • The original recipe calls for (about 15) gingersnap cookies for the crust.  This is actually the second time I've made these, so I've used both gingersnap and Oreos.  Personally, I prefer the gingersnaps.  They add an additional spice element that I just love, but of course, it's all up to what you are wanting!  Just like my Pumpkin-Chocolate Cheesecake Bars, pumpkin and chocolate is a winner, winner!
  • The original recipe also instructs you to beat the cream cheese with all of the cheesecake ingredients.  However, I noticed that my cream cheese didn't blend as well as I would have liked (I had a couple bits of cream cheese that refused to get mixed in), so I would suggest beating the cream cheese until smooth before adding in the remaining ingredients.  
  • Fill the muffins cups using all of the batter, the cheesecakes don't rise very much so you shouldn't have to worry about any overflow.
  • To make the whipped cream, the recipe calls for 2 teaspoons of powdered sugar.  However, I didn't love the flavor, so I added in an additional 3 teaspoons of powdered sugar.  Flavor to taste!
Adapted from Nestle 

2/3 c. (about 11) crushed Oreo cookies
2 tbsp. butter, melted

1 (8 oz.) package cream cheese, softened
1 c. pure pumpkin
1/2 c. sugar
1 tsp. pumpkin pie spice
1 tsp. vanilla extract
2 large eggs

Homemade Vanilly Whipped Cream:
1 c. heavy whipping cream
2 tsp. vanilla extract
2 tsp. powdered sugar

1.  Heat oven to 325°F.  Line 12 muffin cups with paper liners.

2.  Combine cookie crumbs and butter in small bowl.  Press scant tablespoon onto bottom of each muffin cup.  Bake 5 minutes.

3.  Beat cream cheese, pumpkin, sugar, pumpkin pie spice, and vanilla extract in small bowl until blended.  

4.  Add eggs and beat well.

5.  Evenly pour batter into muffin cups.

6.  Bake 25 to 30 minutes or until cheesecakes are set.  Cool in pan on wire rack.  Remove tarts from pan and refrigerate.

7.  For whipped cream, beat the heavy whipping cream and vanilla extract just until soft peaks form.  Add the powdered sugar and beat until just combined (do not over beat, or mixture will look curdy).

8.  Garnish cooled cheesecakes with whipped cream.  

Yield: 1 dozen tarts


Pumpkin-Brown Butter Cupcakes

. Put it in the books ladies and gents.

The Foamers ended the season with a perfect record of...7-0.

I know, you were expecting some double-digit win column, but give us a break.  It was our first year, the league isn't very big, whatcha gonna do about it?!  Regardless, my little railroaders were elated after the victory, cementing an undefeated season (and coming off of a win-less soccer season probably had something to do with it...!).

So for our very last game, I had to bring something uber special.  Yes, uber.  And, of course, a Fall-ey treat.  Which brought me to a recipe that I've had for quite awhile actually, recommended by my lovely cousin, Jillian.  As a side note, I've personally dubbed Jillian the Cupcake Queen.  She doesn't bake many other things, but cupcakes seem to be her thing.  And her decorating?  Far surpasses anything I've ever done.  She'll occasionally send me pictures of her goodies and I'm always thoroughly impressed.  And no, I'm not just being nice because she's family.  Only honesty in my little corner of the world wide web ☺

These are Jillian's pictures from when she made the Pumpkin Cupcakes.  Pretty, huh?!

But back to her suggested recipe: Pumpkin-Brown Butter Cupcakes.  Whew, these are fabulous!  Another hit pumpkin recipe for the Fall, most definitely.  Jillian knew what she was talking about when she absolutely raved about these little cakies.  The cupcakes themselves are ridiculously moist and have that most-wonderful spiced pumpkin flavor.  What makes them extra special is the generous dose of browned butter added into the mix.  Now, I will say that the cupcakes would be divine by themselves but this brown butter frosting I've briefly mentioned?  To .  Die.  For.  I'm experiencing what we call a 'brain fart' right now, otherwise I would add in a number of little phrases to truly express how addictingly yummy this frosting is.  If you've never experienced the flavors of brown butter, well you haven't started living yet.  Seriously.  Browning butter completely revolutionizes the flavor, it brings out this hidden nuttiness that is unlike anything I've tasted thus far.  Convinced?  Better be.

Make this cupcake for the Halloween weekend, it'll be the ultimate trick-or-treat sweet! .

My Notes:
  • The original recipe yields about 15 cupcakes; however, I felt like making some mini cupcakes as well, so I ended up with a dozen each of regular- and mini-sized cupcakes.
From Jillian Perry


3/4 c. unsalted butter, room temperature
1-2/3 c. all purpose flour
2 tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. ground cinnamon
1/4 tsp. grated nutmeg
1/8 tsp. ground cloves
1 c. canned pumpkin puree
1 c. packed light brown sugar
1/2 c. sugar
2 large eggs

Brown Butter Frosting:
1/2 c. unsalted butter
2 c. powdered sugar, sifted
2 tsp. vanilla extract
2 tbsp. milk


1.  Heat oven to 325°F.  Spray regular-sized muffin pan with non-stick cooking spray.  For the cupcakes, melt butter in medium-sized saucepan over medium-low heat.  Cook, swirling occasionally, until butter turns golden brown.  Skim foam from top and remove from heat.  Transfer to bowl, leaving any burnt sediment behind.  Set aside.

2.  In a small bowl, whisk together flour, baking powder, salt, cinnamon, nutmeg, and cloves.  In another bowl, whisk together pumpkin puree, light brown sugar, sugar, eggs, and brown butter.

3.  Add flour mixture to pumpkin mixture and whisk together until combined.

4.  Pour batter into muffin cups, filling just about 3/4 full.  Bake 20 minutes or until toothpick inserted in center of cupcake comes out clean.  Let cupcakes cool in pan for a couple of minutes before transferring to wire rack to cool completely.

5.  For frosting, melt butter in medium-sized saucepan over medium heat, swirling occasionally, until nut-brown in color (about 10 minutes).  Pour butter into bowl, leaving any burnt sediment behind.

6.  Add powdered sugar, vanilla extract, and milk and stir until smooth.

7.  Dip tops of cupcakes into frosting and place on wire rack to let frosting set.  

Yield: 15 cupcakes


Secret Recipe Club: Victoria Sponge Cake

. It's SRC time again!  I can't believe it's been a month since the Danish Puff reveal, my how time flies when you're old.  But then again, it felt like an eternity waiting around to show everyone my second SRC recipe.  Gosh, I love these [maybe too much?]!

For October, I was assigned Jayasri Ravi's blog Samayal Arai.  Jayasri is from the United Kingdom and has been a member of blogland since 2008, so needless to say her little corner of the Internet has a wide variety of [mainly] cooking and baking recipes, with a heavy influence from her Indian heritage.  See, this is what I love about blogging and SRC, you meet an array of people from all over the world and are introduced to foods you never otherwise would have known/heard about.  Great, huh?!

Anywho, browsing through Jayasri's recipes was extremely interesting, to say the least.  Many of her ingredients I most likely couldn't pronounce: I don't cook and am from the Midwest.  Not a good combination when you're dealing with international foods (sorry Jayasri, I tried!).  But it was great being exposed to different dishes and so many of her recipes sounded absolutely divine (check out Crispy Rice-stuffed Croquettes, Spirali Pasta with Coriander Pesto, and Milk Bread, to name a few of my favorites).  But since I'm no chef, I wandered to Jayasri's baking recipes to find something that I could attempt to recreate.  And then I stumbled upon the Victoria Sponge Sandwich Cake.  I was hooked.

Honestly, I had never heard of a Victoria Sponge Cake (hello, I'm sheltered apparently) but Jayasri's pictures made the cake look so moist and soft that I knew I had to make it.  In her post, Jayasri also mentioned that this cake was her very first attempt at baking, so I'm assuming it holds a special place in her heart. 

Overall, the flavors of this cake were exactly what I had imagined: sweet, delectable preserves cutting through a buttery cake.  However, the texture of the cake didn't really turn out as planned, it wasn't exactly that soft sponge but rather a little more crumbly than I was expecting.  I know this was due to several of my mistakes though:
  • First off, I need to upgrade to the next level and purchase a scale (I've read that the scale is the most accurate way to go when baking).  Jayasri's measurements were in grams and ounces, so I had to do some Googling to find accurate conversions.  Nevertheless, I had a hard time finding a consistent conversion for the flour, so I ended up using 1-1/3 cups, which I'm still not sure if that is even the right measurement for 6 ounces...?! 
  • I may have over beat the batter a bit.  After a little research, some recipes recommended gently folding in the flour.  I folded in the flour all right, but I'm guessing it wasn't very gentle.  So I think this is why the cake turned out not as soft as it should have.
  • Last but not least, I may have over baked the sucker a little.  Jayasri's recipe called for a sandwich tin, which I don't have, so I opted to use a 9-inch pan.  I assumed that the sandwich tin Jayasri used was smaller than my pan, so I put all of the batter into it rather than splitting it in to two pans.  I set the baking time for what was recommended but I should have watched the cake closer because I think it could have and should have come out of the oven a few minutes earlier. 
Aside from these tragic mistakes, and as I previously mentioned, the overall flavors were so, so good.  I loved the taste of a buttery cake with sweet preserves, I told Robbie it reminded me of buttered toast and jam (nix the crunchy toast part).  As you can see, the cake is very simple, so it makes a wonderful breakfast or snack time treat.  With warm coffee.  MmMMmmm!

In her recipe, Jayasri also suggested making homemade whipped cream to put in the middle of the cake, which I will definitely do next time around.  I think it would add a great creaminess to the mix.  Also, adding in some fresh fruit would be oh-so great!

Thanks again, Jayasri, I had a wonderful time perusing your blog and getting to know a little bit about you.  I'll definitely be keeping this cake in my repertoire! .

My Notes:
  • Hmm, I guess see above?!  But, I will note that the measurements below are the conversions I ended up using to make this cake.  I included Jasayri's measurements in the parenthesis', so if anyone has any suggestions for better converted measurements, please drop a comment!
From Samayal Arai

3/4 c. (6 oz.) butter, softened
3/4 c. (6 oz.) caster sugar
1-1/3 c. (6 oz.) self-rising flour, divided
3 eggs
3/4 c. favorite flavor of preserves or jam
Powdered sugar (optional, for dusting)

1.  Heat oven to 350F.  Grease 9-inch pie pan with non-stick cooking spray and line bottom with parchment paper.

2.  Cream butter and sugar together in mixing bowl until very pale in color (about 3 minutes).

3.  Beat in eggs, one at a time, each with a tablespoon of flour, until combined.

4.  Gently fold in remaining flour.

5.  Transfer batter to prepared pan.  Bake 23 to 25 minutes or until golden brown and toothpick inserted in center of cake comes out clean (the original recipe called for 30 to 40 minutes baking time but this is my suggested time to make sure the cake doesn't over bake).  Let cool in pan 2 to 3 minutes before turning out onto wire rack to cool completely.

6.  Using serrated knife or cake slicer, cut cake in half, creating two layers.

7.  Place bottom layer of cake onto serving platter.  Evenly spread preserves onto cake.  Top with second cake layer.  Dust with powdered sugar.

Yield: 8 servings


The Improv Cooking Challenge: Caramel Apple Cinnamon Rolls

. Take a seat and stay awhile.  You'll want to read about this little treat.  But let me first fill you in on why I [thankfully] even decided to attempt these heavenly rolls.

As a loyal follower of Sheryl's blog, Lady Behind the Curtain, I was invited to join her first ever Improv Cooking Challenge (ICC).  YESTHANK YOU!  I absolutely love things like this, if you can't tell.  But here's how it works...

Every month, Sheryl decides on two ingredients that the members must use in any type of recipe they like, baking or cooking.  I guess there are really no other rules except that, ha!  And then, on the assigned day [chosen by Sheryl], the members post their creations.  The purpose of the entire 'challenge' is to create your own recipe or find other recipes utilizing the specified ingredients.  Also, you get to meet tons of fellow bloggers and that's always a plus!  All in all, it's a fun and exciting challenge and I'm SO very honored to be a part of it.

A couple of weeks ago, I had the entire weekend all to myself [Robbie was out of town], and I wanted to take this opportunity to make something extra special for this challenge.  Something that I wouldn't normally have the time for during the week or when our weekends are busy spent doing who knows what.  Right away, bread was on my mind.  I LOVE making yeast breads but because of the time it takes to rise, etc., I don't do them very often.  Well, not as often as I'd like.  Anywho, I'd had the recipe for Caramel Apple Cinnamon Rolls from Annie's Eats for quite some time and just knew this was it.  Her pictures alone of gooey, flakey cinnamon rolls were all of the convincing it took [which obviously wasn't very hard!].  How I decided to make it my own, however, comes from my recipe for Soft Caramel Sauce from Heirloom Baking with the Brass Sisters, which I've used in other various recipes [not yet posted...].  Man, I'm going to give Annie and the Brass Sisters a pat on the back for this one.

These rolls are a real treat, to say the least.  The dough was flakey and soft, flavored with cinnamon and a hint of nutmeg.  The filling consists of a mixture of cinnamon sugar and caramelized apples [YUM!] and the whole treat is generously doused with the homemade Soft Caramel Sauce [addicting!].  After slathering putting the caramel sauce on the rolls, I started to think that the sauce may be a bit sweet for this concoction.  But, I was dreadfully wrong and it paired perfectly with the tender dough and tart apples.  I especially loved how the smooth sauce seeped into the crevices of the rolls and melded with the apple flavors. MmmMmM!  Seriously, near [if not] perfection.  I'm just sayin'...

My only warning is that these do take a little time [i.e., two rising sessions] but otherwise they are quite simple.  And don't fret about the rises, it leaves you time to do whatever you want [of which, I was cleaning the house!].  And the result is well worth the extra effort, belieeeeeeeve me.

Gotta say, this month's ICC ingredients were divine and I had a great time!  Thanks, Sheryl! .

My Notes:
  • I still haven't quite figured out how to make that perfect dough roll [or log, whatever you want to call it].  I always end up with end pieces that don't have much filling [it's always packed in the middle] and they're always WAY smaller than the rest.  If anyone has suggestions, I'd love to hear them!
  • The one snafoo I ran into happened when I was cooking the apples.  I think I stirred them a little too much and ended up with a few apple slices but mostly more of an applesauce mixture [see pictures below].  Honestly, I liked it this way because I'm not a huge apple chunk fan but I wanted to note this since my apples didn't turn out the way they are supposed to.
  • The only time I recommend not straying away from the kitchen is while you're making the soft caramel sauce.  This is an element that needs to be watched closely because the caramelization happens quickly.  So pay attention!
  • Make the soft caramel sauce after you're done making the dough and it's rising for 2 hours.  The sauce thickens as it sits, therefore, when you're ready to use it, the sauce won't drip off the rolls quite as much [it will still happen, but it won't be AS much].  I was more than a little impatient and 1) didn't let the sauce sit long enough and 2) applied the warm sauce to warm rolls and so there was a little more sauce-drippage than I would have liked.  Whoops.

6-1/2 tbsp. sugar
1 tsp. salt
1 tsp. ground cinnamon
Pinch of ground nutmeg
5-1/2 tbsp. unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 large egg, slightly beaten
1 tsp. lemon zest
3-1/2 c. bread flour
2 tsp. rapid rise yeast
1 c. plus 2 to 4 tbsp. whole milk or buttermilk, at room temperature

Apple Filling:
1-1/2 tbsp. unsalted butter
3 Granny Smith apples, peeled, cored, and cut into 1/4-inch slices
1/4 c. sugar
1/2 tsp. cornstarch
1/4 tsp. ground cinnamon
Pinch of ground nutmeg
Pinch of salt
1 tsp. vanilla extract
3 tbsp. plus 1 tsp. sugar
3/4 tsp. ground cinnamon

Soft Caramel Sauce:
1 c. sugar
1/4 c. water
1 tbsp. light corn syrup
1 c. heavy whipping cream
1/8 tsp. salt

1.  In bowl of electric mixer, cream together sugar, salt, cinnamon, nutmeg, and butter on medium speed until smooth.

2.  Mix in egg and lemon zest until incorporated.

3.  Mix in flour, yeast and milk until dough forms.  Switch to the dough hook and knead on low speed until dough is silky and supple, tacky but not sticky (about 8 minutes).  You may need to add in additional flour or milk to achieve the desired texture.  Lightly oil large bowl and place dough in bowl, turning once to cover with oil. Cover bowl with plastic wrap and let rise until doubled in size (about 2 hours).

4.  For caramel sauce, combine sugar, water and light corn syrup in heavy saucepan over high heat.  Bring to boil, stirring with wooden spoon.  

5.  Reduce heat to medium high.  Do not stir.  Continue boiling until mixture turns golden brown (not dark brown, about 6 minutes).  Remove pan from heat.  Swirl sauce gently in pan twice.

6.  Add butter and stir slowly until melted.  Add in heavy whipping cream and stir again (if caramel seizes, place pan on medium heat and stir with wooden spoon until smooth, about 1 minute).  Add salt.  Pour caramel sauce into bowl and cool to room temperature.  Set aside until ready for use.

7.  For filling, melt butter in skillet over medium-high heat.  Add apple slices, 1/4 cup sugar, cornstarch, 1/4 teaspoon cinnamon, nutmeg, and salt.  Mix until apples are evenly coated.  

8.  Cook about 18 minutes, stirring occasionally.  Remove from heat and add vanilla extract.  Set aside to cool.  

9.  Once dough has risen, spray work surface with cooking oil.  Roll dough into 12x14-inch rectangle (or 9x18-inch rectangle for smaller rolls).

10.  Sprinkle dough with cinnamon sugar mixture.  Evenly distribute caramelized apples over dough.

11.  Starting with wide edge, roll dough into log.  Slice the log into the desired number of rolls.  Transfer rolls to parchment-lined baking sheet, about 1/2 to 1-inch apart.  Cover loosely with plastic wrap and let rise until rolls grow into each other (about 75 to 90 minutes).  

12.  Heat oven to 350°F.  Bake 20 to 30 minutes or until golden brown.  Let cool on pan 10 minutes before transferring to wire rack to cool completely.  Place parchment paper from baking sheet under wire rack to catch excess caramel sauce when glazing rolls.

13.  Using a large spoon, glaze rolls with soft caramel sauce.  There will be caramel drippings from the rolls, but spoon the excess from the parchment paper and replace on rolls.

Yield: 1 dozen rolls

Check out all of the other ICC participants through the blog hop below, happy clicking!
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