Camp Cheesecake

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http://www.campcheesecake.com/
https://twitter.com/campcheesecake
Main Location: Outer Cities, Etc

With many a new Minnesota food truck operation popping up this year in outlying cities, I’ve had to make acception of the fact that there are certain trucks I’ll never be able to get to; which I do believe I have briefly talked about in another review. Then there are those which I simply have to wait for that ideal moment when they’ve strayed into my web of edible capture! I make it sound like a clever trap, though really it’s just whatever distance I let my laziness stretch to.

Such was my great luck in 2016’s latest dessert truck, which seems to hang around all the most outer edges south and west of Minneapolis. Started by the Muddy Paws Cheesecake in St Louis Park, this popular sweets business took their catering aspect into the adorable little camper trailer-esque vehicle that is Camp Cheesecake. Yet was this business another one I had no confidence in approaching, as it hadn’t even eased up to the uptown area, only to see them scheduled for an opening party on Bloomington Avenue! So I got to pop on down and enjoy the dense creamy treat.

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As one would expect, the little trailer is filled with what else but Cheesecake? The business sets itself to stock a group of 8-10 different varieties for each day. There’s definitely no set list, I could only say one is certain to find the classic New York Style plain cheesecake and the most popular, apparently, Raspberry Swirl. Otherwise one can expect to come into contact with items like different fruit or seasonally-flavored Swirls, Chocolate Chip/Candy-Bar studded creations, Chocolate or Caramel-based custard, Key Lime Pie [also seems a favorite], and many more. Definitely take a look at the site for the ‘whole’ list; of which who knows if and when they’ll make even more.

 

Food: 7.5

                Let’s start with the positives. Definitely that classic, dense and tangy-style cheesecake, very craveable and good. And I actually ate all of it! I ended up getting two slices: the fun S’mores, with a layer of tasty chocolate cheesecake on top of the original, and the seasonal Pumpkin Swirl. Now, when it comes to cheesecake, so often have I started on a single slice, and close to the end just wanted to stop because of how heavy and monotonous it is; so I’ve always valued the ability to fully enjoy the entire thing. It probably helped that flavors changed from one piece to the other, but still I found no edible fatigue. Classic, delicious cheesecake.

Individually, I found a distinct disappointment with the ‘flavors.’ Firstly, for the S’mores, they should either do some more work on it or just call it ‘chocolate layered cheesecake’ or something; through all of that, the graham cracker crust is nondistinct and tasteless, more just a base for texture as the flavor is overridden. And there’s nothing marshmallow, toasted or otherwise! There’s that tiny little mini on the end, but no, that doesn’t count; neither does the argument that ‘the cheesecake is like replacing the marshmallow,’ because it doesn’t! You say s’mores, I WANT MARSHMALLOW. So I expect either the batter is flavored with the melted gelatin-meringue, or a big topping of the soft confection, both versions ideally toasted. Also, though the Swirl technique is a really easy way to add a flavor to cheesecake in an attractive way, it also carries the risk of… well, you can see how thin that puree layer actually reaches. Unless you’re lucky enough to get some or most of it that falls deep, the flavor we so seek to find becomes extremely subtle. Which is a shame, I DID have half of it that dipped down, and it was a nice classic taste that works well with cheesecake, but the rest was more like seasoned cheesecake.

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That useless bitching aside, here’s my REAL complaint. The cheesecake was dense, and cold, not really a problem except for the fact that it was… also a touch ‘flaky’ in the middle of one of them, in a certain way. Basically put, these were stored in a freezer at one point or another. Now… why the HELL are these getting frozen? They make it themselves, by scratch, supposedly every day… that’s the whole idea of who they are! It’s already cold and dense enough when being stored in a regular fridge, one only risks accidentally serving an icy-ish product to customers, of which there was already a faint hint in mine. Not to mention I can only assume a custard like this that’s been frozen and thawed is going to be at least slightly inferior to one that’s only seen regular, brief cooling. But if, for whatever the odd reason is, that they HAVE to store it in a freezer at one point or another, truly you need to make sure to give it even MORE time to ensure proper thawing. Please.

Holdability: 8.5

                 Each slice is nice and compactly packaged, no mess as you eat it with a fork and carry it around. Though if you don’t even care of appearances, the dense ‘cream cheese pie’ is easy as heck to simply pick up with your hand and chow down. No falling apart with only the most minimal traces left on the fingertips. Though it does feel a shame they hadn’t tried to go the extra step and provide these beautiful wedges ‘on-a-stick’ or in some other fun, more portable form. Oh well.
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Price: 9.5

                  $4 for a slice, and what’s even better is it’s $7 if you buy two, though they don’t say that sadly! A great low-priced dessert option.

Speed: 10

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Every one of ‘em is ready to go on order, just gotta put them in the box and pay.

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The TOE: 8

                  A little trailer that hands out cheesecake? What’s not to love about that idea! And it’s an adorable, consistently unique and attractive design; even the truck that hauls it around got some graphic painting on it. Food quality aside, though the feeling of ‘simple, classic cheesecake business’ is strong, I really do wish they would try for some more unique creations. Either amp up the flavors, get them covered in big guilty-pleasure toppings, or work on even more ‘mobile’ versions like ‘mini pies’ or, as mentioned earlier, getting it on sticks. Why not do at least ONE chocolate-dipped slice, flavor rotating weekly, for that fun street food appeal? Or roll some baked cheesecake filling into balls and coat in a variety of crusts/toppings and in a bag to carry around for snacking? SOMETHING exciting it needs, otherwise, after a visit or two… it just feels a bit boring, in my opinion.

Tally: 43/50

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Final Thoughts

You may not find these guys at a big local truck rally anytime soon, but regard any event, occasion, or random day one can visit, this little edible camper trailer offers a noted possibility to grab a sweet snack for then or later. Great for those who want that ‘one extra thing’ for just a few bucks, especially if they enjoy cheesecake. Personally, I’m not really one for the ‘Swirls;’ they look pretty, but as I mentioned the puree is often mostly just on the surface with no penetration. I would say most joy would be in those items where the flavor is mixed throughout, or mixed with bigger chunks of things (ah-la Butterfinger and Chocolate Chip cheesecakes). But those are how I MYSELF lean in preferential cheesecake options. This is definitely a classic and typical flavor line-up; pick your personal favorites or whichever flavors excite your interest. The one thing I would say: DEFINITELY avoid New York style. It’s delicious I’m sure, but why go for the standard on this rare opportune visit when you could get something different and fun? It’s like going to a special ice cream shop with 50 flavors one can only find in an outside state and going for Vanilla. I don’t care what you say, you people that do that are freaks, FREAKS!!

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Leprechaun Dreamcycle (Quasi-Review)

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https://twitter.com/leprechaun69
http://www.leprechaunsdreamcycle.com/

Long long ago, in days past when food trucks only just started the ‘Lunch by the River’ phenomenon in St Paul, I recall coming across a little popsicle cart that would hang out by the crowds on hot days. The side was festooned with posters of products, reminiscent of a classic ice cream truck with our old favorite, Fudgesicles and Rocket Ships and the like, just in smaller form. Of course I ignored it, needing to save my money and not even sure if it qualified as a ‘must hit’ business, purely using pre-made consumer frozen goods as opposed to homemade specialty; as far as I was concerned, was it no different than the regular musical ice cream truck, which does not usually qualify for my writings.

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Years later and I start seeing pictures for Leprechaun Dreamcycle on Twitter and Facebook, and curiosity got the better of me for what could be a unique business. The cart has been notably updated; well, actually added-on, getting a second now festooned with colorful decoration, making their own cut-and-paste displays for menu items and prices inside the rainbow of unicorns and children’s fantasy that is the bike, cart, and umbrella. Of course the older cart is still in use, the owner’s son now taking responsibility and setting out to dispense frozen treats on his own time in the Twin Cities while father, Wally ‘O’Wanka,’ stands stout in his old timey white suit no matter the weather, red hair and moustache twirling in the breeze.

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The ice cream and pops are still the classics, from Blue Bunny ice cream sandwiches (I got the ‘birthday cake’ one, gotta love that sugar/sprinkle/frosting-extract flavor! And an ice cream that practically felt and tasted like marshmallows) to the classic Orange Dreamsicle. Though the owner has let slip that a friend of his is currently in the works of making 3 particular items JUST for them; could this friend perhaps be from Frio Frio? Who knows.

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Setting up at local events and St Paul parks, Leprechaun is truly set up for the children in all of us, but really excels with children in general. Did you know you get a free Balloon Animal with every purchase? I got a Llama (I think, it might be an Alpacca… I’ve named him George, do not ask me why)! They even have Coloring Books, which Wally makes himself featuring local St Paul parks and other things. A little guitar sits in the basket waiting to be played, and I won’t begin to try and imagine what else he has up those long sleeves, or hidden in that colorful contraption of his, ready and waiting to have a good time with. If there’s EVER a choice of street vendors to visit with the kids for a quick treat, then make it this one which specializes on the experience by leaps and bounds compared to others.

And isn’t that just the most adorable hitch trailer used to haul around this cart to their various frequent and changing locations?

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                 Food: 9 – Much props to the texture, the treats kept at the ideal so they aren’t super-cold and firm, giving simply with pressure from the lips while holding shape. Gotta admit, the flavor and sugars may all be factory-made and confected, but is there not that childhood nostalgia from these that we still secretly love? It’ll never be AS good as properly made, quality, natural flavors, but we can hold some appreciation for it. Really though, this is one of, if not THE, only carts practically made for the MUCH younger demographics, and we all know how they feel about dreamsicles, fugesicles, ice cream sandwiches, and all those good things.

Holdability: 10 – Unless you wait a while, not even melty and sticky… maybe for the kids.

Price: 9 – Mostly $3 and $3.50, with a $4 item and the dreamsicle at $2.50, or one can go even lower and get the rocket ship for $1.50

Speed: 10

Toe: 10 – I mean for the love of god look at it! And you get a balloon animal and coloring book! Need I explain more?

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Had to get at least one professional-looking picture in here! A shame I didn’t take it

A Peace of Cake

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http://www.apeaceofcakemn.com/home.html
https://twitter.com/APeaceofCakeMN
Main Location: St Paul

As we wander the streets in search of food truck meals, sooner or later we’re hit with that familiar urge… the need for sweet. Sometimes just having a taco or sandwich won’t do it, but instead that need to finish a period of eating properly with some crave-ending dessert becomes all that’s important. But what options for this in the Twin Cities do we have? There are those Cupcake Trucks that are sometimes out, a few select purveyors of Frozen Treats, even a new Crepe vendor that’s hit our streets. Yet we’ve already seen these, the same old kinds of food we’re used to, with none of that true ‘edge’ which I myself always seek out from my ideal food trucks. If we’re lucky a savory truck might offer an intriguing little twist on some kind of dessert, but who knows which one and when they’ll decide to do it?

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Enter A Peace of Cake, already a dependably consistent St Paul native truck rolled out just over a month ago, offering something quite unique… well, actually, quite classic to the streets, but served in a way we’re definitely not used to (try to find another place that’s publicly known for doing this, I dare you). Despite the name’s assumption, Mini Donuts are the name of the game as a result of the owner absolutely abhorring the idea of throwing away food at the end of the day (I feel ya sister, much pain there), so instead they went for a medium that they could stop making whenever they wanted/needed and didn’t have to worry about produce, fruit, batter, or other things spoiling over a slower week.

Looking to recreate herself, owner Dana decided, like many food truck owners do at one point or another, that she wanted to work for herself. Thus the truck was started, along with their message (which can be clearly seen in the triple-logo) of Anarchy, Peace, and Mini Donuts, for “In Society, how can we be all upset if we find a little bit of peace and a little bit of happiness with some sugar on top.”

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Gotten in the classic little white paper to-go bag, these fried pastries can be dusted in Sugar, Cinnamon, Cardamom, or other Seasonal flavors. Or, in one of their “Boats/Barges” (really it’s just a basket, but let’s not rescind their right to amusing labels). Though it’s not that they’re served in these containers… but that, when in here, they are then completely doused in a variety of sweet (and sometimes savory) sauces and toppings of choice, like a big pile of deep-fried, O-shaped, buttery pancakes eaten in only the most sinful ways (screw berries, chocolate and caramel and nuts all the way!).

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The offerings themselves come in a variety of pre-made combos utilizing some form of Chocolate, Caramel, or ‘Vanilla’ sauce (though one can just get a basket drizzled with one of those), often along with other toppings like nuts, sprinkles, candy, etc. The Peanut Buster, containing chocolate+caramel+peanuts, is popular, as is the Oreo with the classic cookie and vanilla. Though there are also options like “Hot Cakes” w/ maple and powdered sugar, a Sriacha-Honey number, even a Strawberry-Coconut thing (among others, even Nerds), all depending on what’s on for the day one gets there.

And no need to fret the difficulty of hard decisions, as they offer the amazing option to split baskets in half with two options of one’s choice. Eaten with an environmentall-friendly, degradable ‘wooden’ fork, and this can certainly combine into a match made in sweet tooth heaven. Let’s see if it actually does.

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Food: 7

We have to start at the heart of things; the donuts. First off, let me just say how refreshing it is to finally be able to have a mini donut that doesn’t have every bit of it covered in sugar or something. I never knew how much I was missing out on this crispy, perfectly fried dough outside, encasing the buttery soft interior perfectly. It’s a good thing I didn’t have a bucket of these, otherwise I would be deadest on getting them all shoved into my or stranger’s stomachs before turning cold. They’re like the donut version of Sweet Martha’s Cookies.

So you could say it’s a good thing that they were covered in those sauces… because they did not make me want to eat more of it. As excited as I was, as delightfully sinful as it looks, and as much as I love dessert and sweet things… there was just too much sugar here. Seriously. I know I know, hey, I’ve watched plenty of food competition shows and yelled at the judges for bitching that “oh this dessert is sweet, and I don’t like sweet desserts,” because you know that if anything it’s just a tad more sweet focused than having that sweet+savory+whatever-the-hell-else balance that doesn’t even taste like a true dessert anyway. But I know there are also times when something really is just TOO sweet, I’ve experienced it many times, like those cheap cakes that are just filled with frosting that just feels like sugar turned into paste and rubbed across the teeth. There really is such a thing as too much, usually that point when the expression ‘tooth numbing’ comes into our head.

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And that’s what some of the main sauces tend to do here. Taking advantage of the duo basket to try the two most appealing things on the menu and in pictures, I went for the Oreo and Peanut Buster flavorings. To keep it short (maybe), the ‘vanilla’ sauce used in the oreo is nothing more than royal icing, the purest form of sugary frosting ever, closest to what’s normally used to frost donuts, but that’s in a thin layer. This is poured on in a thick glob of white, accompanied by the classic chocolate cookies, the flavor of which sadly doesn’t even stand out much. I was hoping to get that amazing ‘cookies and cream’ experience, but all I got was sugar and some cocoa-crunchy stuff.

The chocolate sauce they use for other things is quite obviously milk chocolate based, and tastes very much like a Hershey’s bar. It’s definitely a thick, sort of cloying chocolate, decent on the first bite with some caramel and peanut, but making you hate yourself a bit in the not-so-fun/ironic way we usually do with the idealized ‘sinful’ foods. I just… wish they did dark chocolate, not because ‘oooh it’s fancy and I’m grown up so dark chocolate is what I’m supposed to like,’ but because it actually has that proper balance of sweetness, not to mention the AMAZING deeper, chocolate flavor that we really want in these dishes.

If only a couple of these sauces were improved, some sort of marshmallowy-cream thing for the oreo and dark chocolate, probably a better caramel (wasn’t easy to taste, but I imagine it feels just as confected), or at the least feature more of  (or purely focus on) the other unique flavors/toppings their online menu suggests they have from time to time, then it’d be just perfect. Because I really hated the fact that I had to bitch like this here for this truck. Really I did. Luckily the donuts were good enough that, knowing there are other non-sauce options, I can keep the score for them at a decent point.

Holdability: 9

Either you’re getting a bag with the classic carry-around ability of regular mini-donut adventures or a basket covered in sauce, which may seem daunting at first in this line (if you use your fingers, yes it’s messy), but using a fork eliminates EVERY bit of this. I know I normally encourage eating with fingers, especially for something like donuts, but here it just feels proper to use their special forks to very easily lift each bite-size (put it all in your mouth at once, DO IT!!!) topping-covered dough ball at a time. They thus transform into the easiest and cleanest kind of basket food to eat on the street.

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Price: 9.5

Doughnuts really are quite the price-efficient food items, with a basket of 6 coming in at $4, doubling it for a total of $6, the value of which increases even further to the simple fact that you don’t have to buy separate baskets to try a couple different toppings. I’ll admit I didn’t pay attention to what the classic sacs of mini-donuts cost, but I think it’s the same for 10-12 are, but I think it was $4, or also $6 at the most.

Speed: 9.5

They’re not fried purely to order (but as one can tell from previous, that definitely doesn’t affect the quality of what you get), with batches ready and needing only a drizzle, sprinkle, or whatever one has on top for order.

The TOE: 10

Look, I love cupcakes, and crepes, and ice cream, and all that stuff, but we have needed a full-dessert truck like this for the longest time, one with that ‘food truck twist.’ The design is fun, the name is cool, their whole view on things is funky and a little different, which clearly comes through both with their image and the food served. They’ve taken something we’re all familiar with and love and just served it up notably different than what we’re used to, like making a dessert version of chili cheese fries or something; that’s sort of cool right? And the regular sugar/spice sprinkled options can still come in unique flavors if one so desires. This really is exactly what I’ve been looking for in terms of having our own special dessert-focused food truck. In essence, the whole menu is a giant collection of Toe Rings, some of the toppings just need tweaking… well, more than tweaking. But at the end of the day, the whole idea, uniqueness, and fun behind it launches top points for the experience category.

Tally: 45/50

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Final Thoughts

For anyone developing a sweet tooth while walking the streets, this is the truck to take advantage of. But if you’re not sharing a basket with a few friends, make sure to be quite wary which flavoring options one chooses.

Despite my own love of the concept, especially considering the chance to finally experience the raw crispy-butter edges of these donuts without being covered in a layer of sugar/icing, I would imagine the truly best option is going for the Cardamom-dusted donuts in the classic white travel bag for a fun twist on traditional mini-donuts that doesn’t numb our teeth in excess sugar. For the basket options, I would haphazard the Hot Cakes/Breakfast of Maple Syrup and Powdered Sugar would come together rather well; a bit more naturally sweet vs the artificial chocolate and icing. Though the Caramel on its own might work better than my experiences, so perhaps a simple drizzle of that.

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There ARE other menu items that weren’t featured that day-of which I imagine would work amazingly in the mouth. Sriacha-cha (using sriacha honey), Sweet Chili (chili sauce, peanuts, powdered sugar), and Strawberry Shortcake (strawberry sauce and coconut cream, yum) should all form some fantastic oral experiences at much better and more controlled, or at least contrasted, sweetness levels. If you HAVE to have something chocolate, and have a friend or two to share, attack the S’mores (we’re used to that Hershey Bar sweetness for those anyway) or Walnut Walkover (apparently that one has the walnuts mixed INTO the caramel, should highlight it more).

And please, PLEASE, until they change the topping, avoid the Oreo and other options using the ‘Vanilla’ sauce. I know it’s attractive and seems like a proper signature, but it’s just pure sugar royal icing that doesn’t contribute anything besides cavities. Look at the other options, I beg you.

Fro Yo Soul

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http://www.fro-yo-soul.com/
https://twitter.com/FroYoSoul
Main Location: Minneapolis, St. Paul

Much like food trucks, the frozen yogurt, or ‘fro yo,’ shop craze has been blooming at a rather steady rate over the past decade. Being the live-in social outcast who’s never on the right web pages for staying up-to-date on these kind of things, I myself didn’t even discover these pump-yourself (oh god that sounds so wrong, but we know it’s so right) until a trip to San Francisco a few years back. For obvious reasons I jumped on the bandwagon and fell in love immediately, especially with some of the very special bevy of toppings to choose from, only to fly back to Minnesota, where though we have shops they are much farther away from my location than I’d like.

Now, taking this idea and turning it into a food truck isn’t that new either; special truck builders have been making these unique self-serve mobile fro yo creations for various entrepreneurs throughout the US for a few years. But sadly, we in the Twin Cities had yet to find one on our streets (much like the grilled cheese issue –shakes head-)… until now.

Fro Yo Soul entered the twin city street food race in late June of 2014 (of course I don’t notice until three months later… at this point I don’t know how much is my fault and how much is lack of others reporting), and so far has premiered with much acclaim. Much like the shops, Soul offers a set of frozen yogurt churners which one can pull from to have as much or as little of whatever flavor you desire. 6 of these machines are installed into the side, set into three pairs, each of which can be ‘twisted’ together if that’s one’s preference.

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The first pair of Vanilla and Dutch Chocolate is set to be a constant every day, but the other four machines are highly seasonal and changing often. They usually contain a pair of yogurt fruit-based options, like Pomegranate and the classic ‘Tart’ (plain yogurt) freezes, as well as a pair of Vegan Frozen Yogurts which really show the seasonality. On my visit these last two were Chai Tea and Pumpkin flavored, it being October. All of the frozen yogurt is completely Organic, and enhanced with vitamins and other good-body-ingredients (like they add at jamba juice or wherever).

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And of course, at the end of the line exists a variety of toppings; fresh Fruit, Cereal, classic Sprinkles and Candy options.  After pulling out as much of the frozen cream into your cup as you want and loading with toppings, the chilled concoction is weighed and priced accordingly, and we thus leave with a spoon in hand to enjoy the soft serve goodness.

Food: 8.5

                Best thing about going to one of these trucks for reviewing is I can sample multiple flavors without having to worry about exponentially large wallet removals. As such, I was able to grab the Dutch Chocolate, a twist of Pomegranate and Tart Yogurt, and their Vegan Pumpkin fro yo.
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As someone obsessed with ice cream, I can’t say that this reached the absolute pinnacle of sinful joy (well I guess it’s supposed to be good for you so that shouldn’t apply), but the yogurt concoctions were smooth, a little rich, without any undesired ‘milky’ flavor/textures (like Dairy Queen…). I did quite enjoy their chocolate, would definitely not mind a big bowl of that with some well-paired toppings. The fruit/yogurt options are somewhat interesting; it reminded me of all the Gogurts I was obsessed with as a kid. It really is the flavor and texture one would expect when they originally hear ‘frozen yogurt,’ whether that’s a good thing or bad in your desires. As such I will say that it wasn’t how I ideally want to experience the fruit flavor, almost felt confected/mass produced, but then again that’s pomegranate, where they probably had to use the pure juice, which CAN have that aspect to it when mixing with certain things. Perhaps other fruit flavors may come off better.

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And finally, the Vegan Fro Yo… actually came out better than what I was dreading. Texturally one could tell the difference between that and the original, but not in an inferior way. A little sharper, lighter in style vs the denser and creamier vanilla-chocolate, and the pumpkin flavor was handled pretty well I’d think. Lighter, retaining a bit of its sweetness and desired qualities. Very likely came from the can, it’s not as deep or complex of flavors that good, high quality ice cream places might make it, but it’s still quite good.

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When it comes to toppings, sad to say there’s not THAT much to choose from, at least not if you’re used to a lot of the other fro yo shops. A few cereals, fruit, and basic chocolate and gummy candies make up most of it; though I did find some interesting options in sprinkle cups of chia seeds, wasabi powder, and an option of sunflower seeds. I opted for the last, some granola (which was a nice version, not that crunchy though), and coconut. They don’t have any sauces (maybe on other days?), and I’m absolutely disheartened not to see the typical ‘pop pearls’ or, my absolute favorite, diced Mochi. Either way I really wish they amped up the number of offerings here; more fro yo options would be nice too, but I can understand the limited special requirements for that.

Holdability: 9

               Two hands required, but it’s pretty clean-going and unmessy.
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Price: 10

                At 58c per ounce, one really isn’t paying much for their selection of tasty frozen treats. With just over 5 ounces, my selection of three different options came to a bit over $3, and even if one really ‘loaded up’ to a heavy cupful I doubt they’d breach the $10 mark anytime soon. One can really see here how these shops got so popular.

Speed: 9.5

 

You make it yourself, time is taken up only by choosing your own options and weighing.

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The TOE: 7

                This style of truck and business is always fun and unique-looking for a reason, thus creating an enjoyable experience whenever one goes. On a down note, the act of doing everything yourself, though raising points in this category, also decreases due to a bit of disconnect from those running the business and experience in the first place. Also, I just gotta take a couple points off for having a topping selection that’s notably lacking compared to what I’ve seen in other fro yo shops (seriously, I want Mochi).

Tally: 44/50

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Final Thoughts

There’s not really much I can say here in terms of ‘suggestions;’ pick a flavor and put as much of it as you want on it, the place is as simple as that. Final options are all highly dependent on your own personal tastes, whether one enjoys fruity over chocolate or other flavors. All I can say here is that it’s a great place to get a treat on the cheap, so for anyone wanting SOME sort of Fun food truck experience with little money to spend it’s ideal. Not to mention a fantastic Dessert stop for Vegans (or anyone really).

Starting to think I should have just done a Quasi-review for these guys… oh well.

SFC: The Ripe Pastry

And yet more leftover overripe bananas festoon our freezer. I got a bit tired of just turning it to bread, so I queried at350Degrees (again, thank you for the help) on some ratio advice and set about to making a major fusion Cookie project: “Brown Butter Banana Chocolate Chip.”

Been wanting to make a Banana cookie for a while, and a recent post on a brown butter chocolate chip was just too endearing to not want to combine the two. Though I’ll admit the final result wasn’t what my mind desired, I know EXACTLY what adjustments need to be made to capitalize on these delicious flavors.

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Brown Butter Banana Chocolate Chip Cookie (after adjustments)
1 Cup (2 Sticks) Butter
½ Cup Sugar
¾ Cup Brown Butter
1-2 Eggs
1 Tb Vanilla
¼-3/8 Cup Mashed Super-Duper-Over-Ripened Banana (1 SMALL fruit)
¾ tsp Baking Soda
1 tsp Salt
2-2¼ Cup Flour
1 ½ Cup Smaller/Mini Chocolate Chips

Brown Butter is an amazing thing. If you have yet to experience this rich, toasty, nutty version of its original form, then I suggest you make some, right now. No I don’t care if you’re planning on cooking anything else or not, you just need to make the butter. Cook it, eat a spoonful of it and reserve the rest for other things later on.

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And really simple too, start by turning your relevant saucepan (for the sake of the Cookies, it should be large enough to take in all ingredients later on) to Med/Med-Low and start melting that milk-fatty goodness. Now just let it go…

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The plan for now is waiting, watching, and prepping your other ingredients as it goes along, making sure one stirs and swirls the pot every now and then (we want to thoroughly brown the butter, not let the bottom burn). At first it’ll start foaming and “simmering,” the water content in the butter slowly cooking out of the hot fat. As it goes along, the proteins and other “milk solids” start to unravel and tighten under the attacking heat, separating from the emulsion of the butter stick, and soon you’ll be able to stare clear through the fat to the bottom of the pan as if it was colored water, watching as the white solid flakes settle and move around the bottom.

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The butter will stop simmering around this point, which would be the signal point of completion if one had set about to make Clarified Butter. Just strain out through a fine cloth/strainer and use for all your butter needs. Or, of course, we can keep going on until it gets all tinted and nutty… which will start quickly but take a while to get to the desired point.

Just keep at it, I adjust the temperature a little lower to ensure it doesn’t go over on me (if making Clarified butter, I might suggest a lower temp to start with, mine was already a bit brown at the finishing state). It’ll start smelling like peanut skins, but as it goes that faint hint will deepen and bloom, giving toast and bread and spices, with a raw chestnutty color. For everyday uses, we take this off and carefully, slowly strain through cheesecloth or other fine apparatus.

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For the cookies, we keep it there and just dump in the Sugars. No straining or nothing, just keep all those milk solids in to better flavor our impending cookies. Though it’s not as simple as it sounds, we’ll be going through a little “process” with this sugar addition.

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Whisking the sugar mixture in vigorously, turning the butter into a smooth consistency. Take it off the heat to cool for about 9 minutes, going back every 3 minutes to stir vigorously once more. Besides helping to actually cool down faster, I believe this action is mainly to ensure the sugar and butter don’t separate too much, as it is very prone to do when hot (believe me). This’ll better ensure they emulsify easier when cool and we start adding in other ingredients, as opposed to the sludge-like state while still hot. I myself actually let it sit an extra couple minutes and whisked one more time just to ensure the success.

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Add your Egg and Vanilla to the now somewhat warm mixture and prepare to incorporate the Banana.

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So, here’s what should have been happening to your banana by now. Not only is this not a “fresh” fruit, this also isn’t one that’s been sitting “a few days and has a little line of brown spots.” This banana, now, THIS banana has been on your counter for a week, MINIMUM, perhaps 2. It’s skin has looked the same mud-brown mottled for some days, with no motion to continue its threat to cover the whole fruit. It’s sugars have ripened just about as much as they can on their own…

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And then you throw it in the freezer for a couple days, for both “storage” purposes and to push the fruit one final step, concentrating the sugars and flavors even further. As it thaws on the counter, which only takes about an hour, the fruit is left as a softened jelly of pure sweet banana flavor, just barely holding together. Do not be afraid of its blackened demeanor, there is no such thing as going too far with this fruit when cooking is concerned.

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With that gotten out of my system, we can start adding the banana, mashed, alongside the Dry Mix; I start with a bit of the latter to firm it up before mixing in the wet fruit. After, add in the rest of the flour, and more if needed, to reach what looks to be a proper cookie dough consistency (remembering it’ll firm up more once FULLY cooled).

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Leave to cool on the counter even further, folding in your Chips or other Mix-ins when ready (I split it in half and did a Regular and White Chocolate batch!). I’ve found I prefer the Minis when going for this new fusion, as the larger chunks just created these concentrated pockets of gooey chocolate which, though awesome, can override the other flavors I’m trying to shine very easily.

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Move to the fridge to chill down at least 2 hours or overnight; apparently the originator of the Brown Butter Cookie follows a technique of storing it a minimum 48 hours before cooking. I’m not sure what exactly is happening to it at that time, but there’s probably some logical reason for it.

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For ease of storage and portioning later, wrap dough completely in plastic, patting or rolling out to an even thickness that you’d like for your cookies (I go about an inch at least). Squeeze and adjust the sides ‘till it’s rectangular and store.

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When close to ready, transfer to your freezer for at least 30-45 minutes beforehand; this step really helps the cookie keep its height and softness when baking so it doesn’t turn into a thin puddle, though if that’s what you’re looking for (it does make a nice crispy cookie), then go ahead and bake for room temperature. Turn oven to 375F, slice the desired amount and size from your dough block with a handy-dandy pizza cutter (this can be done ahead of time before freezing), and space cookies out on a Parchment or Sprayed baking pan, and cook 10-13 minutes, turning the sheet around halfway in.

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Remove, transfer to a plate while it’s still soft and hot, and enjoy with a large glass of ice cold milk. Or on its own, it’s a pretty damn good cookie. A soft, more subtle note of the banana paired with soft, gooey rich chocolates, both bolstered by the gentle nutty, almost spicy aspect the brown butter imparts. All of this held in a baked dough that feels halfway between a cookie and actual banana bread. It’s a fun little taste factory.

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Hopefully your first attempt at this turns out more ideally focused than mine, though I’m sure the final result won’t be too complaint worthy either way. Good Luck in all your own upcoming culinary inventions and Good Eating them!

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SFC: Cookie Day

                It’s not a true Holiday Season without at least one Cookie-based event, whether it’s the traditional “Exchange” or just baking a large batch for the upcoming party. A while back me, my sis, and cousins start our own little yearly thing of just getting together and all making different cookies. With my new pursuit into blogging and recipes during this year, I thought it’d be nice to list down all the recipes we brought over (and cookies are portable, so it counts towards my blog focus!). And no need to worry, I plan on keeping descriptions short and sweet (or copy and paste, haha), so very very little rambling with this one, except for the one or two things I ended up changing.

Chewy Ginger Cookies

2 1/4 cups all-purpose flour

2 1/2 teaspoons ground ginger

1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda

1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1/2 teaspoon freshly ground nutmeg

1/2 teaspoon kosher salt

1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

3/4 cup (packed) dark brown sugar

1/2 cup vegetable shortening (preferably trans-fat free)

1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, room temperature

1 large egg

1/2 cup blackstrap (robust) molasses

2 teaspoons finely grated peeled ginger

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1/2 cup finely chopped crystallized ginger

1 cup raw or sanding sugar

             Arrange racks in lower and upper thirds of oven; preheat to 350°F. Line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper. Whisk flour, ground ginger, baking soda, cinnamon, nutmeg, salt, and pepper in a medium bowl. Using an electric mixer on medium-high speed, beat brown sugar, shortening, and butter in a large bowl, scraping down sides halfway through beating, until light and fluffy, about 3 minutes.

             Reduce mixer speed to low. Add egg, molasses, grated ginger, and vanilla; beat just to blend. Add flour mixture; beat on low speed just to blend. Mix in crystallized ginger (preferably some leftovers from when you made your own ;)); dough will be very soft and sticky.

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              Place raw sugar in a shallow bowl (if you don’t have raw, look to see if you can find any of those brown sugar cubes; I just found a bunch and crushed them up myself). Scoop out about a Tablespoon of dough into the bowl with raw sugar; turn to coat well. Roll into a ball. Transfer to prepared baking sheet. Repeat with half of remaining dough and sugar, spacing balls 1 1/2″ apart.

               Bake about 12-15 minutes until spread and baked (not really sure on time, sort of lost this part in the recipe, haha).

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Chocolate Hazelnut Crinkle Cookies

2/3 cup toasted (and de-skinned) hazelnuts (almonds or cashews should work decently as substitute)

2 tablespoons granulated sugar

6 oz fine-quality bittersweet chocolate (no less than 60% cacao if marked), finely chopped

3/4 cups all-purpose flour

2 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder

2 teaspoons baking powder

3/4 teaspoon salt

1 stick (1/2 cup) unsalted butter, softened

1 1/2 cups packed light brown sugar

2 large eggs

1/4 cup whole milk

1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

3/4 cup powdered sugar

            Pulse nuts with granulated sugar in a food processor until finely chopped.

            Melt chocolate in a double boiler, stirring until smooth. Remove bowl from heat and set aside.

            Whisk together flour, cocoa powder, baking powder, and salt in a bowl.

             Beat together butter and brown sugar in another bowl with an electric mixer at medium-high speed until creamy, about 3 minutes. Add eggs 1 at a time, beating well after each addition, then beat in melted chocolate until combined. Add milk and vanilla, beating to incorporate. Reduce speed to low and add flour mixture, mixing until just combined. Stir in nut mixture. Cover bowl with plastic wrap and chill dough until firm, 2 to 3 hours.

              Put oven racks in upper and lower thirds of oven and preheat oven to 350°F. Line 2 large baking sheets with parchment paper.

              Sift powdered sugar into a bowl. Halve dough and keep 1 half chilled, wrapped in plastic wrap (this is an odd step, mainly assuming you don’t have enough oven/pan space to make all the cookies at once, or something). Roll remaining half into 1-inch balls, placing them on a sheet of wax paper as rolled. Roll balls, 3 or 4 at a time, in sugar to coat generously and arrange 2 inches apart on lined baking sheets.

               Bake until cookies are puffed and cracked and edges feel dry (but centers are still slightly soft), 12 to 18 minutes total. Transfer cookies (still on parchment) to racks to cool completely.

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Sage-scented Shortbread

2 cups all purpose flour

1/2 cup powdered sugar

2 tablespoons thinly sliced fresh sage leaves

1 teaspoon coarse kosher salt

1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, cut into 1/2-inch-thick pieces, room temperature

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               Blend first 4 ingredients in processor – this probably isn’t too necessary for all the ingredients, but I would suggest finding a way to get the sage leaves processed some more (I placed them in my teeny weeny processor with a small amount of the flour). Add butter; using on/off turns, process until dough comes together – again, as I’ve mentioned with pie dough for those w/out a processor, or prefer using other means, this can also be done quite easily with your fingertips. Since the butter isn’t cold, though, one must be extra careful to use fingertips in a gentle but thorough manner. Divide in half. Shape each dough piece into log about 1 1/2 inches in diameter. Chill until firm enough to slice, about 30 minutes.

                Preheat to 350°F. Line 2 baking sheets with parchment. Cut each dough log into 1/3- to 1/2-inch-thick rounds; place on sheets. Bake 25 minutes, turning/reversing sheets halfway through, until cookies are golden. Cool on racks.

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Salted Chocolate-Caramel Rounds

2 3/4  cups  all-purpose flour

3/4  cup  unsweetened cocoa powder

1 teaspoon  baking soda

1/4  teaspoon  salt

1 cup  butter, softened

1 cup  granulated sugar

1 cup  packed brown sugar

2 eggs

2 teaspoons  vanilla

1 can sweetened condensed milk

Chocolate chips

Coarse salt, Kosher or Sea

           Preheat oven to 375F.

           In a medium bowl stir together flour, cocoa powder, baking soda, and salt; set aside.

           In a large bowl beat butter with an electric mixer on medium to high speed for 30 seconds. Add granulated and brown sugar. Beat until combined, scraping sides of bowl occasionally. Beat in eggs and vanilla until combined. Beat in as much of the flour mixture as you can with the mixer. Stir in any remaining flour mixture. If necessary, cover and chill for 1 hour or until dough is easy to handle.

           The original recipe called for filling these with some sort of chocolate-covered caramel candy, which I just don’t want to do, so making our own caramel it is! But let’s not make just any caramel, how about some Dulce de Leche. There are a few ways to make it, but since it’s my first time I’ll stick with one of the simpler and easily controllable styles (as opposed to the uber traditional where you start off with a quart of milk and end up with under a cup… super awesome, but not this time).

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           Take your can of sweetened condensed milk, peeling it of its label, and punch three holes in the top; since you’ll be cooking this IN the can, you want holes for the pressure to release, otherwise… lots and lots of pain, and a big mess.

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            Place in pot of water, brought up a little bit below the rim, and simmer for 3-4 hours depending on how dark and thick you want it (I might even go longer next time). You’ll want to keep adding water throughout the cooking as it evaporates. Once it’s cooked long enough, turn off heat and let cool in water bath before opening up and scraping out. Make sure to mix thoroughly, various levels of caramelization from the bottom of the can to the top (or don’t mix, and separate out the different levels for various uses). Move to fridge and chill overnight, should firm up nicely.

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             Shape dough into 1 1/2-inch balls, pressing with thumb. Spoon some thick dulce de leche into the center, along with a few pieces of chocolate chips and a sprinkle of salt, and enclose with dough. Place cookies 2 inches apart on an ungreased cookie sheet, sprinkling with more salt either before or after baking; this year I used some leftover kosher salt I had smoked a few hours during a home bbq. Seriously, you should try SOME kind of smoked salt with this or other caramel dish, it works even better than regular sea salt.

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              Bake in the preheated oven for 8 to 10 minutes or until edges are firm. Transfer cookies to a wire rack; cool completely.

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               Well that’s how it should go, apparently my ideal with the dulce de leche didn’t properly come out… they sorta “exploded” in the oven. Very difficult to seal even with cool, thick caramel. In which case, if you find yourself in a similar situation (with these or any other kind of cookie), I ended up leaveing in a warm over for about 20-30 minutes and the caramel sort of “set” itself onto the cookie. It wasn’t what I wanted, but it wasn’t messy and still tastes good.

                For future fixing, I think next time I’ll pour the dulce into a flat pant (on parchment) and place in the Freezer overnight to firm up. After I should be able to cut it in small blocks and use for easier stuffing.

Butter Cookies

1 cup Butter

¾ cup Sugar

1 Egg

1 ½ tsp Vanilla

2 Tb Milk

3 cup Flour

1 Tb Baking Powder

Pinch Salt

                An old family favorite, made every year by my cousin. Super simple but super delicious, every single time.

                Preheat oven to 450F.

                Cream together Butter, Sugar, Egg, Vanilla, and Milk. In separate bowl, whisk together Flour, Baking Powder, and Salt. Slowly add this to the butter mixture, beating until combined.

                Shape dough into balls (large ones, like 1 ½ – 2in), place on cookie sheet and top with whatever sprinkles you can find (or just leave bare, your choice). Bake for 5-8 minutes.

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Kolacski

1 cup Milk

4 packages (1oz) active dry yeast

5 cups flour

4 Egg Yolks

3 tsp Baking Powder

1 lb Shortening

1 tsp Salt

1 cup Fruit Jam (any)

Powdered Sugar

                No, I don’t know how to pronounce it either…

                Warm Milk, just above room temp. Add/”Dissolve” Yeast in and set aside.

                Stir together dry ingredients, cut in Shortening until mixture is “mealy” (cornmeal texture I assume). Stir in Eggs and the Milk-Yeast, assuming by this point it has “bloomed” properly (yeast inside should be a little thick, some bubbles may be seen on top, etc).

                Knead the dough until it comes together, probably until smooth, and refrigerate overnight (which I do not believe my cousin actually did, but they still taste pretty damn good).

                Preheat oven to 350F.

                Re-knead the dough on a flour dusted countertop for a few minutes, gently allowing it to punch down and rest. Once done, carefully roll out to ¼ in thickness.

                Cut dough out in circles, placing a teaspoon of Jam (I think this is funny, because it has a specific measure of jam but nothing said on how big the circle should be) in center. Fold dough over like an empanada and seal edges with fork (also a bit funny, because the picture shows it folded differently, with two sides coming together in the middle like a Danish or Cannoli, which I’m sure also works well).

                Bake 12-15 minutes. Do NOT store in Airtight container, as they will become soggy. Dust with Powdered Sugar for service.

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Well, that’s all the recipes we went through this year, it was as fun as ever, and I can’t wait until next year to do it again with my family and share even more cookie recipes on here! Good Luck with your own cookie creations, and Good Eating come the Holidays!

SFC: Stale Victories

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                We all know this guy; simple, square, flat, wrapped in 10+ layers of plastic like it’s a Dexter victim. That boring, generic chocolate brownie one finds in crowds of coffee shops, catering parties, and, sadly, many a food truck wanting to offer “dessert” but too lazy to make anything more complicated than a cookie (not that there aren’t some pretty damn good cookies out there…). So at one point or another we end up buying one or getting it for free (maybe from a dis-interested friend), put it in a purse or a shelf/cupboard and forget the thing for a week or so, now giving us a stale, hard brick of chocolate and flour. Completely inedible.

                Or is it!!?? (Dramatic music, flashing lights, and other cheesy stereotypical occurrences)

                After my mother took out her own little square of tooth-breaking baked goods, I sought to think up a couple ways to transform this disappointing phenomena into an edible delight! And I think the obvious answer involves the one good quality that dried and stale goods bring to the table: Absorbency.

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                Yes, we now have a product that can soak up any delicious liquid we desire without immediately turning into mush like a “fresh” brownie would. Like here, you could put it in a bowl and cover with a little RUM! Or any other liquor/liqueur you desire; I even found a Brownie-flavored Cream Liqueur at a store the other day. Now we have a delicious, booze-soaked chocolate wonderfulness perfect for eating as-is, crumbling on top of another dessert, or warming up and serving with traditional Ice Cream and Nuts (you’re gonna love my nuts… okay I’ve officially watched too many of those shamwow and slapchop commercials).

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                Then again, we could take this soaking property up another notch and apply it to that warm, comforting home classic, Bread Pudding. It’s always made best with stale bread for the custard to soak in anyways, why not use some stale brownies as well?

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                We start off by, of course, dicing our brownie into good-sized chunks.

                After this, we find other things to fill out our bread pudding; sorry, as much as I’d like to make one purely from brownies, we need some other, lighter things to make a complete pudding. That doesn’t mean all bread though; I only used two slices of that. I also added some leftover cinnamon-caramel-topped cake that was made from a box (yes, you can use cake in bread pudding! And French toast!). Put it to some actual good use.

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                Pop those into a bowl off to the side and get started on your custard. Since I’m doing this off-the-kilt, and not following a specific person’s pudding recipe, I had to figure out what kind of base I wanted myself. You can use practically any ratio of the basic ingredients you want, I’ve seen ones where, for the same amount of milk, one person used 6 eggs and another only 2. Same thing with sugar.

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                All we need is milk, eggs, sugar, vanilla, salt for seasoning, maybe some other dairy (cream, half n half, sour cream, etc), and in this case some of that tasty rum. I started out with 3 eggs, as I had enough richness from the cakes and cream I was using up, so didn’t need much eggyness.

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                Mix that with the sugar, ½ cup for me, pretty low compared to other recipes, and any booze you’ve got. Most of these pudding recipes don’t require the whole whisking of eggs before adding milk thing, you can easily just whisk everything together in one go, but I still enjoy the little bit of preparation beforehand.

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                I myself used up all the leftover cream we had (1 ½ cups, damn) and finished things with some milk for 2 cups of liquid to add to the eggs.

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                Once finished, we can pour over our cubed bread and cakes, making sure to give a few stirs to make sure it gets in everywhere. I’m not too sure of specifics, but I would guess Ideally you want the liquid to come at least ¾’s of the way up? Maybe just a bit underneath the top, like this…

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                But of course I decided to just add all of it, so it looked like THIS instead. Probably a bit too much… though the end result was quite fantastic, so I guess it didn’t matter, haha.

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                Let this soak on its own for at least 10 minutes, I myself like leaving it for a couple hours in the fridge. While this is going, you can get your pan (whatever kind will hold the amount of bread pudding you have) VERY well buttered, or lined with parchment paper if you want, and turn the oven on; considering how much custard I had, I wanted to ensure I baked this low and slow so there wasn’t any chance of curdling/overcooking, so I left mine at 300F. 325-350F should be a good temperature range as well for others.

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                Pour it into the pan, making sure to spread things about even (I had some brownies that just congregated in the middle) and bake it as long as needed, checking every so often to ensure the middle is cooked through. Check with a toothpick, not to see if it comes out clean but that what DOES come out isn’t still batter; some moist pieces of bread may still stick on if cooked well.

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                And there we have it; a thick, rich, dense yet very moist and creamy bread pudding studded with rum-soaked brownie pieces and just filled with goodness. Great to spoon on top of some ice cream, maybe with caramel sauce, or just enjoying as-is too! It actually sorta reminded me of a chocolate chip cookie but in pudding form. Though now I realize I’m probably gonna need to make a post about what to do with stale cookies… alright, off to figure that out now (sigh)…

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                As always, Good Luck and Good Eating.

SFC: Fudging up some Cake

               If you read my recent post on Cake Pop creation, you’re aware I was left with quite a bit of leftover Vanilla Cake. For me this was quite a joy, since it gave me the chance to make my FAVORITE little confection, one of my very own invention (truly, so far I have not found any evidence of this little creation in any form online, in recipes, etc). And by accident/chance too; this little guy sorta just came to me one night when I was making cupcakes and had most of my Chocolate ones completely destroyed when trying to take them from the pan. Had all this tasty cake leftover but nothing I could think of doing with them… and nothing on hand but a little pot of melted marshmallow.

               I call it “Cake/Brownie Fudge,” and it is easily one of, if not THE, best ways to use up leftover cake or brownies, vanilla or chocolate, sheet or cup, dry or already icing-ed, plain or flavor/nut studded, etc. It’s extremely simple, highly customizable, and sooooo good. And like fudge it’s easy to cut into squares, wrap in wax or whatever, and carry around (thus my ability to include it in Street Food Corner).

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              We start by taking our leftover cake, getting it completely or mostly crumbled up, and mixing it with melted Marshmallows (melt it in a pan with butter). There’s no real rule to ratios here; if you only have a small amount of cake, just use a few marshmallows, if you have most of a pan like I did then use over a cup of marshmallows (before melting… maybe after).

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              (Apologies for the blurry picture, didn’t realize camera was acting up) Pour this onto the crumbles along with ANYTHING else that you want or have leftover! In this instance, I added in the leftover blue white chocolate, and part of the cake I used was mixed with that frosting mixture. Mix thoroughly so you know the marshmallow is well integrated and move into whatever PROPERLY SIZED (enough so you can fit it all in thick, you don’t want a thin little layer of fudge here) Loaf, Cake, Cupcake, Bundt, or whatever pan you have, already well-covered with plastic wrap. If you haven’t figured it out yet, yes, I am basically just making rice crispies but with cake.

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              Press this down evenly and top with anything else you want or have leftover. For this, I got some more marshmallow (which wasn’t too great of an idea, it keeps coming off on the plastic wrap), a little sweetened condensed milk drizzle (if you haven’t tasted condensed milk as is, DO SO… it is lactic heaven), and some of those sprinkles. We can also use some caramel, chocolate sauce, more icing, etc (I drizzled a port chocolate sauce over my chocolate cupcake fudge, mmmm).

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              Now, wrap the rest of the plastic over the top and cover it with a weight of some sort; preferably the same sized pan on top with some heavy cans (no luck for me, so I used some heavy coasters for one side and a can of chicken noodle on the other, haha). Place it in the fridge and leave overnight to cool, condense, and for those marshmallows and other fillings/sauces set up.

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             Once ready, you can take it out and slice off as big or small pieces you want to enjoy this now-rich, dense, tenderly chewy piece of heaven highly unique unto itself. Similar to fudge, but like a cake… really a cross between the two. Personally, I myself sorta prefer the Chocolate-based ones; maybe it’s that rich cocoa which converts it to even more fudgy. Or something.

             Hopefully this little post is able to inspire the spread of this new confectionary creation! But whether one tries creating it at home or not, I hope you at least enjoyed reading this idea of mine. If you’ve had similar kinds of creation experiences, please do share! Until then, Good Luck and Good Eating (of sweets) to all.

SFC: Baby Blue Sweet Cake

               Back again after a small hiatus, my class Finals are finished and now I can spend a bit more mental time on writing up various posts again. Like my little adventure in confections I had a week ago.

                So a friend of mine challenged me to reproduce the Birthday Cake Pops they sell at Starbucks; being somewhat competitive, confident, and curious about my reproduction capabilities, not to mention it’s the perfect street food version of a loved confection. Had to try it first, though, so I popped down to the nearest nationally-chained coffeehouse.

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                … bright pink white chocolate and sprinkles covering a very interesting center. Not my normal choice of baked item, but there were some intriguing components. For those who haven’t had it yet, the center isn’t just a simple cut white cake (like I thought it’d be). It’s noticeably “moist,” it possesses this very unique texture, sorta crumbly but sticking together at the same time, and there’s a flavor reminiscent of the childhood box-made birthday cake and cheap frosting. Which is all coming from the cake, as the outside is just a cheap white chocolate (seriously). So now the work comes in trying to reproduce it.

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                There are a couple different recipes and methods of productions I’ve found online to attempt to reproduce them, and though I like elements and methods of each I think they all need touching, so I combined a bit of two main ideas that I liked. 

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                We start with the cake of course. If you want to try completely duplicating the flavor notes of Starbuck’s, I think you could safely use a Box Cake Mix at home; in fact, I might actually SUGGEST doing that, or at the very least finding a REALLY good White Vanilla Cake Recipe to make from scratch (especially one using Oil). I went off the cake recipe from one of the main Recipes for these Cake Pops, which my Friend actually tried themselves before challenging me. Apparently they thought the cake was pretty close to original, but other parts of the recipe screwed things up… I’ll explain later.

Basic Vanilla Cake Recipe (from site)

1 cup Butter, softened

1 1/2 cups sugar

2 Tb vanilla

4 eggs

3 cups flour

1 TB baking powder

1/2 tsp salt

1 cup  milk

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                Basic cake-making procedure here. We start by creaming the Butter, Sugar, and Vanilla (electric hand mixer always works well).

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                Add Eggs in one at a time. Once that’s done, get all those Dry ingredients mixed together and start carefully adding about 30% of it in.

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                Add a similar percentage of the Milk in and switch the additions back and forth 1-2 times until both milk and flour-mixture are fully incorporated. Mix well so there be no lumps; and an fyi, no real need to be careful and try and “preserve a light cake” by sifting flour or anything else. We’re gonna be mashing this all up at the end of the day, any delicate texture will get destroyed anyways. Which makes Poundcake a really good and tasty cake substitute if you wanted to try something different.

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                350F oven in a 9x13in Cake Pan, HIGHLY buttered, for about 30-35 minutes is what the recipe states; mine took longer than that for the same pan actually (look how much I got in there…), and ultimately one can use whatever pan they like, just keep close watch.

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                And there we have a simple, boring, and sorta bland white vanilla cake. Almost perfect for adding in loads of frosting and forming into balls of sugar joy.

                Speaking of Frosting, we can get to making that while the cake is cooling (over a rack preferably). Now, the original recipe called for a very simple icing mixture of ½ cup each of butter and milk along with 3 ½ cups of powdered sugar… yeah, that’s right, 3 ½ cups. No wonder my friend’s attempt was reminiscent of gingivitis.

                This being one of, or actually THE key element into what gives these Pops their identity, I really couldn’t stand the idea of using SO MUCH of this in just one cake, not to mention all that sugar; you just know all sense of the butter would be completely lost. So, what I ultimately ended up with was a recipe/ratio that looked like this:

¼ cup (2 oz, ½ stick) Butter

¼ cup Milk

1 Tb Vanilla extract

1 Cup Powdered Sugar

                Now, I only used about ½-2/3rds of the actual cake for this entire batch of frosting, so if one wanted to make more just increase proportionately with the same ratios (you’ll notice that if I had ½ cup butter like the original recipe the Powdered Sugar used would only equal 2 cups, noticeably less than before).

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                Steps are the same for any simple icing; cream the butter with vanilla, add some of the powdered sugar and carefully mix in the rest with the milk back and forth, similar to the cake batter. The ACTUALLY recipe calls to cream the butter with the milk, no sugar, in the beginning: do not do this, for the love of god DO NOT DO THIS!! I have no idea what sorta crack this guy was smoking when he wrote it, but these two things just do not want to get along…you’ll end up with a puddle of milk and butter that still won’t fully come together no matter how much powdered sugar one adds… like me. Luckily, though, even if one’s frosting DOES break, it doesn’t really matter too much for our application, as we’re only using the mixture for added moistness, sweetness, and flavor.

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                Now, take all the cake that we’re going to use and break it all up into a bowl quite thoroughly, like so.

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                Add the icing in ¼ths; if you know exactly how much you need/want for the amount of cake being used, then go ahead and dump it all in. Otherwise I would suggest being careful and adding only a bit at a time, mixing carefully with a spoon or, even better, one’s hands, until it gets the exact flavor and stickiness/consistency that YOU want it. Taste and test the consistency as we go.

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                Damn that’s a big ball…

                When I did it, I actually got to the point where you didn’t even need to SQUEEZE it to create a ball that sticks together. You should ideally be able to just take some now-sticky frosting-cake and gently roll it in a palm, with only a little bit of pressure, to make your balls. This is a really nice alternative to the second recipe/method I found in my research, which called for none of this frosting steps and just squished un-affected cake into balls. Though the flavor is still good, it’s noticeably different than the original Pops; plus, by not having to press it down, one is able to use less cake for the same sized ball.

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               I did learn one fun trick from the “press” method that I applied here; before rolling, smear a little bit of butter into your palms. Besides helping to grease them so fingers don’t get all “cakey,” I like to think it adds just a bit more of that special richness to the orbs.

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              Once you’ve rolled the desired amount, stick ‘em with whatever handle one decides to use. Ideally, one should use some nice long, somewhat thick sticks like they use for caramel apples or others. However I didn’t want to pay all that money for those so I thought I’d try something else: straws! Brightly colored straws!

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              Yeah that wasn’t the best idea… they hold the pop very well once everything is done, but they’re a pain during the dipping process. I would suggest one either cut them much longer than me or just find something a lot sturdier; get a pack of those thick wooden picks and just re-use them afterwards.

              After sticking the “sticks” in, making sure to give a good press to the cake around it so that it sticks (that’s 3 sticks in a sentence… well, 4 now), move them into the fridge to cool and set up. Many recipes just say 10-15 minutes for this, I say I’m more comfortable with at least 1-2 hours to make sure they’re solid. Plus, this way one can make the balls earlier in the day and then dip whenever they want to later on.

             While this is cooling, we can start dealing with our coating. Now, that “pressed cake” method recipe also suggested using something on the lines of “colored candy discs” made for people to just melt down and dip whatever they want in. Supposedly they’re the same thing as what Starbucks uses (I wouldn’t be surprised if they were similar) and one can find them at Walmart or something. They basically look like this:

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              And they’re basically just really cheap, pre-colored white chocolate, or the closest one could make to it; not to mention they cost a bit more considering the “production cost” for making a packet of these little discs. I personally don’t care how close I’m trying to reproduce the flavor of these, I will NOT stoop so low as to buy crappy chocolate. At the very least I’m getting a decent quality White Chocolate and melting it myself.

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             This is a block of white chocolate, taken off from an even BIGGER (think about the size of a small countertop) block of white chocolate. I got it at a Cake and Candy Supply shop that I happen to live relatively close to; places like that often sell various kinds of good quality, block-cut chocolates for one to peruse. If one doesn’t have  a shop like that near them, I’ve also seen some good quality chocolates (sometimes in block form, sometimes in Chip) at the larger shops of Kitchen Window, some Co-ops, etc. I always try to go to a place like that for my quality chocolate needs; stay away from the National Grocery Store Baking Aisle.

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              I also picked up a little container (which will last me years I’m sure) of mini-pearl white sprinkles! I didn’t want to, but the friend said it wouldn’t count if I didn’t have them… for those wanting to duplicate entirely and unable to find a thing of just white sprinkles, I hear there are some black n white mixes that use the style, just gotta pick them out…

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              Alright, let’s get back to things. Cut off as much of the white chocolate as you need; you’ll want a lot, say 2 cups-ish. Also, just a little note to remember, though it’s easy to slice off pieces of white chocolate, the Milk and Dark ones can be a bit of a Bitch. For those playing with them, a good method for quick, easy, and less messy separation, take any solid knife (a duller one that you use for whatever is perfect; no need to use the finest blade in the kitchen), stab it an inch or so back (or however far back for the size pieces one needs) and just lever off chunks. With the firmer dark chocolates, will probably need to hit the handle with your hand or a wood/plastic mallet to get it down enough to crack.

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              We now have our white chocolate in a bowl, which we gently melt over a pan of warm/simmering water (double boiler). Stick to the same chocolate-melting suggestions used in my Cheesecake Bar experience, minus the oil thing.

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              Swirl in your food coloring (yes, apparently I forgot that I didn’t have any red, so I made baby blue colored ones instead) to the preferred shade and begin your dipping!

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              So, here’s what you want to do: Get some Styrofoam. Seriously. The idea is that, after you’ve dipped the cake pops, you press the end of the stick into the foam so the whole thing stands upright while it cools/dries. This leaves a nice, smooth orb with no marks or flat parts or whatever, maybe some drips on the stick (or swirls around it if there was trouble with dipping). For whatever reason, I actually couldn’t find any styarofoam in the house, so I tried making my own little platform out of a cardboard box with holes in it:

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             Yeah, this didn’t work too well… I had one stick that staid up, but the other ones either sank all the way down to the base of the pop or just wouldn’t go in the hole. So I just ended up having to carefully dip them, take them out without the straw popping out (which it did), and tenderly pull them OFF the straw with a fork and transfer to wax paper in a way that at least the top was smooth. It still looked nice, but once cool I had to break off a lot of thick, built up chocolate “bases” at the bottom.

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            Add the sprinkles right after you’ve dipped, otherwise it’ll cool quickly and you won’t be able to get any on; I might suggest having a friend help if you’re having a messy time like me. Especially towards the end, when the chocolate is getting low and you’re trying to spoon it on all sides and such… not easy.

            But, when you’re done, you should still have a little pile of your own Birthday Cake Pops like they make at Starbucks, if not better! Look how smooth and pretty it is!

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            And the friend’s judgment? : “Pretty damn close actually.”

           That’s a win in my book! As for next time (the friend is making demands now), I think I’ll try a box cake mix, get myself some damn Styrofoam and wooden sticks (and red food coloring yes), and I think I’ll try something different with the chocolate. The shell, though tasty, was a bit thick to my liking, and again I was having some issue with dipping, and it ran low pretty quickly. I think next time I might find a recipe for a White Chocolate Glaze, like with cream or something; that way I can increase the volume of the actual dipping without spending so much on pure chocolate, while creating a slightly thinner coating that A: stays smooth easily and B: uses less glaze. Just need to find one that actually sets up firm…

             Well, that’s it for my Return-Post. Wait a little bit and I’ll post a fun recipe one can do to use up any of that leftover Cake you have! Until then, Good Luck and Good Eating.

SFC: Cream Cheese Chain Reaction

                My pursuit into Johnnycake for my Dad’s Father’s Day breakfast had me buying an entire tub of Shortening just so I could use a cup. With all that leftover, me and my cousin got into a recent habit of getting together to make pies; what better use of shortening than some flaky pie dough right? We’ve made Strawberry, Straw-Rhubarb, Apricot-Plum, and Apple with Butterscotch Crumble! Mmmmm, yum.

                In our recent week, my cousin’s expressed curiosity in the cooking of Cheesecake, which I myself hadn’t actually done in years… but I don’t know why. Either way I was excited to get back to it, especially with that particularly tasty recipe I used so long back.

                … yes, that is exactly what you think it is. I got the recipe off the box that my Springform Pans came in (if you don’t have any, a good round cake pan should do, just really make sure it’s nonstick). I don’t care. I made it 3+ years ago, and I still remember that it was GOOD; fresh, fluffy, and something I could actually eat in a whole sitting (comfortingly).

Basic Cheesecake

1 ¼ cups Graham Cracker Crumbs (about 1 package of 9 Crackers)

¼ cup Sugar

¼ cup Butter, melted

2lbs Cream Cheese (… 4 of the 8oz packages)

14oz (1 can) Sweetened Condensed Milk

4 Eggs

½ cup Flour

1 Tb Vanilla Extract and ½ Tsp Lemon Zest

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                We of course gotta start with the crust; it’s a great way to use any stale Crackers you have leftover from an old S’mores day. I just used a combo of the Honey and Cinnamon Sugar since I had them, ground up once again in my handy-dandy tiny-ass robocoup.

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                Mix with sugar and butter thoroughly, being especially careful with the butter; the final mix should look like this:

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                It should hold its shape nicely when squeezed, and not fall apart easily when prodded; you may need to adjust to get it where you want, that’s fine. It doesn’t have to be like a dough or cement or anything, but you get the idea. Press this into the bottom of your pan in a nice, even layer; don’t worry about trying to get a delicate, perfect little thin layer of it, it’s a pain in the ass (especially with any non-stick bottom like one should be using) and when it comes to cheesecake, ya need a nice, thick layer to stand up to that rich custard.

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                You may have leftover, like I did (just made a big batch to the ratios), which you COULD use to make another crust for some other pie or whatever in the future. Or, you could do what I did and mix in some of your favorite spices/flavorings, spread it out on a pan and bake in the oven to use as a “Graham Cracker Garnish,” either in big chunks or crushed up, for whatever dessert (or even savory dish) you want.

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                I was going to include a “tip” about wrapping the bottom section of the springform pan in parchment paper or foil to avoid leaks going in or out, but I don’t it’s an actual thing… I must have misheard something else, because if anything I think it might make MORE holes than less. I WILL say that you should wrap the bottom and sides in aluminum foil, like so. We WILL be cooking this in a water bath afterall.

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                Now, many recipes, this one in particular, say you can just leave the crust alone now and let it bake with the batter later. Don’t do this, just… don’t. Even if it does work in some situations, I say don’t take the risk; pre-bake the crust on its own, at about 350 for 10-15 minutes. It still won’t over bake when cooking with the batter later, and will stay nice and crunchy.

                Crust done, we can get to the batter. Make sure the Cream Cheese has been sitting out at room temp for at least half an hour to warm and soften up (covered of course); makes whipping it much easier.

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                … damn that’s a lot of cream cheese. I should probably note right now that I WAS making a double batch on the day in question…

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                Whip it, whip it good. Beat that cream cheese (don’t try and be manly here, just use an electrical/stand mixer of some sort, be thorough) until creamy and fluffy.

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                Probably the secret to why I love this recipe so much, we slowly add in the Condensed Milk, offering itself up to cover the job of sweetener and dairy in a rich yet lightly creamy style. I’m not sure what it’s actually doing, but I know I rarely see it in other recipes, and I like what it does to the cheesecake.

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                Next up comes the start to my favorite little trick in cheesecake cookery. Instead of adding them in whole, separate the whites and yolks from your Eggs. Those who still haven’t heard the caution yet, do this very carefully in a 3 bowl/container system: separate the eggs over one bowl, transfer the yolk to another and, IF none of the yolk spilled in, the whites to a third. This way, if the oily yolk breaks while separating, it doesn’t sabotage ALL the whites you gather; but it’s alright if white gets into yolk (I feel like this is an oddly acceptable double standard…), the recipe originally called for whole eggs anyways.

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                Carefully mix in the Yolks, Flour, and Flavorings until smooth and creamy.

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                Now comes the fun part (not eating, that comes later): take those reserved whites and whip them up separately. It doesn’t matter what you use, so long as it’s CLEAN of oil (which will get in between only a few protein chains to destroy the entire matrix you’re about to build) and you can whip it to where you need it to go. I would probably suggest going to the “soft peak” stage for those familiar with meringue making; basically once you whip it into this big cloud, should be able to take the whisk through and have the whites stay their shape while upside down, unless you tap it (stiff peaks, the next step, will act like flippin’ cement in how rigid it is, completely AWESOME for meringues). I like the softer whipped stages, cuz they’re able to make the cake a little “airy” and “fluffy” without turning it into what looks like a failed soufflé. Seriously, I did a cheesecake once with really whipped whites, it rose a bit while baking and once cool had this whole depression across the surface.

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                Slowly and carefully fold this into the batter in 1/3rds, the first part being used mainly to lighten/thin the batter somewhat so the latter two can better incorporate and fluff up the mixture.

                While all of this has been going on, you should at one point get a pan of water boiling; pour this into a baking pan large enough to set your Springform (or other round cake pan) into, about an inch high or less. This will not only help to regulate the heat in contact with the cake, so one doesn’t have to worry about “hot spots” in the oven, as well as keeping a bit of moisture while cooking. It is VERY important one has hot water in it before putting in the oven, otherwise it’ll take a long time to heat up to oven temp and disturb cooking time.

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                  Quickly add the filled pan and move to a 300F degree oven for about an hour. Do not, I repeat, DO NOT OPEN THE OVEN until it is done cooking! And even then, I would suggest just turning off the oven light and cracking the door a little to allow for a slooowwww cooling. One of the main issues related to the “cracking surface” effect of cheesecake baking, besides over-cooking and some other issues, lies in the exposing of cool(er) air when in the hot oven. So stick to an hour, or 1½ – 2 hours if you have multiple cakes in the oven (like I did) or it’s really thick (I think I was supposed to use the largest pan vs the medium-sized…), and turn the oven light on to make sure it’s browned a bit on the sides.

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                 If you HAVE to check, do it quickly and carefully, and just quick shake the pan to see if the center is set. Toothpick doesn’t really work, since you’ll have stuff stick even when it’s done; though how much and its viscosity depends on stage of cooking.

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                 Take out, run a knife around the edge, let cool some more and unmold. One can slice a piece now if you want (it’s not too bad warm, though I found mine a touch “spongy,” think maybe it overcooked a tad) or stick in the fridge an hour or so to get that denser New York treat. As I said, I love this recipe, as it yields a rich, creamy affair in a much lighter and “fluffy” package, making a slice of pie one can fully enjoy eating with every bite.

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                    For those who want to add fruit or other flavors to your cheesecake, but can’t find or aren’t sure about other recipes, there’s a fun little trick I learned in school. Get or make a rich, flavorful puree or sauce of some sort: for instance, we made one with raspberries.

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                    Separate a little bit of batter from your mix, say ¼cup or more, and mix with the puree. Then, once done, drizzle and swirl this over the top of the cheesecake batter after initially filling the pan. You can even try doing some layers as you pour for more integration! I would suggest doing this with a whole cake though; I did this with half just so I had pics for the post, but since I had to be careful with crossing I only ended up using a little bit of the puree.

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                  Now that we have a whole cooled cheesecake all to ourselves, we can ponder the various ways to enjoy it. Sliced, frozen, chopped up and mixed with fruit… or turned into little Chocolate Pops.

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                   Cut whatever amount of cheesecake you want into thick cubes, rectangles, or whatever shape you desire (cleaning the knife with a warm, wet cloth after each slice); just make sure it’s thick and sturdy enough to hold together. Stick a toothpick or other holdable in one end for easy management, and prepare your chocolate.

                   There are a lot of recipes for chocolate glazes out there, and truth be told most of them are probably better than this, the problem is it’s hard to tell which ones will actually set up to make a “shell” of some sorts once cool and which will just stay on as a thick sauce. If you want, you can actually just melt chocolate as-is, especially if it’s a good quality one to use, just remember a few little things.

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                  First, as always, do this gently over a double boiler.

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                  Second, do not melt the chocolate all the way over heat. Melt about 2/3rds – 3/4ths of it, take it off and let melt the rest of the way. I would love to tell you all about the Tempering Process, a technique where one melts the chocolate to a certain temperature, then cools it back down to another (usually through the aid of a marble slab, adding more chocolate, or other means), and then raising it back up to a third before using, thus setting the “crystals” in the chocolate to a perfect ratio so it cools to a shiny and perfectly crisp state (which doesn’t melt when you touch it). But you really need good temperature reading equipment and it’s still a tricky pain in the ass. So at least this almost-complete melting process keeps it from cooking too high and can cool back to a state similar to how it was before.

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                  And Third; I suggest you use either White or Dark chocolate when coating. With my experience, every time I’ve tried melting simple Milk Chocolate, and I’m not sure why, but it’s always much thicker and harder to manage than a higher cocoa% Dark (probably less cocoa butter and more lactic compounds or something).

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                   Another thing to try, and right now I can only have this as a suggestion because, for the life of me I don’t know why, but I can’t find a recipe that backs this up. I know people do this, I could have sworn I’ve seen simple recipes for it with the proper ratios, but I just couldn’t find any myself recently. Either way, adding a little bit of Oil to the chocolate as or after it’s melting helps not only gloss it up but get it to a better glaze consistency. And if you use oils like Olive or Coconut or etc, can add some extra flavor notes to the final mix.

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                 Once melted, quickly and carefully dip your cheesecake pieces in. This is much easier if you have a DEEP bowl of chocolate so you can make a single, simple, even coat over the entire thing, as opposed to trying to fumble all four sides into the small amount you already have. Or, if you don’t mind spending the time in cleaning, lay the cheesecake over a wire cooling rack (which is over a parchment-covered pan) and pour the glaze over, letting it drip a bit before turning over and pouring on the other side.

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                   Transfer to a parchment-lined pan, let cool a bit. If you haven’t done the cooling rack thing, maybe transfer them to ANOTHER parchment pan after those little chocolate squares from excess drippage forms. At this point, one could also sprinkle on little flavor additions if you like spicing it up a bit; I myself added a little of that leftover, spiced graham cracker mix I had baked earlier.

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                    Move to a fridge to ensure complete setting and enjoy whenever you like. Whether you get a perfect chocolate shell or not, it tastes reeeeeaaaallllyyyy good with that fresh creamy center, and a little bit of the crunchy, spicy cracker crumble to punch up the flavor.

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Damn that was a long post for me… no wonder I put off a week in actually trying to type it out. Well, hope you enjoyed some of it despite my many meaningless ramblings! Good Luck in your own cheesecake experiments, hopefully they aren’t as long and annoying as this explanation of my own. Good Eating to all, don’t be afraid to comment on your own experiences.