Category Archives: American

Pumpkin Cheesecake Sopapilla Bars

Merry Christmas everyone! Wouldn’t you know it, it’s Christmas Day and here I am trying to make a post about a pumpkin-themed dessert bar from before Thanksgiving :) Better late than never though, right? I have been traveling a lot for residency interviews these past couple of months, so it has been impossible to sit down and make a post with all my pictures. At some point, I was told that we (the interviewees) were flying around like lost planets in space, and I thought that phrase captured the circumstances quite well! Indeed, at some point, having been in three different time zones and 2 different coasts in the span of 3 days, my internal clock was completely out of whack and I only ever knew to do whatever the time on my watch dictated I should probably do. It’s been an experience! But one that I have thoroughly enjoyed for the number of new friends I have made and future colleagues I have met during these trips. Like the excitement of starting college and medical school, there comes an excitement of starting residency where I will have yet another opportunity to meet new people and bond over our unique experiences together. Most folks only get to do this once for college; I feel extremely privileged to be able to do it three times :)

Pumpkin cheesecake sopapilla bars

So back to the pumpkin bar! One of my favorite flavors of the fall season is pumpkin. I look forward to it as the leaves start to turn color in early October, and when the cans of pumpkin start to go on sale in the grocery stores, I know it is time to break out the pumpkin themed desserts. Sure there is always pumpkin pie and pumpkin bread, but I am perpetually looking for different and unique ideas that incorporate pumpkin. This year I saw a post on Willow Bird Baking about pumpkin cheesecake sopapilla bars, and it piqued my interested because of how it combined two things I love (pumpkin cheesecake and sopapillas [a Mexican crispy fried dough topped with cinnamon sugar and honey]), and how it was sinfully easy to make (you cheat by using cans of crescent roll dough). You layer the dough on the bottom of the cheesecake to serve as a crust, and then you layer it on top of the cheesecake to bake into a “sopapilla” topped with cinnamon sugar for a crunch. Sure, it is neither cheesecake nor sopapilla in their true forms, but as my friend put it… the bars tasted like a cross between pumpkin pie and churros. Now that’s a lot of fun in a simple bar!

Pumpkin cheesecake sopapilla bars



Pumpkin Cheesecake Sopapilla Bars (makes half a 9×13″ pan, or approx 9 bars)

Recipe slightly adapted from Willow Bird Baking

Ingredients:

For the bars:

  • 1 can crescent roll dough (I used reduced fat)
  • 1 package (8 oz.) of cream cheese (I used light/Neufchatel), at room temperature
  • 1 cup of canned pumpkin
  • 3/8 cup granulated sugar (measure out 1/4 cup and then add another half of a 1/4 cup to it)
  • 1 tsp vanilla
  • 1 tsp cinnamon
  • 1 tsp pumpkin pie spice
  • Pinch of salt

For the topping:

  • 3 tbsp butter, melted
  • 1/4 cup granulated sugar
  • 1/2 tsp cinnamon
  • 1/4 tsp pumpkin pie spice
  • Honey (for drizzling on top when serving)

Directions:

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Grease your 9×13″ pan (or you may use 8×8″).

2. Open and unroll crescent roll dough, divide into two halves. Press half the dough into the bottom of your pan to cover half of the 9×13″ pan – you may have to press to thin out the dough a bit. Don’t worry about sealing the edges of the triangles together.

3. Take the rest of the crescent roll dough and press it out over a piece of plastic saran wrap, until it is approximately the same size as the piece in the pan. (You may find it useful to lift your second piece of dough with the saran wrap and gently lay it over the first piece in the pan to compare the size). Try to pinch the edges of the triangles together on this piece so that the top layer of dough will be evenly sealed. Set the second dough aside.

4. Make a small divider from aluminum foil, doubled over, and set it along the edge of the dough to help contain the bars to one side of the pan. Tuck the bottom of the foil just underneath the dough to keep it secure.

Bottom layer of dough with foil divider

5. In a bowl, beat cream cheese and sugar together until fluffy. Add pumpkin, cinnamon, pumpkin pie spice, and salt. Stir well to combine.

Pumpkin cream cheese filling

5. Carefully spread pumpkin cream cheese mixture over the layer of dough in the pan.

6. Using the saran wrap, flip the second piece of dough over and lay it gently across the top of the pumpkin layer. Don’t worry if it doesn’t lie perfectly flat, just try to keep the seams closed. Peel off the saran wrap.

Top layer of dough is placed

7. Pour the melted butter gently over the top of the second dough layer. Stir together the sugar, cinnamon, and pumpkin pie spice for the topping. Sprinkle evenly over the tops of the bars.

Cinnamon sugar topping

8. Bake for 30 minutes or until tops are golden brown. The cinnamon sugar on top will be liquid. Remove from oven and cool completely in pan. The cinnamon sugar topping will set up nicely as a crust.

Sopapilla bars finished baking

To serve: You may refrigerate the bars and serve them cold or warmed slightly in the microwave. I like to give a light drizzle of honey over the tops of the bars and add a dallop of whipped cream sprinkled with pumpkin pie spice to garnish. I think the bars would be fantastic with some vanilla ice cream as well :) Enjoy!

Pumpkin cheesecake sopapilla bars

Bonus fun facts: While I was on the interviewing trail, many interviewers asked me about my food blog, as it was something that I put on my application under “hobbies”. They often asked me how time-consuming it is to make the food, do the food photography, and then write the post. I would say that making the food and writing the post is the least time-consuming part. The food photography is what takes time to set up and do. For those of you that are curious, for this recipe, I took a total of 112 pictures from which I selected the above photos to post. I’ve had upwards of 200+ pictures for a particular recipe, and as few as 10-20 pictures if I don’t photograph the process.  Many people like to spend time editing their photos with software afterwards, but that takes even more time and you can edit photos endlessly to suit your tastes, so I don’t go down that route very often unless my pictures were taken in poor lighting. Anyway, just to help you put it in perspective if you’ve ever wondered :) Happy holidays!

Pumpkin cheesecake sopapilla bars


Easy 4-Ingredient Lime Cracker Pie

Sometimes a recipe is just so simple that you have to try it. This 4-ingredient lime cracker pie, which requires no baking and takes all of 10 minutes to put together, is definitely one of those recipes. In fact, you won’t believe how good it tastes until you finally get to take it out of the fridge and try it yourself. This recipe is a fantastic shortcut to key lime pie, with a similar taste and none of the work. All you’ll need is limes, heavy cream, sweetened condensed milk, and some Ritz crackers (or the like). The amount might not seem like much, but a little goes a long ways with this dessert because the flavors are intense! And when you bring it to a potluck, you’d better be prepared to answer all the questions when people start gawking at you for finding such a neat dessert idea that is so easy to execute.

4-Ingredient Lime Cracker Pie

You would think that so many Ritz crackers in the pie would come out funny and taste nothing like a dessert. But this pie uses the same technique that icebox cakes use: by layering crackers with a cream, custard, or pudding and letting it chill in the “icebox”, the crackers absorb the moisture and become soft and cake-like in texture. The saltiness of the crackers also balance the sweet and sour of the lime custard perfectly. The lime zest gives it a slight bite as well. The end result really ends up tasting like a key lime cake. Try it and I bet you’ll love it! So are you ready??

4-Ingredient Lime Cracker Pie



4-Ingredient Lime Cracker Pie (makes 6-8 servings)

Recipe adapted from Serious Eats

Ingredients:

  • 2 limes, juiced and zested (1/4 cup lime juice and 1/2 tbsp zest)
  • 1 can (14 oz) of sweetened condensed milk – I used fat free
  • 1 cup heavy whipping cream
  • 1 1/2 sleeves of Ritz crackers (6 oz)

Directions:

1. In a large bowl, combine the sweetened condensed milk and the heavy cream, mix well.

Wonderful sweetened condensed milk

2. Add lime juice and stir for about 2 minutes – the mixture should magically thicken to a custard consistency. Stir in half of the lime zest, and reserve the rest for garnish.

lime custard finished

3. To assemble the pie, you may choose to do so in a casserole dish, trifle bowl, or small cups and ramekins. Layer the bottom of the container with crackers, breaking them as needed to fill in gaps. Top with 1/3 of the lime custard mixture. Repeat with layers of crackers and custard, ending with the custard on top to cover the crackers. You should have 3 layers of crackers, but you can do 4 layers if you prefer. Garnish top with remaining lime zest.

Cracker layer

Lime cracker pie in tea cups

4. Chill lime cracker pie in refrigerator for at least 2 hours, preferably 6 hours or overnight. Serve chilled.

Lime Cracker Pie in Parfait Cups

4-Ingredient Lime Cracker Pie


The Lazy Man’s Fancy Strawberry Shortcake

I know, this post sounds like an oxymoron. But ever since I’ve discovered this way of making strawberry shortcake, I have been too lazy to make it from scratch, because it passes so well for made-from-scratch. Now, if you’re really truly lazy, you’ll probably end up making pseudo-strawberry-shortcake, which is that thing where you throw some strawberries on top of those store-bought yellow cake shells and then spray on some whipped cream and call it a day. I think that is so far removed from the original thing that I would call it an entirely different name if I could. I call this recipe a “fancy” strawberry shortcake because it looks like the real thing, and has a good texture and taste that you could definitely serve to your guests for a nice occasion. And it does require a little more work than having everything store-bought, but it is so much easier than making the shortcake from scratch. These strawberry shortcakes helped me use up the first of 2 pints of strawberries, a yummy way to eat my fruit indeed!

lazy man's fancy strawberry shortcake

Anyway, I found the recipe on the back of a box of Bisquick, which I bought to make pancakes on lazy weekends. As it turns out, you can just use the biscuit mix to make the shortcakes, which turn out like big biscuits with a golden crunchy outer crust (actual shortcakes are just the sweeter variation of a biscuit). They also look lovely with their crackly round tops. Just cut them open and fill with macerated strawberries and freshly whipped cream, and you have an impressive dessert that was a total no-brainer and put together quickly just before dinner. Yeah… that’s why I have been too lazy to make these from scratch haha.



Lazy Man’s (Bisquick) Fancy Strawberry Shortcake  (makes 6 shortcakes)

Recipe adapted from Bisquick

Ingredients:

  • 1 pint fresh strawberries
  • 3/4 cup sugar (for macerating strawberries)
  • 2 1/3 cup Bisquick mix
  • 1/2 cup milk
  • 3 tbsp sugar (for the shortcakes)
  • 3 tbsp butter, melted
  • 3/4 cup heavy whipping cream
  • 1/2 tbsp powdered sugar

Directions:

1. Two hours in advance of serving the shortcakes, prepare the strawberries. Wash and hull them, and cut into small chunks, reserving some whole strawberries to decorate the tops of your shortcakes. Stir in 3/4 cup sugar and allow to sit at room temperature in a large bowl for 2 hours. Place in refrigerator to chill strawberries if you have time before serving.

2. Preheat oven to 425 degrees F. In a mixing bowl, stir together the Bisquick mix, milk, 3 tbsp sugar, and melted butter, stirring until a soft dough forms.

3. Spoon dough in 6 scoops onto an ungreased baking sheet, and bake for 10-12 minutes, until tops are a golden brown. Remove from oven and cool slightly on baking sheet.

4. Meanwhile, whip the heavy whipping cream with the powdered sugar until the consistency of whipped cream, about 3 minutes.

5. To serve, split open warm shortcakes with a knife, and fill with macerated strawberries and whipped cream. They get a little crumbly when you cut them open, so I like to throw the extra crumbs on top of the whipped cream for decoration. You may save the leftover shortcakes after they have cooled off in an airtight container, and microwave them briefly to warm them up before assembling more shortcakes (my boyfriend’s suggested this and it was great). Delicious and easy!

p.s. You can totally save the juice from the macerated strawberries and use them for other things – drizzled on top of the shortcakes or other desserts, reduced on the stove with the addition of some cornstarch slurry to make a thicker strawberry sauce, or put it into the recipe for a strawberry mousse as I did :)


Lemon Blueberry Cheesecake Bars

Okay, I’m not joking when I say that my boyfriend’s condo is overflowing with fresh fruit. I just recently did away with the cherries, as well as 2 pints of strawberries, and now these cheesecake bars are my solution to the giant box of blueberries his parents gave us when they left for vacation last week. We still have an insane number of peaches, plums, mangoes, and apricots. Maybe I can squeeze in something with the mangoes before I leave California this weekend… In any case, my goal was to make a dessert that would use up the blueberries and only ingredients I had on hand, which included a box of cream cheese and a lemon, both things I bought in anticipation of baking and now need to get rid of before I leave. Wouldn’t you know it, Tyler Florence apparently had the same thought I did, and has generously shared with the world a recipe for lemon blueberry cheesecake bars. My lucky day!

Lemon blueberry cheesecake bars

These bars are super easy to make, and has 5 stars with over 100 reviews, so a pretty sure bet if you’re baking for a BBQ or a potluck. My only qualm was that I thought the tartness of the lemon in the cheesecake was a bit much for me, but I’m not a fan of sour things in general, and I cringe whenever I have to eat fruit that is not very sweet and ripe. I don’t even really like sorbets because they’re too sour for me, shrug. But with some good summer blueberries and a heavenly crust, these creamy bars are a wonderful treat. My boyfriend said it tastes just like cheesecake, except it took me so much less effort! I halved Tyler’s recipe because I only had 1 box of cream cheese, and it made 8 bars that were about 2×2″, which I think is the perfect size. I also made a few minor changes, including adding more butter and cinnamon to the crust, using neufchatel instead of regular cream cheese, and adding more blueberries than called for (I was trying to use them up!) It all worked out well, and the crust was sturdy and rich. Just the way I like it!

Lemon blueberry cheesecake bars



Lemon Blueberry Cheesecake Bars (makes 8 bars, 2×2″ each)

Recipe adapted from Tyler Florence

Ingredients:

For the base:

  • 1 tbsp granulated sugar
  • 1/8 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 5 sheets graham crackers
  • 3 tbsp unsalted butter, melted

For the filling:

  • 8 oz. (1 box) cream cheese (I used the 1/3 less fat neufchatel), at room temperature
  • 1 egg
  • 1 small lemon, zested and juiced
  • 1/2 cup granulated sugar
  • 1 cup fresh blueberries, washed and dried
  • powdered sugar for dusting

Directions:

1. Preheat oven to 325 degrees F. Grease the bottom and sides of a 9×5″ bread pan, and line with parchment, leaving tails to allow you to pull the bars out of the pan later. Press and fold the parchment to make neat corners in the pan.

2. Prepare the crust first – in a blender, grind the graham crackers until you get fine crumbs. Pour out into a bowl, and stir in the 1 tbsp sugar and 1/8 tsp cinnamon. Add the melted butter and stir well to distribute evenly.

3. Pour the crumbs into the bottom of the baking pan, and press down evenly with the bottom of a flat glass (I used a shot glass because it was nice and small for getting into corners). Bake in the oven for 12 minutes until golden. Set aside to cool.

4. Meanwhile, prepare the filling. In a mixing bowl, stir together the egg, 1/2 cup sugar, lemon zest and lemon juice. Add the room temperature cream cheese, and beat on low with an electric beater until the mixture is smooth. Pour filling into the pan on top of the crust, then sprinkle the blueberries on top. If you are using as much blueberries as I am, you will basically cover the entire top with blueberries. They will sink about halfway into the filling.

5. Bake for 30 minutes at 325 degrees F, or until the center only slightly jiggles (I could not tell with all the blueberries on top, so I just went with 30 minutes, which is 5 minutes less than the original recipe in a 9×9″ pan). Remove from oven and cool completely in the pan. Then place pan in the refrigerator and chill for at least 3 hours or overnight to set.

6. When set, gently remove the bars from the pan by lifting the parchment lining. Cut into bars and dust with powdered sugar to serve.

Lemon blueberry cheesecake bars

Lemon blueberry cheesecake bars


Ultimate Carrot Cake With Cream Cheese Frosting (Lightened)

Crisp fall weather has set in for good, and Halloween has passed, which means a fast-paced few weeks until that amazing celebration of all things delicious, Thanksgiving. This year, I am extra excited for Thanksgiving, because not only will I get the chance to see my family for the first time since June, but I will also get to see my boyfriend at the same time because he’s flying out to Massachusetts to spend the holiday weekend us! The past two Thanksgivings that I’ve had since starting medical school have been away from home, so I really miss being home with my family and being able to help make Thanksgiving dinner. Just three more weeks, I can’t wait!

A slice of heaven

Whenever I think of fall, Thanksgiving, winter and Christmas all rolled into one nook of the year that I simply consider “the holidays”, the warm spicy aroma of cinnamon is the scent that defines it best for me. It is no surprise then, that the end of the year always feels like the right time to make a big bountiful carrot cake from scratch to share with family and friends. I still remember the first time I was introduced to carrot cake, baked by a beloved woman whose name is also Lucy. We fondly call her “old Lucy”, which is “老Lucy” in Chinese, (versus myself as little Lucy/小Lucy) to differentiate the two of us. Although she is my friend’s grandmother, she is just like another grandmother to me, she watched me grow up and always supported me in my endeavors. She was the first Asian woman that I had ever met in my young life who could bake Western style cakes, since she worked as a housekeeper for a Jewish family at the time. Looking back on it, I really was very impressed by her ability to bake, and unconsciously her skill was probably one that I aspired to. I remember being incredulous as a kid, resisting the suggestion to try this carrot cake, and ultimately realizing that it tasted nothing like carrots at all. In fact, I always remembered it being one of the most moist cakes I had ever tried, no doubt owing to the insane amount of oil used in making carrot cake ;)

In any case, last year I was home visiting the family when I decided that it was finally time for me to tackle my own decadent carrot cake. I’ve made some simple recipes that turned out so-so carrot cake. Especially those “light” carrot cakes that end up tasting more like cardboard than anything else. But this time, I really wanted it to be the irresistible kind you see in a big glass cake stand in the cozy neighborhood bakery, the kind of carrot cake where you just have to get a slice because it practically literally has your name on it. You know who I turn to when I want the best, most indulgent recipes? America’s Test Kitchen. Maybe it’s my Massachusetts hometown bias, since they are based in Newton, MA after all, but I just love how meticulous and well-tested their recipes are. The recipes are shared in their Cooks Illustrated magazine on a regular basis. I found the Cook’s Illustrated recipe for carrot cake with cream cheese frosting, as well as one for a lightened version also done by them, and I proceeded to tinker a little with them to find a happy medium between the two, which I call the Ultimate Carrot Cake with Cream Cheese Frosting (Lightened). You see, it tastes exactly like an indulgent slice of full-fat carrot cake, but it actually is lightened to some degree, and that’s why “lightened” is only carried in parentheses :P Needless to say, carrot cake isn’t diet food, no matter how many carrots you stick in there. But if you want to make a beautiful, moist cake that will be perfect for the holidays and is sure to please, you just can’t go wrong. Don’t let the long ingredient list scare you, this is the ultimate carrot cake we’re talking about, remember? All this good stuff in it is what makes the cake so darned amazing. And pretty please, make it as a two-layer round cake, because it looks that much more incredible (especially if your decorating skills are good, unlike mine heh). Also, the picture below was taken using my dad’s DSLR… I asked him to focus on the tip of the pirouette, and realized later that the front of the cake was out of focus, oops. Still learning!

Ultimate carrot cake with cream cheese frosting


Ultimate Carrot Cake with Cream Cheese Frosting (Lightened) (makes one 2-layered 9″ cake, serves 8-12)

Adapted from Cook’s Illustrated original and light recipes, shared on Sunday Nite Dinner.

Ingredients:

For the cake:

  • 2 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
  • 2 tsp baking powder
  • 1 1/2 tsp baking soda
  • 1 1/2 tsp salt
  • 2 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 tsp ground nutmeg (optional, as I didn’t have any on hand)
  • 1 cup granulated white sugar
  • 1 cup light brown sugar, packed
  • 1 cup vegetable oil
  • 3 large eggs
  • 2 tsp vanilla extract
  • 2 cups carrots (approx 5 medium carrots), peeled and shredded
  • 8 oz. crushed pineapple, drained
  • 2 handfuls of sweetened flaked coconut
  • 1/3 cup golden raisins
  • 1/4 cup chopped walnuts

For the frosting: (you may want to make more frosting, as this amt is not enough to cover the entire cake, only top and middle)

  • 8 oz. light cream cheese, softened
  • 3 tbsp butter, softened
  • 1 tsp vanilla
  • 1 1/3 cup (6 oz.) confectioner’s sugar

Directions:

1. Preheat oven to 350°F. Grease two 9-inch round baking pans (or a single 9×13 pan) with vegetable oil. Line bottom of pan with parchment and brush oil on top.

2. In a bowl, stir together flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, cinnamon, and nutmeg; set aside.

3. In a separate large bowl, beat eggs, vanilla, granulated and brown sugars on medium-high with an electric beater until thoroughly combined, about 45 seconds. Reduce speed to low; with mixer running, add oil in a slow, steady stream. Increase speed to high and mix until mixture is light in color and well emulsified, about 45 to 60 seconds longer.

4. Turn off beaters, and using a spatula, fold in the flour mixture into the wet batter until just combined (do not over-stir). Towards the end, stir in the carrots, pineapple, coconut, raisins, and walnuts until mixed in.

5. Pour into cake pan and bake until toothpick or skewer inserted into center of cake comes out clean, 35 to 40 minutes. On a wire rack, cool cake to room temperature in pan, about 1  hour.

6. For the frosting, mix cream cheese, butter, and vanilla in a large bowl at medium high speed with electric beater until well combined, about 30 seconds, scraping down bowl with rubber spatula as needed. Add confectioners’ sugar and mix until very fluffy, about 1 minute.

7. Run paring knife around edge of cakes to loosen from pan. Invert cakes onto wire rack, peel off parchment, then invert again onto serving platter. Frost cake layers as desired (note the amount of frosting called for above is enough to frost just the top and middle of a 2-layer cake; I would double the frosting recipe if you intend to cover the entire cake).

Ultimate carrot cake with cream cheese frosting

Enjoy this ultimate carrot cake with a warm mug of spicy tea (or with a tall glass of milk at midnight if that is your style). The cake layers are moist and fluffy, with an abundance of flavor in each bite being contributed by the carrots, coconut, pineapple, raisins, and walnuts (you can see the ingredients right in the cake in the above picture!) And the cream cheese frosting is amazing… lightened up by quite a bit so that it is not cloying, and instead maintains the wonderful tang of cream cheese with a sweetness that complements the cake such that you’ll want some in each forkful. Dust on some cocoa or cinnamon on top and decorate with some whole walnuts for a nice fall look, and you can even throw on a chocolate pirouette for contrast like I did, or a cinnamon stick would work too. Some flaked coconut would be nice too for winter especially if you decide to frost the sides. Yummm…


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