Red Velvet Cheesecake Bars

Red Velvet Cheesecake BarsWhile I was in Texas this past December, I held a pop-up sale in my parents’ dining room. When I set the date and began to plan the thing, I had grand ideas about what I would have available. The list of ideas included grapefruit bars and pie and Texas-shaped ginger cookies, but when it came down to it, I threw all those ideas out the window and took it easy on myself. The preparation was still intense, but making drop cookies and bars was far simpler than what I had originally planned.

There were Peanut Butter Blossoms, Malted Whoppers Cookies, and Brown Butter Chocolate Chip Cookies, but the first things to go were these Red Velvet Cheesecake Bars. Between their eye-catching color, classic chocolate-meets-vanilla flavor, and the swirls of cheesecake, their quick disappearance is easy to understand.

Red Velvet Cheesecake BarsMaking Red Velvet Cheesecake Bars may sound daunting to some, but they were actually the easiest recipe I made. I mean, there’s no softening of butter, no chilling of dough, no waiting for chocolate to harden. Nope. These bars are ridiculously easy to make, and come together in just a few minutes.

The red velvet base is a play off of my favorite blondie recipe. You’ll notice a few changes from the norm here, most noticeably that they’re bright red, but food coloring isn’t the only thing these bars have in common with their namesake cake: natural unsweetened cocoa is subbed for part of the usual all-purpose flour and a touch of vinegar gives the base that signature red velvet tang.

Red Velvet Cheesecake BarsThe batter comes together with just a whisk and a bowl, but you will need your mixer for the cheesecake. It’s the real star of the show here. I mean, red velvet is great and all, but I am all about that cheesecake layer. There’s nothing new here–cream cheese, sugar, eggs, and vanilla are beaten together before being swirled into the red velvet batter. Everything goes into the oven for about half an hour before taking a seemingly endless four hour chill. For all the ease of preparation here, there is a lot of patience required. I promise it’ll all be worth it once you bite into one of these bars.

Red Velvet Cheesecake BarsLook at that! There’s almost as much cheesecake as there is red velvet! Make a batch this weekend, or use a heart cookie cutter and make them part of your Valentine’s Day ❤Red Velvet Cheesecake Bars

Red Velvet Cheesecake Bars
makes 24-32 bars

Cheesecake:
16 ounces (2 bricks) full-fat brick-style cream cheese
1/3 cup granulated sugar
2 large eggs
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract

Red Velvet Base:
1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
1/4 cup natural unsweetened cocoa powder (not Dutch process)
1 teaspoon Kosher or sea salt
1 cup unsalted butter, melted
2 cups granulated sugar
3 large eggs, room temperature
1 1/2 teaspoons white vinegar
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
1 tablespoon liquid red food coloring

Place oven racks in the top and bottom positions. Preheat oven to 350F. Line a 9×13-inch pan with foil and grease with butter. Set aside.

Make cheesecake. In a medium mixing bowl, use an electric mixer to beat cream cheese until fluffy. Mix in sugar. Add eggs one at a time, beating until combined. Mix in vanilla. Set aside.

Make the red velvet. In a small bowl, whisk together flour, cocoa powder, and salt. Set aside. In a large mixing bowl, whisk together melted butter and sugar. Add eggs one at a time, whisking completely after each addition. Whisk in white vinegar, vanilla, and food coloring. Use a silicone spatula to fold in flour mixture. Reserve 2/3 cup of the batter before spreading the rest in the prepared pan.

Pour cheesecake mixture over the red velvet batter. Drop spoonfuls of the reserved red velvet over the top and swirl in with a small, thin knife. Tap full pan on the counter five times to release any air bubbles. Tightly cover the pan with foil. Bake on the top rack of the oven for 15 minutes. Remove top foil and place pan on the bottom rack to bake for 15-20 more minutes. Bars are done when the cheesecake layer barely jiggles when the pan is jostled.

Allow bars to cool in the pan on a rack until they reach room temperature. Refrigerate for four hours, until cold. Place bars on a cutting board and remove foil. Use a large chef’s knife to slice them into bars (or a cookie cutter for fun shapes). Serve.

Red Velvet Cheesecake Bars will keep in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to five days.

Brownie Truffles

Brownie TrufflesAre you on Pinterest? I’ve had an account since it started up a few years ago. I think this was during the height of the mason jar trend. If it could be baked, layered, or served in a mason jar, it made my recipe board. Never mind that I didn’t bake or own mason jars at the time. I just liked all those pretty things lined up next to each other on my computer screen.

Flash forward a few years to the creation of this blog. I went to create a Pinterest business account and took a scroll through my old, long-dormant page. To my utter shock, I hadn’t made any of those recipes, and most of them didn’t interest me anymore. Now that I’ve been running the E2 Bakes account for a year or so, I’ve made a point of only pinning things that actually inspire me. For this blogger, that means things made from scratch with real ingredients (or things I can easily convert to be made with real ingredients). There’s nothing wrong with using boxed cake mix. It’s just not my style.

Brownie TrufflesThis past weekend, I was scrolling through for Valentine’s Day fodder when I came across these Peanut Butter Brownie Truffles from Sincerely Jean. Brownie. Truffles. Brownies coated in chocolate. Does a better treat exist?!

In an effort to actually use my Pinterest for its intended purpose, I got to work making my own version of those truffles. Instead of boxed brownies, I use a double batch of my go-to Cocoa Brownies and leave out the peanut butter. I love peanut butter, but if I’m going to eat chocolate, I want it to be all chocolate.

Brownie TrufflesBrownie TrufflesBrownie TrufflesOnce the brownies are baked and cooled, the truffles come together in about an hour. Slice off the crunchy edges of your brownies and save them for a snack. Crumble the soft middle section with a couple of forks and then roll all that brownie goodness into balls. Freeze them for 15 minutes or so, and then dip them in a mixture of melted milk chocolate, coconut oil, and corn syrup. You could serve them unadorned, but I have a stash of chocolate sprinkles that were calling my name. Freeze everything for 15 more minutes and voilà! Brownie Truffles.

I have big plans to make a batch of these treats for my friends next week. Is there a better way to tell someone you love and appreciate them?! 

Brownie TrufflesLooking for more Valentine’s Day Treats? Check out these Chocolate-Dipped Strawberry Cookies and Glazed Cream Cheese Cake Doughnuts.

Brownie Truffles
inspired by Sincerely Jean
makes about 6 dozen truffles*

Brownies:*
1 1/4 cups (2 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter
1 1/2 cups granulated sugar
1 cup light brown sugar
1 3/4 cups cocoa powder (natural or Dutch process)
4 large eggs, cold
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon Kosher or sea salt

Coating:
16 ounces milk chocolate,* chopped
1 teaspoon coconut oil
2 teaspoon corn syrup
sprinkles, for topping

Preheat oven to 325F. Butter the inside of a rimmed quarter sheet pan or 9×13-inch pan. Line the bottom with parchment and butter again. Set aside.

Melt butter in a saucepan or the microwave. Stir butter, sugars, and cocoa together in a large mixing bowl. Let mixture cool for a couple of minutes. Add the eggs one-by-one, mixing until they are completely incorporated. Stir in vanilla extract. Fold in flour and salt just until combined.

Pour batter into prepared pan. Tap the full pan on the counter a couple of times to release any air bubbles. Bake for 30-35 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the middle comes out with only a few moist crumbs. Let the brownies cool completely in the pan on a rack.

Line a separate quarter sheet pan with parchment. Set aside.

Lift brownies out of the pan and onto a cutting board. Slice off all edges–they aren’t good for crumbling. Use two forks to crumble brownies.

Scoop crumbled brownies by the tablespoon, press them together to hold their shape, and roll into balls. Place on prepared sheet pan. Freeze for 15 minutes.

Place chopped milk chocolate in a microwave-safe bowl. Microwave for 1 minute. Stir with a fork. Add coconut oil. Continue to microwave in 30 second increments, stirring in between, until smooth. Stir in corn syrup.

To dip, drop one brownie ball into the melted chocolate. Use a fork to coat brownie in chocolate. Drain briefly by scraping the tines of the fork on the edge of the bowl. Use the fork to gently lay the truffle on the prepared pan. Immediately top with sprinkles. Reheat chocolate in 15 second increments if it becomes too stiff. Continue this process until all truffles are coated.

Freeze truffles for 15 minutes before serving.

Truffles will keep in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to a week.

Notes:

  1. This recipe halves easily.
  2. Feel free to use your favorite brownie mix. Prepare them according to package directions (not the cake-style) and let cool to room temperature before proceeding.
  3. I like milk chocolate here, but feel free to use dark. I nearly always use Trader Joe’s Pound Plus bars. I do not recommend using chocolate chips.

Brownie Truffles

Glazed Cream Cheese Cake Doughnuts

 Nothing says love quite like doughnuts. When my sisters and I were little, my dad would very occasionally drive 45 seconds down the street to Dale’s Donuts #9 and have a dozen fresh doughnuts on the table before we ever got out of bed. He did it because he loved us…and maybe because he wanted a doughnut and knew we’d never stop complaining if we didn’t get some, too.

And doughnuts were pivotal in what remains one of the most important relationships in my life, the one with my little sister, Eliot (E3). We always loved each other, but like many siblings, we didn’t really get along for the first sixteen years or so. When I was a senior in high school, she was a freshman, so I drove us both to school everyday. And what did we do with our newfound freedom? Get doughnuts for breakfast, of course! Our little fifteen minute drives were spent chatting about the perfection that is John Cusack and eating chocolate sprinkle twists. We became best friends that year. I know the doughnuts weren’t the reason for it, but they sure didn’t hurt 😜

One of the only things I miss about Texas food (apart from Tex-Mex and great barbecue), is Dale’s Donuts #9. I’ve tried to find a good doughnut shop over the last eight years in NYC, but have been mostly unlucky. The Doughnut Plant is too flashy for me. I don’t need my doughnuts to be gourmet. I really love the 7th Avenue Donut Diner in Park Slope (get the Toasted Coconut Doughnut!), but it’s too far from home to be a viable option. There’s always Dunkin’ Donuts, but their doughnuts just aren’t great. They work in a pinch (and there have been many pinches), but they leave me underwhelmed. So what’s a woman to do? Make them at home! 

You might think I’m insane, but trust me, making your own doughnuts is worth it, if only to say “Hey! I made these doughnuts!” to everyone you meet. The doughnuts I’ve been making lately are cake doughnuts, so they take 90 minutes start-to-finish, instead of the 3+ hours that the yeast-raised variety can take. Yes, you can have shop-quality doughnuts on your table in less than two hours! 

And oh, are they ever good. These cake doughnuts are made with cream cheese, which keeps them extra soft. Sour cream is traditional, but cream cheese is just…cream cheese! It makes these doughnuts so light (something difficult to achieve with fried dough), but still rich enough to taste like the real deal. The dough also has a few tablespoons of softened butter and two eggs plus a yolk, just to keep everything really moist and fluffy.

These doughnuts are made with a combination of flour and cornstarch. As I’ve mentioned so many times, cornstarch lightens flour in cakes and cookies, and it does the same thing here. I made one batch with all all-purpose flour, and they were fine, but too dry and crumbly for me to want to make them again. The cornstarch is the “secret” ingredient in this recipe 😊 Also, add a dash of nutmeg. It’s traditional in doughnuts, and adds a little depth without being front-and-center. And of course, since these are cake doughnuts, they are leavened with baking powder instead of yeast, which makes them come together fairly quickly and easily. 

  Once your dough is made, let it rest at room temperature for 30 minutes. The rest allows for the dry ingredients to become fully saturated and for the proteins in the flour to develop properly. Once half an hour is up, flour a surface and roll out the dough, then use graduated cookie cutters (or a doughnut cutter, if you have one) to cut out doughnuts. I used a set of circles (the larger being 2 inches), and also some cute hearts for Valentine’s Day 💗  

Fry the doughnuts in batches of three or four. These cook in 350F oil, and only take 1-2 minutes per side. Once they start to puff and turn golden, they need to be flipped. They will darken a bit more as they cool. 

 
Once your doughnuts are cooked, whisk up the glaze. Confectioner’s sugar, corn syrup, vanilla, salt, and hot tap water ensure that it will set just like the glazes at your favorite doughnut shop! If you are wary of corn syrup, I recommend Lyle’s Golden Syrup as a substitute. Just whisk all the ingredients until smooth. If you want a pink glaze, add a couple of drops of liquid red food coloring. Dip each doughnut individually with your finger or chopsticks before setting it back on the rack to set. If you want to add sprinkles, do it immediately after dipping. The glaze will set after 20 minutes, and then…breakfast time!

This recipe is long and detailed, but trust me when I say that you can make shop-quality doughnuts at home! Soft and cakey with crispy edges, they’re totally irresistible. 

So, this Valentine’s Day (or any day!), invite some of your nearest and dearest for coffee and Glazed Cream Cheese Cake Doughnuts. Have them bring the coffee–you’re frying homemade doughnuts. You’ve done enough.

It’s a great way to let people know you love them 💗🍩 

 Glazed Cream Cheese Cake Doughnuts
glaze barely adapted from Handle the Heat
makes about 21 2-inch doughnuts and doughnut holes

Doughnuts:
2 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
1/4 cup cornstarch
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1 tablespoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon Kosher or sea salt
4 ounces full-fat cream cheese, softened to room temperature
3 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened to room temperature
2/3 cup granulated sugar
2 large eggs + 1 large egg yolk, room temperature
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
vegetable or canola oil, for frying

Glaze:
1 pound confectioner’s sugar
1/2 teaspoon Kosher or sea salt
2 teaspoons light corn syrup*
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
5-6 tablespoons hot tap water
2-3 drops liquid food coloring, if desired
sprinkles, if desired

Whisk together flour, cornstarch, nutmeg, baking powder, and salt in a large mixing bowl. Set aside.

In a separate large mixing bowl, use an electric mixer to beat cream cheese and butter together for two minutes, until very light and fluffy. Beat in sugar. Add eggs and egg yolk and beat the mixture for five minutes until the volume is increased, and the mixture is thick, frothy, and light yellow.* Beat in vanilla. Add flour mixture in two installments, stopping frequently to scrape the bowl. Gather dough into a ball and cover it with plastic wrap, leaving it to rest in the mixing bowl for 30 minutes at room temperature.

Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Set two cooling racks over wax paper.

On a floured surface, use a rolling pin to roll dough to 1/2-inch thickness. Use a doughnut cutter or graduated cookie cutters to cut doughnuts. Re-roll as necessary. Lay cut doughnuts and doughnut holes on prepared baking sheet.

Pour vegetable oil in a large heavy pot, until it is about 1 1/2 inches deep. Heat oil until it reaches 350F. Add cut doughnuts in batches of three or four. Let fry until golden, about 1-2 minutes per side. Remove cooked doughnuts to prepared racks. Continue frying until all doughnuts have been cooked.

Make the glaze. In a large mixing bowl, whisk together confectioner’s sugar and salt. Add corn syrup, vanilla, hot water, and optional food coloring, and continue whisking until smooth. Dip doughnuts one at a time before placing back on the cooling racks. Add sprinkles immediately after dipping, if desired. Let glaze set for twenty minutes before enjoying. Doughnuts are best eaten the day they are made.

Notes:

1. Lyle’s Golden Syrup may be substituted.
2. Mixture may have a few small lumps.

Chocolate-Dipped Strawberry Cookies

 I am one of those people who loves Valentine’s Day. Yes, I know it’s more of a greeting card holiday than anything else, but I just don’t see anything wrong with setting aside one extra day to acknowledge all the love we have in our lives. I know we’re supposed to do that everyday, but it’s easy to get caught up in the hustle and bustle of real life and forget to be grateful.

It’s not just a day for couples. Romantic love is like nothing else and I’ve been fortunate to experience it, but the idea that it’s all that matters on Valentine’s Day (or any day) is just false. As far as I’m concerned, Valentine’s Day is about taking a little extra time to show love and gratitude to everyone you hold dear. My mom sends me a valentine every year (and is actually visiting over the holiday this year!), and my best pal, Tad, is always my valentine. And as a nanny, I have a bunch of little valentines, too. And since it’s impractical (and a little silly) to buy gifts for everyone I love, I think I’ll just hand out cookies instead.

No Valentine’s Day treat is more iconic than chocolate-dipped strawberries, but because fresh fruit coated in chocolate simply isn’t my thing, I’ve taken the simple combination and made it into these fabulous cookies. Since its February, strawberries aren’t in season. Even if they were, putting juicy fresh berries in cookie dough would result in cakey cookies, which are a travesty as far as I’m concerned. If I want something cakey, I’ll have a piece of cake! When it comes to cookies though, I want them to be soft and chewy. 

 So, how do we get tons of strawberry flavor into cookies without using fresh berries or artificially-flavored cake mix? With freeze-dried strawberries! You might recognize them as those crunchy berries in your breakfast cereal. They’re just fresh strawberries that have been completely dehydrated–no sweeteners or artificial stuff, just pure fresh strawberry flavor! I get mine at Trader Joe’s, but they can be found in most well-stocked grocery stores. Simply put them in a food processor or blender and blitz them into a fine powder. If you don’t have either kitchen appliance, place them in a gallon-size zip-top bag and use a rolling pin to crush them. Then, mix the gorgeous pink powder into a soft drop sugar cookie dough. Chill it for a little while and then bake for just a few minutes, until the cookies are just starting to turn golden. 

 For the chocolate dip, you’ll just need good-quality chocolate chips and the tiniest bit of coconut oil. I use Ghirardelli semisweet chocolate chips here because I find that they melt more smoothly than most other brands. The coconut oil helps to give the chocolate a little sheen, and also helps it firm up. Coconut oil naturally solidifies at temperatures below 76F, so once the chocolate dip on these cookies sets, it will stay that way until it’s time to eat them. I like to dip each cookie halfway, but think these would look gorgeous drizzled with chocolate, like on my Almond Joy Cookies {Grain-Free}. I like to top the still-wet chocolate dip with sprinkles…because sprinkles. Aren’t these little hearts adorable?

Chocolate-Dipped Strawberry Cookies would be wonderful for gifting or parties, and of course, keeping in the cookie jar to share with someone you love. And who doesn’t love cookies? I think they’re my valentine this year.

  
Chocolate-Dipped Strawberry Cookies
makes about 3.5 dozen cookies

Strawberry Cookies:
1 1.2-ounce package freeze-dried strawberries*
3 cups all purpose flour
1 tablespoon cornstarch
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon cream of tartar
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon Kosher or sea salt
1 cup unsalted butter, softened to room temperature
1 1/4 cup granulated sugar
1/4 cup light brown sugar, packed
2 large eggs, room temperature
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
3-5 drops liquid red food coloring, optional*

Chocolate Dip:
1 1/2 cups good-quality semisweet chocolate chips*
1/2 teaspoon coconut oil
sprinkles, optional

In a food processor or blender, process freeze-dried strawberries until they are a fine powder. Transfer the powder to a large mixing bowl. Add flour, cornstarch, baking powder, cream of tartar, baking soda, and salt, and whisk to combine. Set aside.

In a separate large mixing bowl, use an electric mixer to beat softened butter until light and fluffy. Beat in granulated and light brown sugars, followed by eggs, vanilla, and optional food coloring. Add dry ingredients in three installments, scraping the bowl as necessary. Cover dough with plastic wrap and chill for 90 minutes, or up to three days.

Preheat oven to 350F. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper.

Scoop dough by the tablespoon and roll into balls. Place dough balls at least two inches apart on prepared baking sheets. Bake for 8-10 minutes, until no longer wet-looking and starting to turn light golden. Let cool on baking sheets for five minutes before removing to a rack to cool completely.

Once all cookies have been baked and cooled, make the chocolate dip. In a double boiler or the microwave, melt chocolate chips and coconut oil together. Stir until smooth. Dip each cookie halfway into the mixture before placing back on the rack. Top with sprinkles, if desired. Chocolate dip will solidify after a few hours at room temperature, or after 30 minutes in the refrigerator.

Chocolate-Dipped Strawberry Cookies will keep covered at room temperature for up to a week.

Notes:

1. I use Trader Joe’s brand freeze-dried strawberries.
2. The cookies pictured have three drops liquid red food coloring.
3. I use Ghirardelli semisweet chocolate chips.