Coconut Lemon Pineapple Ombre Cake

That’s a mouthful, for sure. A delicious, citrus-y, sugary mouthful.

pineapple coconut ombre cake yellow

This might be the prettiest cake I’ve made so far, in celebration of my favorite Erin’s birthday.  Which was ages ago. Sorry I’ve been behind in posting! I’ve built up so many pictures and recipes waiting for me to find time to share them with you all… oops. Grad school makes balancing life sort of tricky. Especially when I decided to add a new hobby to my repertoire: rock climbing. Super fun stuff – some of my favorite people out here are fantastic climbers and got my does-it-involve-running?-because-I-don’t-run self hooked. But with school having started again, it means I’m constantly grinding myself into the ground attempting to balance classes, research, preparation for a conference (we leave Monday and I have to finish my poster still… apparently last minute stress is a major part of grad school), preparation for a research trip to Berkeley (WAHOO! research-funded trip to my undergrad stomping grounds), and other lab commitments with sanity-saving activities like sleeping, grocery shopping, hanging out with friends, spending time with the boy, and partaking in hobbies like dancing, rock climbing, and baking. I guess that’s what it means to be human, right? We’re all doing our best to load our schedules up and then complain about having no time!

how to decorate a coconut cake

So instead of complaining, I’ll give you this cake. Good trade, yes?

yellow ombre coconut pineapple lemon cake yellow swirled frosting

This cake was so much fun to make, putting both my cake decorating supplies and skills to the test. And it’s YELLOW!! Right there, its beauty was a done deal.

yellow ombre cake layers

See those layers? Yeah. They’re ombre. Like the frosting. It’s cool, I’m basically a professional. Please don’t judge me; I’m aware I took a lot of pictures. But it’s the first I’ve attempted something this complex, so forgive me: I’ve got a case of parental pride.

layer cake ombre yellow pineapple lemon coconut

I should probably give my Facebook password to my best friend now, so when I have kids someday, she can disable my account before I become a crazy parent who post pictures every.single.day of their child’s face. And their child eating. And smiling. And crying. And running around. And drawing pictures. And reading books. And generally being adorable and precious and magical. Because I could be one of those parents; you’ve seen what I did with this cake. Consider yourself warned.

how to decorate ombre coconut cake

This cake comes from all over the place. I started with this recipe on Food.com by PanNan as my “base” recipe, and changed it up with insight from my own baking experiences as well as other recipes on EatingWell.com and TasteOfHome.com. I found a nice, stiff cream cheese recipe on Food.com by Trixyinaz that was perfect for piping. Google “ombre cake” if you want to be amazed by the most beautiful cakes ever – those photos were my inspiration.

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LEMON PINEAPPLE CAKE

1 (15-16 ounce) can crushed pineapple in juice, undrained (divided use)

1 ½ cups (3 sticks) unsalted butter, softened

½ cup sour cream or plain Greek yogurt

3 cups sugar

5 eggs

1 tsp. baking soda

2 tsp. baking powder

½ tsp. salt

3 cups cake flour, sifted

1 tsp. lemon extract

1 tsp. vanilla extract

PINEAPPLE FILLING

2 large egg yolks

(crushed pineapple + juice from above)

1/4 cup granulated sugar

5 tsp. cornstarch

CRUSTING CREAM CHEESE ICING

1 cup butter, softened

½ cup vegetable shortening

1 lb cream cheese, softened

1 tbsp. vanilla extract

3 ½ lbs sifted powdered sugar

½ tsp. salt

Food gel coloring

3-4 ounces shredded coconut

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1. Grease three 9″ round cake pans, and line bottoms with parchment paper. Great the top of the parchment paper. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.

2. Separate the crushed pineapple and juice, saving both.

3. In a large bowl, beat butter at medium speed with a mixer until creamy; gradually add sugar, beating well. Add eggs, one at a time, beating until blended after each addition.

4. In a separate bowl, whisk together the flour, baking soda, baking powder, and salt.

5. Combine ¾-cup pineapple juice with the sour cream (it won’t mix well, don’t worry). Add juice mixture to butter mixture, alternating with the flour mixture. Beat at low speed until just-blended after each addition. Stir in extracts.

6. Pour 1/3 of batter into each of the prepared cake pans. Bake at 350 for 25-30 minutes or until a wooden pick inserted in center comes out clean. (I’ll admit I can’t remember how long this took; watch closely starting at 20 minutes!)

7. Remove from pans immediately and cool on wire racks.

8. Make the filling while the cake cools. Stir together egg yolks, sugar, ½-cup pineapple juice, all the pineapple, and cornstarch in a saucepan. Cook over medium-low heat, whisking constantly, until thick and beginning to bubble, about 5 minutes. Let cool completely.

9. When both the cakes and filling are cool, make the frosting. Cream the butter, shortening, cream cheese, and vanilla extract. Gradually add confectioner’s sugar and salt. Beat on low speed until creamy.

10. Stack cake layers, spreading ¾-to-1 cup pineapple filling between each layer. Spread a thin layer of cream cheese frosting on sides and top of cake. Spread shredded coconut on the top, leaving a ½” border around the edge of the cake. Pipe a border of frosting around the top edge. Blend in a tiny bit of yellow (or any color) gel coloring and pipe swirls around the top third of the sides. Blend in some more gel coloring and pipe a second layer of swirls. Blend in even more gel coloring and pipe the remaining layer of swirls. As you go, fill in gaps with little star-shaped frosting piping.

TIP for piping: use a big star-shaped piping tip. Start in the middle of a rose and swirl around it about 1.5-2 times. Stop squeezing when you’re done and gently pull the tip away. Repeat! To make the little stars, switch to a smaller star piping tip and squeeze just enough to fill the gaps, then stop squeezing and pull away. It gets easier with practice, I promise!

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yellow ombre swirled frosting flowers cake

Ahh I just love a yellow cake, so happy!

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Chocolate Chai Cake with Cinnamon Cream Cheese Frosting

chocolate chai cake cream cheese frosting

Mm, chai tea, how are you so delicious? Warm in a mug or cool in a iced concoction, loaded with spices, sweetened up with sugar, creamed to perfection with milk… you are the stuff of dreams. Of hot sticky summer days and bitterly cold winter afternoons. Of quick escapes from the lab with friends, dashing to our favorite local coffee shop. Of fond memories and future adventures. You make my heart smile.

chocolate chai cake cream cheese frosting slice view

While I can’t say I’d eat this cake as often as I drink chai tea (but, HELLO: check out this epic guide for making your own chai tea!), I will say that this cake is incredible. Spicy and sweet, the subtle chocolate flavor is mostly lost to the warm, fall-flavored spices. Trust me when I say you won’t mind. My favorite part is the drool-worthy cinnamon cream cheese frosting, though, and this recipe will leave you with about a cup of extra frosting that is a perfect spread for graham crackers. This cake would be ideal for any fall or winter celebration (cardamom, cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg, and ginger are the stars of cold weather) as a unique alternate to pumpkin, gingerbread, etc. treats. Your guests will love you for sure!

Check out all those flecks of cinnamon in the frosting, and dusting the top! These are the little things that make life special.

Check out all those flecks of cinnamon in the frosting, and dusting the top! These are the little things that make life special.

This recipe comes from What Megan’s Making. She adapted a Taste of Home recipe for chocolate chai mini loaves and turned it into cupcakes. Brilliant! I doubled her ingredients and made it into this delicious cake. I’m pretty sure that however you choose to eat this, you’ll agree: masala chai spices are fantastic in baked goods!

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CHOCOLATE CHAI CAKE

4 ounces semisweet chocolate, chopped

1 cup water

1 cup unsalted butter, softened

2 cups brown sugar
, packed

4 eggs

2 tsp. vanilla extract

3 cups all-purpose flour

1 1/2 tsp. ground cardamom

2 tsp. ground cinnamon

1/2 tsp. ground ginger

1/4 tsp. cloves

1/4 tsp. ground nutmeg

2 tsp. baking soda

1 tsp. salt

1 cup sour cream

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CINNAMON CREAM CHEESE FROSTING

16 ounces cream cheese, softened

1 cup unsalted butter, softened

4 tsp. vanilla extract

5 cups powdered sugar

Cinnamon, to taste

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Make the cake:

1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Prepare three 9-inch cake pans by greasing the bottoms and sides, cutting out circles of parchment or wax paper and lining the bottoms of the pans, and then greasing the paper tops. Set aside.

2. Whisk together the flour, spices, baking soda, and salt in a bowl; set aside. Melt the chocolate and water together in a microwave; stir until smooth. Cool slightly.

3. In a large bowl, cream the butter and brown sugar until light and fluffy. Add eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition. Beat in vanilla, then chocolate mixture. Add the flour mixture to the creamed mixture, alternating with the sour cream.

4. Divide the cake batter evenly between the three pans. Bake at 350° for 20-25 minutes (rotate halfway through) or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Cool for 10 minutes before removing from pans to a wire rack to cool completely.

Make the frosting:

1. Beat together the cream cheese and butter in the bowl of an electric mixer until smooth and well-mixed, about 2-3 minutes. Mix in the vanilla extract.  Gradually beat in the powdered sugar until completely incorporated.

2. Keep the mixer running while you sprinkle in cinnamon. Sample periodically and stop adding cinnamon when you can see flecks throughout and it tastes good. I probably added about a teaspoon when it was all said and done.

Assemble the cake:

1. Prepare your cake plate by placing small strips of wax paper in a circle about the size of your cake (this will catch the frosting spills and keep your plate looking pretty).

2. If necessary, use a serrated knife to level off the rounded tops of each cake. Place one of the cake rounds on the wax paper circle (the wax paper should be partially under the cake), with the serrated side facing up. Put a generous amount of frosting on top and smooth it out to an even layer. Put a second cake round on top and spread more frosting on generously; place the final cake round bottom-up so the top is smooth.

3. Spread a thin layer of frosting all over the sides and top of the cake. This is called a “crumb coat” and will effectively seal in all the crumbs, so when we frost “for real” later, it’ll look magnifique! Put the cake in the fridge for 10 minutes.

4. Remove the cake and frost with generous scoops of frosting, spreading it all over the sides and top. Leftover frosting (I had about a cup) can be eaten with a spoon or used as a dip for graham crackers, pretzels, etc. If you want, carefully sprinkle cinnamon on top of your cake for decoration.

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chai tea cake chocolate cream cheese frosting top

That’s it! All the flavors of chai tea wrapped up in one marvelous cake and perfectly paired with the best cinnamon cream cheese frosting. Your house will smell incredible, your taste buds will thank you, your guests will compliment, and you will beam!

Cappuccino Fudge Cheesecake

cappuccino side

With two birthdays to celebrate, what better way than to make a cheesecake? And since it’s my first time ever making a cheesecake, it’s probably best to pick a complicated recipe that takes way longer than anticipated, right? So when something goes wrong, you have no idea what to do because you have no “familiar ground” to compare it to and you end up on Google searching “why is my cheesecake puffing up and still jiggling and REFUSING TO COOK like it #@$&%*& should?!?” Sounds like a good idea, right?! My logic, sometimes…

Recall for a minute my friend Matt who visited over St. Patrick’s Day weekend: we made some awesome brownies and a cake that couldn’t be displayed but was eagerly consumed. Strike any bells? Well, Matt also happens to be incredibly thoughtful and a marvelously generous houseguest. He got me a springform pan because I’ve never had one before, and he said he “figured an avid baker had to have at least one springform pan in her collection.” See, what did I tell you? So thoughtful. And this meant I could finally try making a cheesecake! All those delicious recipes I’ve passed up over the years because I didn’t have the right supplies… Thank you, Matt!! Everyone, I hope you’re ready for loads of cheesecake recipes now – I have to make up for years of missed recipes!

As for my inaugural cheesecake, what better place to start than this:

Cappuccino.

FUDGE.

Cheesecake.

Oh, yes. It is as intoxicatingly and sinfully rich and delicious as it sounds!

I followed Smitten Kitchen‘s instructions for this amazing concoction, which Deb adapted from Bon Appetit, February 2002. Annie’s Eats also makes this recipe, but with a simpler crust. You can find Smitten Kitchen’s instructions below for this beautiful treat. One note: watch out that you don’t over-beat the eggs. The recipe makes it sound like you want to mix until the eggs are super well-blended, but that made the cheesecake “fluffier” than I would have liked. Be aware of that, and only gently beat the eggs in. That aside, this cheesecake rocks. With the perfect amount of each flavor, the tastes blend beautifully. Not to mention, it’s one gorgeous dessert! Plus, it’s a pretty easy one to make (remember, I’ve never made cheesecake before), if you don’t count my minor fiasco with the baking time (a product of over-beating the eggs, I think; I had to cook for nearly 50% more time). The worst part is the lengthly waiting/chilling times. Have side projects to work on (or a great baking companion to hang out with) while you wait and you’ll be good to go!

cappuccino candle

Birthday boys! Blow out the one candle we have in our building… 

cappuccino cut

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CAPPUCCINO FUDGE CHEESECAKE

(Link to Smitten Kitchen’s recipe provided above)

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CHOCOLATE CRUST

1 (9-oz) box chocolate wafer cookies

6 ounces bittersweet or semisweet chocolate, coarsely chopped

1/2 cup (packed) dark brown sugar

1/8 tsp. ground nutmeg

7 tbsp. hot melted unsalted butter

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CHOCOLATE GANACHE

1 1/2 cups heavy or whipping cream

20 oz bittersweet or semisweet chocolate, chopped

1/4 cup Kahlúa or other coffee-flavored liqueur

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CAPPUCCINO CHEESECAKE FILLING

3 (8-oz) packages cream cheese, room temperature

1 cup sugar

1 1/2 tbsp. all purpose flour

1 1/2 tbsp. dark rum

2 tbsp. instant espresso powder or coffee crystals

2 tsp. vanilla extract

1 1/2 tsp. mild-flavored (light) molasses

3 large eggs

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VANILLA SOUR CREAM TOPPING

1 1/2 cups sour cream

1/3 cup sugar

2 tsp. vanilla extract

A handful of chocolate covered espresso beans (optional)

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Make chocolate crust:

1. Finely grind cookies, chopped chocolate, brown sugar, and nutmeg in processor. Add butter and process until crumbs begin to stick together, scraping down bowl occasionally, about 1 minute.

2. Transfer crumbs to 9-inch-diameter springform pan with 3-inch-high sides. Wrap plastic wrap around fingers and press crumb mixture firmly up sides to within 1/2 inch of top edge, then over bottom of pan.

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Make chocolate ganache:

1. Bring cream to simmer in large saucepan. Remove from heat; add chocolate and Kahlúa. Whisk until chocolate is melted and ganache is smooth.

2. Pour 2 cups ganache over bottom of crust. Freeze until ganache layer is firm, about 30 minutes. Reserve remaining ganache; cover and let stand at room temperature to use later for decorating.

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Make cappuccino cheesecake filling:

1. Position rack in middle of oven and preheat to 350°F.

2. Using electric mixer, beat cream cheese and sugar in large bowl until blended. Scrape down bowl, making sure you get to the bottom, where little pockets of unmixed cream cheese love to hide. Beat in flour.

3. Stir rum, espresso powder, vanilla, and molasses in small bowl until instant coffee dissolves; beat into cream cheese mixture. Beat in eggs one at a time, scraping down sides of bowl between each addition.

4. Pour filling over cold ganache in crust; it will go nearly all of the way to the top – don’t panic. Place cheesecake on rimmed baking sheet. Bake until top is brown, puffed and cracked at edges, and the center two inches moves only slightly when pan is gently shaken, about one hour.

5. Transfer cheesecake to rack. Cool 15 minutes while preparing topping (top of cheesecake will fall slightly, making room for topping). Maintain oven temperature while you continue on to make the topping.

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Make vanilla sour cream topping:

1. Whisk sour cream, sugar, and vanilla in medium bowl to blend. Pour topping over hot cheesecake, spreading to cover cheesecake filling completely.

2. Bake until topping is set, about 10-15 minutes. Transfer cheesecake to rack. Refrigerate hot cheesecake on rack until cool, about three hours.

3. Run a small, sharp knife between the crust and pan sides to loosen cake; release pan sides. Transfer cheesecake to platter.

4. Spoon reserved ganache into pastry bag fitted with small star tip. See Smitten Kitchen’s website for instructions to make a lattice top, or else decorate as you see fit. I drew lines across the top and piped stars all around the edges. Be creative!

5. Garnish with chocolate-covered espresso beans, if desired. Chill until the decorations are firm, at least 6 hours.

Mojito Cake with Lime Cream Cheese Frosting

mojito cake side

For Ellie’s birthday, I needed to find something citrus-y per her request (which she begrudgingly revealed only after I insisted she tell me her favorite flavor). Since I’ve never been a big fan of citrus flavors in baked goods, I tend to avoid these types of recipes. This was an excellent opportunity to branch out, and I’m quite glad I did: this cake rocks! A sort of cross between key lime and mojito, it’s bursting with flavor and surprisingly rich. Cut smaller slices than you think you’ll need, close your eyes, and enjoy all the delicious flavors of a mojito with significantly less of the alcohol. Which makes this cake perfectly acceptable to bring to group meeting in the middle of the day, right? Santé!

mojito cake slice

See the darker parts of the cake? Aka the best, most flavorful parts? That’s where the rum syrup seeped in. I was nervous about adding too much of the syrup, so I only used about half. Big mistake. Use lots of syrup, it’s delicious!

The cake, rum syrup, and lime cream cheese frosting recipes are only slightly adapted from Two Peas‘ recipe for adorable mojito cupcakes; the whipped cream recipe came from Bakerella‘s recipe for a stunningly gorgeous key lime cake.

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MOJITO CAKE

3 cups all-purpose flour

1 tsp. baking powder

½ tsp. baking soda

1 tsp. salt

1 cup buttermilk

1 tbsp. rum (Captain Morgan’s Spice Rum if possible)

1 tsp. vanilla extract

1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened

2 cups granulated sugar

4 large eggs

3 tbsp. fresh mint, chopped

Directions to make the cake:

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Grease the sides and bottoms of three 9-inch round cake pans. Line the bottom with parchment or wax paper circles, and grease the top of the paper. Set aside.

2. In a medium bowl, stir the flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt together until well-mixed. Set aside.

3. In a small bowl, combine the buttermilk, rum, and vanilla extract. Set aside.

4. In a large bowl with a hand mixer or in an electric stand mixer, beat together the butter and sugar on medium-high speed until pale and fluffy (4-5 minutes). Reduce speed to low and add the eggs one at a time, scraping down the sides of the bowl after each addition.

5. Scrape the sides of the bowl periodically throughout this process: Add 1/3 of the dry ingredients to the butter-sugar-egg mixture, and mix well. Add ½ of the buttermilk mixture and beat for one minute. Add another 1/3 of the dry mixture; beat until combined. Add the rest of the buttermilk mixture; beat for one minute. Add the rest of the dry mixture; beat for one minute until the batter is smooth. Beat in the chopped mint last.

6. Pour into cake pans, dividing the batter evenly. Bake for 25-30 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean. Make the rum syrup (below) during the last 5-10 minutes of baking.

7. Let cool for 5 minutes and then poke holes all over the surface with a skewer, toothpick, or fork. Spoon the rum syrup evenly over the warm cakes and let cool completely before frosting. Or, carefully level off the tops of the cakes. The “exposed” cakes will much more easily absorb the syrup.

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RUM SYRUP

1 cup sugar

¼ cup water

¼ cup (1/2 stick) butter

¼ cup rum

zest of 1 lime

3 sprigs fresh mint

Directions to make the syrup:

Combine the sugar, water, and butter in a small saucepan over medium-high heat and bring to a boil, stirring frequently. Remove from the heat once the butter is melted and the sugar is dissolved. Carefully mix in the rum. Add the lime zest and fresh mint, and let the syrup infuse for 5 minutes before using to spoon over the cakes. It’s going to seem like a lot of syrup, but use at least 3/4 if not all of it, because it makes this cake amazingly moist!

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LIME CREAM CHEESE FROSTING

12 ounces cream cheese

~8 cups powdered sugar

1 tbsp. lime juice

½ tbsp. rum

optional: green food coloring (gel, not liquid)

Directions to make the frosting:

In the bowl of a stand mixer, beat together the cream cheese, lime juice, and rum. Carefully blend in the powdered sugar until you are satisfied with the consistency. Add green food coloring as desired. Scrape the sides of the bowl regularly and mix until well-blended. Spread on cooled cakes (refrigerate the cakes first to make them much easier to work with).

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WHIPPED CREAM

16 oz. heavy whipping cream

3 tbsp. granulated sugar

1 tsp. vanilla

optional: fresh mint sprigs

Directions to make the whipped cream:

Chill metal bowl and beaters in freezer for about 20 minutes. When ready to whip, add the cream, sugar, and vanilla to the bowl and beat at medium-high speed until stiff peaks form. Pipe onto your frosted cake, and decorate with fresh mint.

Store cake in the refrigerator until about an hour before you want to serve it.

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mojito cake top

Fortunately, my graduate student stipend isn’t contingent on my cake decorating skills. If it were, they’d have kicked me, jobless, out in the snow already! (Also: snow? In mid-March? REALLY?? As if I didn’t miss California enough already…)

St. Patrick’s Day Baileys Irish Cream Cheese Frosted Brownies

baileys brownie

My friend, Matt, is visiting from Cornell this weekend. We celebrated St. Patrick’s Day by making this AMAZING Guinness Chocolate Cake with Baileys Irish Cream Cheese Frosting. Seriously, check it out because that cake is delicious! We had the brilliant last-minute (read: poorly thought out) idea to add chocolate ganache in between cake layers… which oozed out everywhere, got all mixed up in the frosting, made the top layer slide, and rendered our delicious cake TUTP (“too ugly to post”). I still think a chocolate layer would take this cake over-the-top, so if you make the recipe, I recommend looking around for a good, thick ganache filling recipe (maybe this one?). Let me know if you can get it to work, because I’d love to successfully make this cake with a chocolate layer someday!

We were left with extra frosting from that adventure, so Matt whipped up this tasty, fudge-y brownie recipe from AllRecipes and we covered it with the leftover Baileys Irish Cream Cheese Frosting. This is quite a decadent pairing, and so perfect for St. Patrick’s Day. Cut small pieces because it’s insanely rich. If you’re just making the brownies and not the cake, only make a quarter of the frosting recipe. All recipes are provided at the links, so I won’t repeat them here. Enjoy!!

Pumpkin Butterscotch Cake with Cream Cheese Frosting and Chocolate Glaze

pumpkin cake

Adam’s birthday is tomorrow, and he asked repeatedly asked for “those pumpkin ball amazing treat things” I brought in last semester. Actually, ever since I made those, he’s been bringing them up and requesting them again. It doesn’t matter what new treat I bring in, he just wants those pumpkin bread balls. Unfortunately for Adam, even though it’s his birthday, that still doesn’t change the fact that: 1) I prefer to try new recipes rather than repeat old ones, and 2) birthdays require birthday cake. Period. Very little room for negotiating here, folks.

Of course, with that said, I’d rather not be a total jerk who ruins birthdays by denying someone their lone, long-standing request. So for a few weeks now, I’ve been brainstorming how to capture all those magnificent flavors from the pumpkin bread balls (pumpkin, cream cheese, chocolate, butterscotch, walnut) and highlight them together in one glorious cake. And you know what? It worked. Really, really well. Even better than I anticipated. So please, for me, make this cake. Try this and share it with your friends and tell me it’s okay that this cake makes me want to run to the grocery store and hoard all the ingredients and never leave my kitchen and not care a single ounce about developing diabetes…

pumpkin cake slice

Give me details, you say; the pictures are nice and all, but what exactly is going on here? I’m so glad you asked! Start with a great pumpkin cake recipe and add more spices, pumpkin, vanilla, and butterscotch chips. Cover completely with my favorite fluffy cream cheese frosting recipe. Whip up a simple and rich chocolate glaze and pour it over the top so it runs over the edges in dreamy dribbles. Finish off with butterscotch drizzles and chopped walnuts, and say “hello” to your drool-inducing, prize-winning, bribe-fulfilling, love-inspiring, debt-erasing, happiness-spreading cake that is shockingly easy to make, though you’d never be able to tell from looking at it. It’s dense, moist, and oh-so-rich, with the most satisfying combination of flavors. Everyone loved it, and in addition to more “normal” accolades, it was described using some rather colorful language that I can’t repeat here. Care to join me at the grocery store? I need to purchase all the canned pumpkin they have in stock…

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PUMPKIN BUTTERSCOTCH CAKE

Adapted from: Diana Rattray at About.com

2 cups all-purpose flour

2 tsp. baking soda

1 ¼ tsp. baking powder

½ tsp. salt

2 tsp. ground cinnamon

½ tsp. ground ginger

¼ tsp. nutmeg

¼ tsp. clove

2 cups sugar

1 cup vegetable oil

4 large eggs

1 tsp. vanilla extract

2 cans (30 oz total) pumpkin puree or cooked mashed pumpkin (NOT pumpkin pie mix!)

3/4 bag butterscotch chips (save the other ¼ for the top)

Directions to make the cake:

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Prepare three 9-inch round cake pans: grease the sides and bottom using baking spray or butter, cut out a circle of parchment or wax paper and place on the greased bottom, and grease the top of the paper as well. Dust bottom and sides lightly with flour. Set aside.

2. In a medium-sized bowl, whisk together the flour, baking soda, baking powder, salt, and spices. Set aside.

3. In a large bowl, stir together the sugar, vegetable oil, eggs, and vanilla extract until well-mixed. Stir in the dry mixture until just incorporated. Gently stir in pumpkin puree, and finally stir in the butterscotch chips.

4. Pour batter into prepared pans and bake at 350 F for 30-35 minutes until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean (mine were perfect at 30), rotating pans halfway through baking. Cool completely in pans.

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CREAM CHEESE FROSTING

From: Southern Living (minus the pecans)

2 (8 oz) packages cream cheese, softened

1/2 cup salted butter, softened

1 (32 oz) package powdered sugar (or two 16 oz packages)

2 tsp. vanilla extract

Directions to make the frosting:

In the bowl of an electric stand mixer, beat the softened cream cheese and butter together until creamy, then beat in the vanilla extract. Add the powdered sugar gradually, stopping when you like the consistency/flavor of the frosting (I always add the full 32 ounces).

Frost according to the instructions in my Cinnamon-Swirled Banana Cake. Make sure you freeze the cake before assembling, and do the crumb coat! This cake is very delicate.

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CHOCOLATE GLAZE

From: Smitten Kitchen

10 oz semisweet chocolate, coarsely chopped (or a bag of chocolate chips)

2 tbsp. light corn syrup

1/2 cup half-and-half

Directions to make the chocolate glaze:

In the top of a double boiler or in a bowl set over simmering water, combine the chocolate and corn syrup. Cook, whisking often, until the chocolate is melted and the mixture is smooth. Remove from the heat and whisk in the half-and-half, beating until smooth.

Pour over the top of your frosted cake, and gently push small sections of the chocolate off the top so it drips down the sides in long lines.

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FINISHING TOUCHES

¼ bag butterscotch chips

1 tsp. light corn syrup

2 tsp. half-and-half

½ cup chopped walnuts

Directions to make your cake b-e-a-utiful:

Melt butterscotch chips and corn syrup in the microwave for 45 seconds and stir until melted and smooth. Whisk in the half-and-half, beating until smooth. Drizzle over the top of the cake (which should already be frosted and glazed). Sprinkle chopped walnuts over the top.

Store in the refrigerator but remove at least 2 hours before you plan to serve it so everything can reach room temperature and bring out the flavors best.

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See, what did I tell you? So simple! The cake layers take ~15 minutes to make, 30 to bake, and 20 to cool (if you’re impatient and throw them in the freezer). The frosting takes ~10 to make and ~20 to put on the cake. The glaze takes ~10 total to make and pour on top, as do the finishing touches. Which clocks you in at well under 2 hours to make this delicious cake. I declare that totally do-able. And if you are anything like me and have an unhealthy obsession with pumpkin, butterscotch, cream cheese, and chocolate (walnuts are healthy – they don’t count), you will love it. Guaranteed.

pumpkin cake side view

Chocolate Whoopie Pies with Peanut Butter & Cream Cheese Filling

whoopie pie peanut butter

Confession: I don’t care for the name “whoopie pie,” but it’s really the quickest way to say “soft, cake-like cookie sandwich with awesome frosting inside.” And these really are awesome. Incredibly light and soft chocolate “cookies” filled with an I’m-so-tempted-to-eat-this-by-the-spoonful peanut butter cream cheese frosting. One of my labmates requested a pairing of chocolate and peanut butter for group meeting this week, hence the veering from traditional marshmallow cream filling. Mm peanut butter and chocolate… oui, s’il vous plaît!

I have a theory that the ugliest cookies taste the best, probably because they get eaten almost directly out of the oven (after an approximate 6.72 second wait for them to cool down). You couldn’t possibly serve an ugly cookie to other people. The only logical action is to put these cookies out of their misery as quickly as possible. And of course, ugly cookies eaten directly out of the oven only have half the calories, right? Right?!

Lucky for me (and you, if you make these), this recipe produces quite a few ugly cookies if you don’t have a cookie scoop. Which I didn’t. Until one arrived in the mail after making these. (Thanks, Lauren!! Once again, that Williams-Sonoma card is making my life!) These are best the day that you frost them, but often that’s not practical, so you can store the sandwiches in the fridge if you’re not going to eat them within a few hours. (Keep in mind everyone in my building ate them the next day and had nothing but praise for them, so it’s perfectly fine to make these in advance!) Make sure to remove them at least two hours before you plan to serve them, though, so they can soften up a bit.

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WHOOPIE PIES WITH PEANUT BUTTER & CREAM CHEESE FILLING

Cookies (from Annie’s Eats)

3 1/2 cups all-purpose flour

1 tsp. salt

1 1/2 cups unsweetened cocoa powder

1 tbsp. baking soda

1 tsp. baking powder

1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened

2 cups granulated sugar

2 large eggs

2 cups buttermilk, room temperature

2 tsp. vanilla extract

Filling

1 package (8 oz) cream cheese, softened

1/2 cup (1 stick) butter, softened

1 cup peanut butter

4-6 cups powdered sugar

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1. Preheat oven to 400 F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper or a silicone baking mat.

2. In a medium bowl, stir/whisk together the flour, salt, cocoa powder, baking soda, and baking powder. Set aside.

3. In the bowl of an electric mixer, beat together the butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Add the eggs individually, beating well after each one. Add the buttermilk and vanilla extract and beat until just incorporated.

4. Slowly beat in the dry ingredients until just mixed.

5. Using a 1-oz cookie scoop (or a spoon and your talented estimating eyes), drop batter onto the prepared cookies sheets, leaving 2-3 inches between cookies (these spread!). Bake for 10-12 minutes. Allow to cool on the pan for ~5 minutes, then transfer to a wire rack to cool completely.

6. When you’ve baked all the cookies and they’re cool, make the filling. Put the cream cheese, butter, and peanut butter in the bowl of the electric stand mixer and beat until smooth and evenly-mixed. Slowly beat in the powdered sugar until you’re happy with the consistency. It should be easily spreadable but thick enough to hold its shape between the cookies.

7. Pair cookies up by size and spread a generous amount of filling on one of the sides. Press the pairs together and store in an airtight container (in the refrigerator if you’re not going to eat them within a few hours).

8. Eat. Smile. Repeat.

Sugar Cookie Heart Sandwiches (Chocolate-Dipped and Red Velvet Cake-Filled)

heart sandwich cookies

Happy Valentine’s Day, my dear friends!! I hope you feel loved and appreciated today. Even the snow was bitten by the love bug:

snow heart

Many people will try to tell you how Valentine’s Day is pointless, worthless, or silly. But I ask you: if we didn’t have Valentine’s Day, how could I get away with packing this much pink, white, & red and this many hearts & sprinkles into one sweet treat?!

heart sandwich cookies 4

People would think I was crazy or love-obsessed on any typical day for handing these out. But today it is perfectly acceptable to be a bit over-the-top. So I say, embrace the excuse to be ridiculous! Celebrate Valentine’s Day! Make these treats! Though you’ll want to thank me for this recipe, there is no need – I am sharing it with you because (1) it is Valentine’s Day and (2) this is my way of putting just a bit more love out into the world. Because these treats? These are love.

The basic layout: sugar cookie + red velvet cake with cream cheese filling + sugar cookie, edge-dipped in chocolate and topped with sprinkles. Each sandwich has one sugar cookie that’s white with a pink heart and one that’s pink with a white heart, so the sides are reverse mirror-images of each other, sort of like a sugar cookie ying yang metaphor for love. Yup.

A few people declared this their favorite treat that I’ve brought to lab so far. Which is mighty high praise indeed! If you haven’t been convinced up to this point, now I’ve got you: you should really want to make these. And they’re not too difficult! Promise. There are a lot of steps, yes, but it’s quite fun and the payoff is worth it in both appearance and taste. How could you go wrong with sugar cookies, cake, chocolate, and sprinkles? (You can’t.)

I pretty closely followed this Valentine’s Day Cookie Cake Pop recipe from Bakingdom. My changes came in the details: instead of stamping pictures and words on the cookies, I swapped heart cutouts. Instead of lining the edges with candy melts, I dipped the sides in chocolate so you can still see the red velvet filling (and to save time). Finally, I decided to make them little sandwiches instead of putting them on cake pop sticks. Just a few variations, but the general theme of love remains and the genius of combining cookies, cake, and candy belongs to Bakingdom. :)

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SUGAR COOKIES (from: Bakingdom)

1 1/2 cups (3 sticks) unsalted butter, softened

2 cups granulated sugar

4 eggs

2 tsp. vanilla

5 cups flour

2 tsp. baking powder

2 tsp. salt

red gel food coloring

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RED VELVET CAKE FILLING

1 box red velvet cake mix

required ingredients to make the cake (eggs, vegetable oil, water, etc.)

1 can (16 oz) cream cheese frosting

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TOPPINGS

2 bags (~12 oz each) chocolate chips (I used 1 white and 1 semi-sweet)

2 tsp. shortening (for white chocolate only)

Valentine’s-themed sprinkles!

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IMPORTANT SUPPLIES

1 large heart-shaped cookie cutter

1 mini heart-shaped cookie cutter

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Preparation (aka my Day 1):

1. Make cake according to instructions.

2. While the cake is in the oven, make the sugar cookie dough. In a medium bowl, whisk/stir together the flour, baking powder, and salt. In the bowl of a stand mixer (or a large bowl + hand mixer), cream the butter and sugar together until fluffy. Add eggs one at a time, beating until well-combined after each egg, and then beat in the vanilla. Gradually add the dry mixture until everything is well-mixed; scrape the sides of the bowl regularly.

3. Remove half the dough and press into a fat, round disk. Cover with plastic wrap and chill in the refrigerator for at least 2 hours, or overnight.

4. To the remaining dough, beat in red gel food coloring until you are satisfied with the color (keep it mind it will lighten slightly during baking). Press into a fat, round disk, cover with plastic wrap, and chill with the other dough.

4. When the cake is done, let it cool completely. If you are waiting overnight, cover with plastic wrap until you’re ready to use it.

Baking the cookies (aka my Day 2):

1. Preheat oven to 350 F. Lightly grease a cookie sheet with baking spray.

2. Roll each chilled dough disk out on a floured surface to a thickness of slightly less than 1/2-centimeter.

3. Using the large heart-shaped cookie cutter, cut out as many hearts as you can from both the pink and white dough, pressing the dough scraps together until you can’t make any more cookies.

4. Using the mini heart-shaped cookie cutter, cut out small hearts from every cookie. The small hearts should be offset inside the big hearts, on either the right or left side. Make an even number of right- and left-side cutouts for both the pink and white doughs. Swap hearts with the opposite colored dough and gently press the mini heart and the large heart together.

5. Gently transfer cookies to the lightly greased cookie sheet (use a spatula or they’ll fall apart!). Bake for 8-10 minutes, until you start to see any edges turn slightly brown. (Watch these like a hawk: they’ll turn crispy really, really fast. Ideally, you want to catch them right before they brown.)

6. Cool on the cookie sheet for a few minutes and then transfer to a cooling rack.

Assembly (aka my Day 2 continued; could be a Day 3):

1. Match up cookies of opposite color so that when they’re back-to-back, the mini hearts are touching. Do your best to pair up similarly shaped cookies.

2. In a large bowl, crumble the cake and stir in the frosting until very well-mixed.

3. For each cookie pair, place 1.5-2 tablespoons of the cake mixture onto the bottom side of one of the cookies. Gently press the dough until it fills the whole cookie evenly, then top with the other cookie and gently sandwich together.

4. Chill the sandwiches in the refrigerator for half an hour or freezer for 15 minutes.

5. Pour 1 bag of chocolate chips into a bowl and microwave for 1.5 minutes. Stir together until all the chips are melted. (For white chocolate chips, add 2 teaspoons of shortening immediately after microwaving to thin it out.)

6. Dip in chocolate the side of the sandwiches that does not have the mini heart cutout. Using a spoon or the side of the bowl, gently scrape off excess chocolate. Make some sandwiches with the pink side face-up and others with the white side face-up. Set on wax paper to harden and decorate with Valentine’s Day sprinkles.

7. When half of the sandwiches have been dipped, repeat steps 5 & 6 with the other bag of chocolate chips.

8. Do not store or stack until the chocolate has set; you may have to let them harden overnight.

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I recognize that this recipe has a LOT of steps, but it’s really not too difficult. You can do it! And they’re so, so good. Seriously: make these. You won’t regret it!

heart sandwich cookies 3

Also, did you notice how gorgeous these photos are? Robin and Ruby (two amazing people in my department) both told me that my photos had a lot of room for improvement (apparently iPhone photos aren’t good enough for them…). To help me step up my game, they both volunteered to share photography duty. So today, Robin conducted a mini modeling session complete with fancy lighting and a studio box and everything. My little babies, all grown up and turned into supermodels! Expect better photos from now on, folks: I’ve made it to the big leagues. I’ve got PROFESSIONAL PHOTOGRAPHERS!!

heart sandwich cookies 2

Cinnamon-Swirled Banana Cake with Cream Cheese Frosting

Aka: YOU SURVIVED!

I always think I’m going to eat bananas, and pick up a half dozen from the grocery store each time I go. Clearly I never learn: every time, I end up with overripe, brown bananas staring me in the face and mocking my inability to consume them fast enough. If we were in a race, my eating vs. their ripening, they’d win every time.

Except when I think of a delicious recipe to put them in. Then I win. Take that, bananas! And somehow, it seems much easier to eat banana cake than bananas…

This cake is good. Really good. As in, you take a bite and you think, “Yeah, that’s yummy” and then the second bite is, “Wow, this is pretty good” and then the rest is gobbled up with mouth-full exclamations of, “Could a banana cake really taste this good? Do I even like bananas?! Who cares, this is delicious!” (This evolution was determined scientifically, through careful observation of my own opinions and the compliments that others gave as their eating progressed.) It started as a honeybun cake recipe that I changed up quite a bit, adding vanilla extract, baking soda, flour, and bananas and baking in round cake pans so I could make a proper cake with layers and lots of frosting.  The result is a not-quite-dense-but-definitely-not-airy cake laced with small chunks of banana and ribbons of cinnamon and brown sugar, topped with my newest favorite cream cheese frosting (it holds its shape really well and has tons of sugar, but still tastes like cream cheese).

Cake inspiration: Michelle’s Honeybun Cake on AllRecipes

Frosting (minus the pecans): Cream Cheese Butter Pecan Frosting on MyRecipes

As you can see by the writing, quals are finally over! The grad students all survived (a bit brain-dead by the end, but they made it) and now get to wait one anxious month to find out if they passed. Now, what to make when that time rolls around? Decisions, decisions…

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CINNAMON-SWIRLED BANANA CAKE

1 box yellow cake mix
4 eggs
1 (8oz) carton sour cream
3/4 cup vegetable oil
1/2 cup water
1/2 tsp. vanilla extract
1 tsp. baking soda
1 cup flour
3 ripe bananas, peeled & mashed

Cinnamon Swirl:

1 1/4 cups brown sugar
1 1/2 tsp. cinnamon

CREAM CHEESE FROSTING

2 (8oz) packages cream cheese, softened
1/2 cup butter, softened
1 (32oz) package powdered sugar (or 2-16oz packages)
2 tsp. vanilla extract

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1. Preheat oven to 350 F. Grease two 9-inch round cake pans well (bottom and sides). Cut parchment or wax paper in a circle to fit the bottom of the cake pan, place on top of the greased bottom, and grease the paper.

2. In a bowl, whisk/stir together the cake mix, baking soda, and flour until well-mixed. Using an electric hand mixer, beat in eggs, sour cream, vegetable oil, water, and vanilla extract to make a smooth batter. Beat in mashed bananas for ~30 seconds (there will still be some lumps). In a separate bowl, mix the brown sugar and cinnamon. Pour 1/4 of the cake batter into one prepared cake pan and 1/4 of the cake batter into the other pan. Sprinkle the brown sugar/cinnamon mixture over the batters (divide between the two pans). Pour the remaining batter over the cinnamon mixture (divide between the two pans), and gently swirl the batter ~15 times with a butter knife.

3. Put both cake pans in the oven and bake for 45-50 minutes, until lightly golden brown and a toothpick inserted into the center of the cake comes out clean. Cool in the cake pans for ~20 minutes, then transfer to a wire cooling rack (place your (clean) hand on top of the cake, flip the pan over, lift the pan off, remove the parchment/wax paper, place a cooling rack on top of the cake where the paper just was, and gently flip the whole thing back over and set the cooling rack down).

4. Place the cakes in the freezer for 15-30 minutes (depends on how much time you have) to make them easier to frost later. While they firm up, make the frosting. Beat the softened cream cheese and butter together until creamy, then beat in the vanilla extract. Add the powdered sugar gradually, stopping when you like the consistency/flavor of the frosting (I always add the full 32 ounces).

5. Prepare your cake plate by placing small strips of wax paper in a circle about the size of your cake (this will catch the frosting spills and keep your plate looking pretty).

6. Remove the cakes from the freezer. Use a serrated knife to level off the rounded tops of each cake (someone really ought to eat these scraps, don’t you think? And there’s a very large bowl of frosting sitting on the counter; no one would notice if some were missing…). Place one of the cake rounds on the wax paper circle (the wax paper should be partially under the cake), with the serrated side facing up. Put a generous amount of frosting on top and smooth it out to an even layer, then put the second cake round on top with the serrated side facing down.

7. Spread a thin layer of frosting all over the sides and top of the cake. This is called a “crumb coat” and will effectively seal in all the crumbs, so when we frost “for real” later, it’ll look magnifique! Put the cake in the fridge this time (not the freezer), for 10 minutes.

8. Frost the cake with generous scoops of frosting, spreading it all over the sides and top. Reserve some of the frosting if you wish to add writing and/or decorations. You can tint this frosting with gel food coloring (which won’t change the consistency) or liquid food coloring (which will require the addition of more powdered sugar to counteract the extra liquid). Use a frosting bag and fancy tip or a plastic bag with the end snipped off to pipe anything you want on your cake.

9. Eat. Share. Smile. Repeat.

It's important to line the bottoms of your pans with parchment/wax paper, because this will make it a LOT easier to remove the cakes later. (Be sure to grease both the bottom of the pan AND the paper.)

It’s important to line the bottoms of your pans with parchment/wax paper, because this will make it a LOT easier to remove the cakes later. (Be sure to grease both the bottom of the pan AND the paper.)

When you swirl the batter + cinnamon/brown sugar + batter layers together, use big, cross-pan sweeps.

When you swirl the batter + cinnamon/brown sugar + batter layers together, use big, cross-pan sweeps.

Stick your (clean) finger against the side of the pan until it's level with the cake's average height and turn the pan slowly, so that your finger sweeps the edges clean (check out the previous picture to see what I mean about it being "messy" before).

Stick your (clean) finger against the side of the pan until it’s level with the cake’s average height and turn the pan slowly, so that your finger sweeps the edges clean (check out the previous picture to see what I mean about it being “messy” before).

The wax paper circle, which you will place your cake on, keeps the tray/platter/plate/cake stand clean when you frost. When you're done, you'll gently remove these strips of wax paper and everyone will think you are a professional cake decorator! (How else could you keep that plate so clean?!)

The wax paper circle, which you will place your cake on, keeps the tray/platter/cake stand/plate clean while you frost. When you’re done, gently remove these strips of wax paper and everyone will think you are a professional cake decorator for keeping the plate so clean. Shh, it’ll be our secret!

Carefully cut off the rounded tops of the cakes. Be careful you don't cut too deep! Some people have methods to keep the cake from rounding up in the center, which means you can skip this leveling step. But I prefer this way, because then you get to taste the cake before you give it to anyone else. (For quality assurance purposes, of course; it's not that I'm too impatient to wait...)

Use a serrated knife to cut off the rounded tops of the cakes. Be careful you don’t cut too deep! Some people have methods to keep the cake from rounding up in the center, which means you can skip this leveling step. But I prefer this way, because then you get to taste the cake before you give it to anyone else. (For quality assurance purposes, of course; it’s definitely not that I love rewarding myself with a bowl of cake scraps and leftover frosting…)

First cake goes on bottom down, serrated side up. Big glob of frosting. Second cake goes on serrated side down, bottom side up. Putting the serrated sides on the inside prevents pesky crumbs from jumping into the beautiful frosting outside.

First cake goes on bottom down, serrated side up. Big glob of frosting. Second cake goes on serrated side down, bottom side up. Putting the serrated sides on the inside prevents pesky crumbs from jumping into the beautiful frosting outside.

Applying the crumb coat (initial thin layer of frosting) will seal in any rouge crumbs, make it a lot easier to frost later, and dramatically improve the appearance of your final cake. All the cool kids do it...

Applying the crumb coat (initial thin layer of frosting) will seal in any rouge crumbs, make it a lot easier to frost later, and dramatically improve the appearance of your final cake. All the cool kids are doing it…

Once you have the crumb coat, you can spread the top (thick!) layer of frosting on with ease. Pat yourself on the back - you just mastered one of the biggest tricks in cake decorating!

Once you have the crumb coat, you can spread the top (thick!) layer of frosting on with ease. Pat yourself on the back – you just mastered one of the biggest tricks in cake decorating!

Reserve some frosting for decorating (I recommend gel food coloring to achieve vibrant colors while preserving the frosting consistency). To easily place sprinkles, use (clean!) tweezers.

Reserve some frosting for decorating (I recommend gel food coloring to achieve vibrant colors while preserving the frosting consistency). To easily place sprinkles, use (clean) tweezers. Magnifique, indeed!!

Pumpkin Bread Balls

A single one of these is rich enough to turn anyone into a gold digger.

I will never be satisfied with this name… Pumpkin bread balls? Pumpkin bread cream cheese cake balls? Pumpkin bread cream cheese chocolate- and butterscotch-covered cake balls decorated with walnuts? If you think of something, please share!!

I bookmarked this banana bread balls recipe a while back from Vanilla Sugar Blog. But then my wonderful roommate made pumpkin bread for me. A few adjustments to the recipe later, and this recipe was born. Isn’t she lovely?

These flavors (pumpkin, cream cheese, chocolate, butterscotch) blend shockingly well together. Try them. You can thank me later when you can’t stop sighing contentedly each time you eat one.

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INGREDIENTS

Pumpkin bread

1 package (8oz) cream cheese

1/4 cup powdered sugar

1/2 cup milk chocolate chips

1/2 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips

1/2 cup butterscotch chips

2 tbsp. butter flavored shortening

~3/4 cup chopped walnuts

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1. Mix together pumpkin bread + 8oz cream cheese + 1/4 cup powdered sugar. Roll into 1.5″ balls and refrigerate for at least 15 minutes.

2. Make the dipping sauce according to this food.com recipe, but use the chips specified above. You could use normal shortening, but the butter-flavored kind will increase the buttery, rich flavor.

3. Dip bread balls in sauce (two forks work well together). Tap off excess sauce and set the balls on wax paper. Sprinkle chopped walnuts on top immediately, so the sauce doesn’t harden.

4. Let them harden (you can pop them in the refrigerator after a bit) and then hand these out to anyone you need something from. You’ll get what you want. I promise.