cream cheese

Challenged Finale! Coffee Turtle Cheesecake

Turtle Cheesecake 011 Edited Challenged Finale! Coffee Turtle Cheesecake

The final round of the five Willow Bird Baking challenges required contestants make a cheesecake. Since Julie is the queen of cheesecakes – featuring selections like Red Velvet and Sticky Toffee Pudding cheesecakes on her blog – I should have seen this coming. I, on the other, am lukewarm at best about the dessert. Then she threw in the requirement to bake something representative of our personal culinary journey. What is that exactly, and how do I get one?

I have said many a time that I am not a “foodie”. Words like “scrumptious” or “delectable” simply do not fill my brain when I am called upon to describe food. Though I look forward to a meal at a really good restaurant, I also enjoy eating pizza from the grocery’s freezer aisle. What the heck and I doing writing a “food” blog?

I am still looking for the answer to that one too. Maybe it was because I was bored to tears with work. Perhaps I just needed a creative outlet. Some people thrive off creating drama in their lives. It very well could be that I like inflicting pain upon myself in the form of continually failing at recipes.

Though I have no formal training and in anything I do here – cooking, writing or photography – people visit from time to time. I can’t say why I started this blog, but I can safely say I keep it up because I value the community, connections, and new friendships it has brought to my life. So thank you for keeping me going.

Turtle Cheesecake 024 Edited Challenged Finale! Coffee Turtle Cheesecake

I chose to craft a turtle cheesecake simply because a good family friend makes these bad boys, and they are to die for. And that’s coming from someone who is not a big fan of cheesecake! It is also worth noting that aside from watching my grandmothers and mother cook, the first thought of a culinary journey outside of my family extend to her.

As a teenager, I remember spending an evening where she tried to teach a few of us to cook. I fear we probably spent more time playing with the dog and just generally messing around. She was also the first person I ever saw use dental floss (not mint flavor!) to cut pieces of cake. This trick also works well for cinnamon-type rolls (see Challenge 1), though I inconveniently forgot about that until well after I made mine.

Why the coffee? Because I never made a coffee cheesecake before and that sounded good. As I was making the filling, complete with a layer of chocolate ganache as suggested, I remembered coffee is certainly indicative of my earliest tastes. As a young child, I used to make a point of drinking a half cup when I visited my grandma, despite warnings it would stunt my growth and perhaps put hair on my chest. Maybe I was just trying to act grown up, but I loved the flavor of the hard coffee candies she had sitting out as well.

The only things I recall loving as much as those coffee candies, were red hot cinnamon disks, tiny Chicklets and those big, red NutraSweet gumballs that used to come in the mail. Hmm, what about gumball cheesecake? Ideas like that are precisely why I should probably not be writing a food blog. Yet since I do, enjoy!

Turtle Cheesecake 016 Edited Challenged Finale! Coffee Turtle Cheesecake

Coffee Turtle Cheesecake Finale
  • For the Crust
  • 2 heaping cups graham cracker crumbs (about two sleeves worth)
  • 6 tablespoons butter, melted
  • For the Ganache
  • ¾ cups heavy cream
  • 10 ounces chocolate chips
  • For the Cheesecake Filling
  • 1 tablespoon instant coffee granules
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 1½ teaspoons light molasses
  • 3, 8-ounce packages cream cheese, softened
  • 1 cup granulated sugar
  • 1½ tablespoons all-purpose flour
  • 3 large eggs
  • Aluminum foil, for baking
  • For the Topping (measurments approximate)
  • 1-2 tablespoons pecans
  • 1-2 tablespoons mini chocolate chips
  • caramel sauce, enough to drizzle
  1. Combine the graham cracker crumbs and melted butter in a small bowl.
  2. Mix thoroughly to moisten all of the crumbs.
  3. Press the mixture into a thin layer covering the bottom and sides (about 2.5 to 3 inches high) of a lightly greased springform cheesecake pan. Use a flat-sided glass to get the crust even and thin.
  4. Bake the crust in a 350 degree F oven for about 6 minutes, then allow to cool while preparing the ganache.
  5. Bring the cream to a simmer in a medium saucepan.
  6. Place the chocolate in a medium bowl.
  7. Once the cream reaches a simmer, pour it over the chocolate and let stand 1-2 minutes.
  8. Whisk in small circles until a smooth ganache has formed.
  9. Pour 1½ to 2 cups of the ganache over the bottom of the crust (leftovers are good for eating or decorating).
  10. Place the ganache-laden crust in the freezer until firm, about 30 minutes.
  11. Meanwhile, prepare the cheesecake filling.
  12. In a small bowl, combine the coffee granules, vanilla extract and molasses.
  13. Allow to sit until dissolved, stirring as needed.
  14. Beat the cream cheese and sugar on medium speed until well blended.
  15. Next add the flour and dissolved coffee flavor and mix until well incorporated, scraping down the sides of the bowl as needed.
  16. Beat in the eggs one at a time until very well combined throughout the mixture.
  17. Pour the filling into the crust.
  18. Line the bottom outside edges of the pan with aluminum foil, then place the entire springform pan in a 9 x 13 baking dish.
  19. Fill the baking dish with about two inches of water. Make sure water does not get into the cheesecake mixture. It should also not top the edges of the foil lining the springform pan.
  20. Return the cheesecake dish to the oven and bake until the top is lightly browned, puffed and cracked at the edges, about 40-50 minutes. The center should move only very slightly when the pan is gently shaken.
  21. Remove the cheesecake and allow to cool.
  22. Before serving, sprinkle the top with pecans and mini chocolate chips.
  23. Complete with a drizzle of caramel sauce over the top.
One bag of mini chocolate chips should provide enough for the ganache and the topping.


Oktoberfest: Sour Beers & Chocolate Cherry Lambic Cookies

IMG 5503 Edited Oktoberfest: Sour Beers & Chocolate Cherry Lambic Cookies

Baking with my favorite type of beer has resulted in my favorite Oktoberfest recipe thus far. I love lambics, and these chocolate cherry cookies baked with cherry lambic have made me quite happy. Oh, they are stuffed with sweet cream cheese too. Now that I have your attention…

I first encountered a lambic not in a bar but in an ice cream shop. Jeni’s Cherry Lambic Sorbet changed my world. Despite that, cherry happens to be my least favorite lambic (I prefer the peach or raspberry). The cherry taste is, in the words of my beer school classmates, slightly reminiscent of Robitussin. That said, I have never a bad experience when chocolate and cherries come together.

IMG 5512 Edited e1349549938209 Oktoberfest: Sour Beers & Chocolate Cherry Lambic Cookies

I had a very difficult time selecting a recipe to make with this beer. My knee-jerk reaction was to make a sauce, so I vowed to stay away from that comfort zone. Chocolate-cherry anything just made sense, but I just was not feeling Cherry Lambic Browines, gorgeous as they are. A Kriek Cabbage recipe intrigued me, but I kept looking until I happened upon some cookies. Sold.

I used the recipe I found as a guide, halving ingredients, upping the amount of lambic and generally behaving like a cowboy in the kitchen. At one point I realized I added baking powder instead of baking soda. I went back and added the soda, made a little wish, and rather shockingly, all turned out well.

The dough is very sticky and must – allow me to repeat, must – be chilled to hold its shape in the oven. Because I was experimenting here, the recipe has a fairly small yield, though the cookies are very good sized. Their taste reminds me of Little Debbie Fudge Rounds. Did you ever eat those?

To get an idea on the best way to stuff the cookies, there are very nice pictures of Stuffed Snickerdoodles available for viewing at Cookies & Cups.

IMG 5473 Edited Oktoberfest: Sour Beers & Chocolate Cherry Lambic Cookies

When I was in the store buying my bottled heaven, the girl who took my money remarked, “That’s a good choice.” She went on to tell me that she likes to pour an inch or two of cherry lambic in a glass, then top it off with a witte beer like Hoegaarden. For a different mixed drink that combines lambic with a fall-favorite – whiskey – try a Bloodied Belgian.

There are a number of sour beer varieties out there, though none ever caught my eye before beer school. Given I encountered my first sour while ordering ice cream, that should probably not come as a major surprise.

IMG 5466 Edited e1349549983934 Oktoberfest: Sour Beers & Chocolate Cherry Lambic Cookies

There are Flanders’ red and brown ales. Lambics themselves are actually used to make other sours, like Gueuze. And faros are sweetened lambics. These beers are members of the larger Belgian beer family.

These beers have higher price points because they are costly too produce. I do not remember the specific details, but basically brewers start out with a lot of liquid that is reduced over the course of aging these beers. Since there is so much less at the end than what went in at the beginning, they cost a pretty penny when all is said and done.

There is also a lot of yeast (and maybe some magic) involved in making these beers. In different areas of Belgium, the wort is left out to combine with wild yeast cells in the air. This leads to spontaneous fermentation that is a hallmark of these beers.

To learn more about lambics, you can always visit Lindeman’s website. Though I can not tell you more (much?) about beer, I can tell you how to bake a good cookie. So with that, enjoy!

IMG 5492 Edited Oktoberfest: Sour Beers & Chocolate Cherry Lambic Cookies





Recipe type: Dessert
Serves: 9
  • 1¼ cups flour
  • ⅓ cup unsweetened cocoa
  • ½ teaspoon baking soda
  • ½ teaspoon baking powder
  • ¼ teaspoon salt
  • ½ cup cherry lambic
  • ½ cup dried cherries
  • ½ cup (1 stick) unsalted butter
  • 1 cup brown sugar, lightly packed
  • 1 egg
  • ½ teaspoon vanilla extract
  • ½ cup mini chocolate chips
  • For the Filling
  • 4 ounces cream cheese, softened
  • 2 tablespoons granulated sugar
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  1. Whisk together the flour, cocoa powder, baking soda, baking powder and salt.
  2. Place the lambic and the dried cherries in a small saucepan over medium heat.
  3. Bring to a boil, reduce heat, and allow to simmer for about 5 minutes. Remove from heat once the liquid has been reduced to two tablespoons.
  4. While the liquid and cherries cool, cream the butter and sugar.
  5. Add the eggs and the vanilla and beat until smooth.
  6. Beat in the dry ingredients until just combined.
  7. Fold in the dried cherries, the two tablespoons of the reduced liquid and the mini chocolate chips.
  8. Refrigerate the dough overnight or place in the freezer until firm.
  9. While the cookie dough is chilling, prepare the filling.
  10. Beat the cream cheese, the sugar and the vanilla together until fully combined and slightly fluffy.
  11. Refrigerate at least 15 minutes before using to fill the cookies.
  12. When ready to bake, scoop one heaping tablespoon of cookie dough and gently press to flatten. Repeat this step to make an additional disc of dough.
  13. Place one teaspoon of filling onto one of the pieces of dough, then top with the other and pinch the edges together while gently forming into a ball.
  14. Return the formed cookies to the freezer for at least 15 minutes. They should be firm and no longer sticky before baking.
  15. Place on a parchment-lined baking sheet and bake at 350 degrees for 12-14 minutes. The edges of the cookies will appear lightly browned and the centers will be set.
  16. Place on wire rack to cool.
It is imperative to chill this dough in order for the cookies to hold their shape.


Heat Things Up: Summer Veggie Jalapeño Dip

IMG 4414 Edited Heat Things Up: Summer Veggie Jalapeño Dip

There is so much to love at the Farmer’s Market. Baskets of sweet, fuzzy peaches and juicy, red tomatoes. Lush bouquets of herbs and flowers. Pints of spicy jalapeño peppers that call out your name, yet once home hide in the refrigerator until they are so wrinkled you suspect they found a way to take a long bath.

Hmm, how to use those ugly, wrinkly, yet still very edible jalapeño peppers? Cue the music and enter cream cheese. Unless it gets dropped in a pile of dirt, I can’t imagine anything formed with cream cheese could turn out badly.

IMG 4434 Edited e1342993215274 Heat Things Up: Summer Veggie Jalapeño Dip

Taking a nod from a warm dip chock full of sweet corn and jalapeño peppers – a dip my friend Dawn is required to bring to each and every get together less she lose our friendship – I decided to make my own sweet corn and jalapeño pepper dip, complete with juicy, red tomatoes. If you want to add meat, many jalapeño dip recipes include 1/2 cup of bacon in place of tomatoes or corn.

I baked the dip in an 8-x-8 inch dish, and while it made a fine proportion for snacking purposes, I would recommend doubling or tripling the recipe for sharing with larger groups. I preferred the dip right out of the oven, but it reheated well both in the oven and the microwave.


Despite my love of baking sweet treats, one of my favorite snacks is salty chips paired with a creamy dip. This summer veggie jalapeño dip allowed me to indulge in snacking and still feel like I was eating healthy because of all the vegetables. Allow me my delusions please. Enjoy!

IMG 4427 Edited Heat Things Up: Summer Veggie Jalapeño Dip

Summer Veggie Jalapeno Dip
  • 1, 8-ounce package cream cheese, softened
  • ½ cup mayonnaise or plain, Greek yogurt
  • 1 cup jalapeno peppers, deseeded and diced (about 5 jalapenos)
  • ½ cup tomatoes, diced
  • ½ cup corn
  • ½ cup cheddar or Mexican-blend grated cheese
  • ½ cup cracker or bread crumbs for topping, if desired
  1. Mix together the cream cheese and mayonnaise or Greek yogurt until creamy.
  2. Add the jalapenos, tomatoes, corn, and cheese, mixing until well combined.
  3. Pour the mixture into an 8-by-8 baking dish and top with cracker or bread crumbs if using.
  4. Bake at 375 degrees F for 20-25 minutes until the dip is bubbling around the edges and/or the topping is browned.
  5. Remove the dip from the oven, allow to cool slightly, then serve warm.