Samoas Cheesecake

6 Nov

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Since the days I went door-to-door selling Girl Scout cookies (that miserable time when my shy self was pitted against my competitive, must-sell-the-most-in-my-troop self), I have loved Samoas Girl Scout cookies. (Or whatever you call them wherever you live. You know, the best ones, with the chocolate and caramel and toasted coconut.) So, when a couple back-to-back events called for baked goods, I decided to take what I loved in Samoas and combine it with my true dessert love—cheesecake—and make this cookie-inspired treat.

Samoas Cheesecake  |  Seakettle

You should know by now that Greg is the cheesecake expert in our house. He knows how much I love them, so he mastered all the tricks for making them and hasn’t looked back. His own recipe for turtle cheesecake is quite possibly my favorite dessert of all time. This recipe is merely a modified version of his masterpiece. Thanks, Greg!

Though this recipe has many components and a long cooling time, it isn’t actually hard to make. Trust me—try this when your next off-season Girl Scout cookie craving hits. It’s amazing!

Ingredients:

Crust
25 Oreos (generic brand is fine)
2 tablespoons melted butter

Filling
14 oz individually wrapped caramels, unwrapped
5 oz evaporated milk
2 cups shredded sweetened coconut

Cheesecake
3 (8 oz) packages cream cheese (room temperature)
1/2 cup sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
2 eggs (room temperature)

Topping
7 1/2 oz individually wrapped caramels, unwrapped
1 1/2 cups shredded sweetened coconut
1 1/2 tablespoons milk
1/8 teaspoon salt
4 ounces dark chocolate (2/3 cup chips)

Ganache
1/4 cup heavy cream
3 1/2 ounces bittersweet chocolate, finely chopped
3 teaspoons light corn syrup

Directions:

Cheesecake, Filling & Crust
1. Food process the Oreos into a fine powder.

2. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

3. Lightly toast all 3 1/2 cups of coconut at 350 degrees on a baking sheet (< 10 min), stirring frequently.

4. Remove coconut from oven.

5. Add a pan (e.g., 13 x 9) of water on the bottom rack of the oven and leave at 350 degrees.

6. Butter the bottom and sides of a 9 inch springform pan.

7. Mix melted butter with Oreo crumbs and press in the bottom of the springform pan and 1 1/2" up the sides, set aside.

8. In a double boiler, or a metal bowl set over a saucepan of barely simmering water, melt the caramels in the evaporated milk. Stir until smooth.

9. Mix 2 cups of toasted coconut in with the melted caramels and pour evenly over the Oreo crust.

10. In a bowl, combine the cheese, sugar, and vanilla and beat until smooth, scraping down the bowl several times.

11. Add the eggs, one at a time, and beat until smooth.

12. Pour the cheesecake batter over the layer of caramel and coconut.

13. Bake at 350 degrees for 40 minutes or until barely set.

14. When barely set, turn off the oven and leave the cheesecake inside to cool as close to room temperature as possible in the oven.

15. Chill overnight (or at least 8 hours) in the refrigerator.

Coconut Topping
1. Heat the caramels, milk and salt in a double boiler, or in a small metal bowl or saucepan set over a larger saucepan of simmering water, until the caramels are fully melted.

2. Remove the saucepan from the heat and combine 3/4 of the caramel with the remaining toasted coconut in a large bowl.

3. Spread the remaining 1/4 caramel over the top of the cooled cheesecake.

4. Spread the caramel-coconut mixture on top of the caramel.

Ganache Stripes
1. Bring 1/4 cup of heavy cream to a boil and remove from heat.

2. Stir in 3 1/2 ounces bittersweet chocolate until smooth.

3. Stir in 3 teaspoons of corn syrup.

4. Cool slightly.

Once the ganache has set enough to pipe, finish the cheesecake with lines of ganache topping. For evenly spaced lines, I set wooden skewers lightly on top of the coconut topping to act as guides. With a ganache-filled pastry bag, I piped lines of chocolate across the top. If you’re in a hurry, just drizzle the chocolate over the top—it will still be beautiful and delicious!

Mini Sailboats

11 Jul

DIY sailboats  |  seakettle.com

This project is from last fall, but it’s so perfectly summer. We designed and built these wooden sailboats with colorful paper sails to decorate the pool in the background of my sister-in-law’s nautical baby shower. Now, as we approach yet another hot and sunny weekend, swimming pools and boating are both on my mind!

DIY sailboats  |  seakettle.com

The supplies were modest — old 2×4′s, branches trimmed from a backyard tree and leftover scrapbook paper — but the results were so sweet! Spread throughout the pool (with anchors fashioned from random metal objects), the dozen or so sailboats brought charm to the otherwise undecorated swimming pool. Now several of the boats decorate the shelves of our nephew’s nautical nursery!

Wood and Paper Sailboat

Materials
1 9″ length of a 2×4, preferably reclaimed or distressed
1 12″ x 12″ two-sided sheet of scrapbook paper
2 thin branches at least 12″ long (or a thin dowel)
Hot glue
Wood glue
Optional: staple gun, fishing line and weight

Instructions
1. Make two angled cuts on the 2×4 to give it a sharp point on one end.

2. Barely cut off the remaining two corners of the 2×4 to form the back of boat.

3. If desired, round the cut corners using a sander.

4. Drill a hole 3/4 of an inch deep into the top of the 2×4 about a third of the way from the front of the boat. The hole should be just wider than the width of one of the branches.

Wooden Sailboat

5. Cut the scrapbook paper into a large triangle, 9 1/2 inches tall and 9 inches. We didn’t want the mast in the center of the sail so rather than make a symmetric triangle, we put the mast off-centered, about 3 inches from the front edge of the sail.

6. Cut one branch to be 9 3/4 inches long and the other 10 3/4 inches long.

7. Hot glue the branches to each side of the paper sail, with the excess wood sticking out below the bottom of the sail.

Scrapbook Paper Sail

8. Put a little wood glue into the hole and insert the longer branch into the boat.

Wood and Paper Sailboat

9. If you want to keep the boat from drifting, tie some fishing line to a heavy object and staple it (via staple gun) to the bottom of the boat. The weight will serve as an anchor and keep the boat from drifting too far.

Enjoy the season of pool parties and BBQs!

Ruffled Cupcakes

28 Jun

Ruffled cupcakes

Well, hello there! Fancy meeting me here, right? I’m sorry it has been so long! A lovely Australian company was holding my domain name hostage for a few weeks, and that was followed by several insanely busy weeks at work.

Meanwhile, Sprinkle Bakes posted a seriously beautiful collection of cupcake piping techniques, and I tried my hand at one when my friend Lisa came to visit! (Skip video to 2:05 to go directly to the ruffle technique, but I highly recommend watching the other techniques, as well!)

Piping ruffles

I love how cute these cupcakes turned out (even if not as gorgeous as Heather’s)! I didn’t have exactly the right tip (#104), and I chose to use leftover cream cheese frosting rather than buttercream. I don’t know about buttercream (I don’t love it, so it’s quite possible that I’ve never used it), but cream cheese frosting is SO finicky about temperature. Too cold = too hard and crackly, but too warm = shiny, gooey mess. And guess what I ran into while frosting on a 95 degree day?

Ruffled cupcake  |  Seakettle

So, my ruffles were a little soft around the edges — but they were obviously ruffles! (Except for the last two. The last two were blobs, with a hint of ruffling on the edge.) Hopefully the abundance of colorful sprinkles in the cake batter was enough to distract from a little melting!

Ruffled cupcakeFunfetti cupcake

In addition to the ruffled frosting, I wanted try my hand at making Funfetti from scratch (at least partially motivated by the fact that I had 5 different kinds of cake mix in my pantry and Funfetti wasn’t one of them). Honestly, though, just buy the cake mix. The sprinkles sank to the bottom, and the cake just wasn’t that interesting. Who wants to make something from scratch that tastes less good than the $1.50 version?

Ruffled aqua cupcakes  |  Seakettle

Moral of the story? Buy Funfetti cake mix + a #104 petal icing tip and make some seriously cute cupcakes! Oh, and don’t register your domain through Melbourne IT.

Personalized Clay Cross

1 May

Clay Cross Baptism Gift

Greg and I made this cross as a baptism gift for our nephew James (since he couldn’t partake in the cross cookies). This is the Santiago cross, or cross of St. James. I love the interesting shape, but it was certainly my most difficult clay project to date!

Personalized Clay Cross

I love Das air-dry clay, though I often forget to consider it for projects! I have made ornaments, gift tags and small dishes with the clay. While Das doesn’t feel like porcelain, without a personal kiln, I find it to be a great substitute. It dries white and firm (not plastic-y), and can be sanded (thank goodness) and painted (though I never have) after drying. It’s significantly lighter than a traditional clay piece, which can be nice for some applications, but also feels less elegant. Das takes 1-3 days to dry, and waiting for a fragile gift to hurry-up-and-dry-already can be stressful, so I’d recommend leaving yourself plenty of time.

Clay Cross Supplies

Materials:
Das air-dry clay
Rolling pin
Large flat surface, like a wooden cutting board or a solid-surface counter-top
Wax paper
Tape
Xacto knife
Printed cross template
Small dish of water
220 grit sandpaper

Directions:

1. Tear off a sheet of wax paper, and tape it to your counter or cutting board.

2. Pull off a chunk of clay. If you package is open or the clay seems dry for whatever reason, sprinkle water, a few drops at a time. It’s like bread dough — a little water can change it dramatically, so go easy.

3. Roll the clay out large enough for your cross and about 1/4 inch thick. The thicker it is, the slower it will dry.

4. Set your template on top of the clay and press lightly so it sticks.

5. Use an Xacto to cut around the edges of your shape. I found it helpful to have the Xacto almost completely upright, making little saw-like strokes, rather than slicing at the typical 45-degree angle.

Cutting clay

Partially cut out clay cross

Almost completely cut cross

6. After cutting the shape out completely, you can lift the template and stamp a monogram, phrase or pattern onto the surface. The impression won’t show up if the clay is too wet. Let it dry a few minutes, if that’s the case.

Monogram stamped cross

7. Use a few drops of water to smooth imperfections, like fingerprints and rough edges. It doesn’t have to be perfect, as you can sand it later.

8. Gently move your cross to a clean sheet of wax paper (I found that my wax paper was pretty damp. If yours isn’t, or you have plenty of drying time, you could leave it in place). A thin spatula can help move it.

9. Let clay dry completely. It looks grayish at first, but will brighten to white as it dries. Eventually, I usually flip the piece over to expose the back to the air, but you risk making faint impressions on the front if it isn’t completely dry and/or resting on a very smooth surface.

10. Use a fan, but only if necessary. Drying too quickly will cause the clay to crack, so resist the temptation to put the cross in the oven if you’re running out of time. We foolishly made this cross on Friday night (excuse the dark photos!) before a Sunday morning baptism, so we used a fan and space heater on it for several hours on Saturday. It was dry enough to sand by Saturday evening and wrap on Sunday morning.

11. Sand the edges of the cross to your desired smoothness. Wipe off the dust, and pat yourself on the back!

Monogram Clay Cross

Happy Easter!

20 Apr

Hole Punch Eggs

Can you believe my mom decorated these super cute eggs in 1989 with paper dots from a hole punch? So amazing!

Just wanted to drop in and wish you all a very wonderful Easter!

Easter Egg Cheese Ball

19 Apr

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Happy Holy Saturday! Here’s a bit of last minute Easter inspiration: an egg-shaped appetizer!

Easter egg-shaped cheese ball

I made a date and blue cheese ball from epicurious (with double the dates). After refrigerating the ball, I formed it into an egg shape.

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Instead of rolling the ball in the walnuts and parsley, I used a skewer as a pencil and drew chevrons on the surface. I then carefully pressed the walnuts and parsley into the cheese.

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The cheese ball, in whatever shape, can be made two days ahead of time (woohoo!). Serve with crackers or, like I’ll be doing tomorrow, toasted bread!

Peep Pops

17 Apr

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I had big plans for posting a tutorial last night on the braided Easter egg bread that I’m making for Sunday. But then we had friends over and attempted to decorate two dozen eggs. And then we had mojitos… and wine… and dessert (with some calzones and salad, too). And then I climbed into bed before 10 pm (by about 4 minutes), something that I rarely do without putting up a fight. So here we are, instead, with a post about a crazy-easy Easter dessert: Peep pops.

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Maintaining my previous assertion that pops can make anything popular, I bring you Peep pops. Just buy the little marshmallow creatures in your favorite colors and add them to lollipop sticks!

Peep pops

To display the pops, an easy option is to put them in a low jar. If you have a bit more time, add floral foam to the bottom of a basket (or takeout container from the dollar store, in my case), and top with fake grass. A whole flock of Peep pops would look great in a colorful Easter basket!

Mini Bundt Cake Nests

14 Apr

Mini bundt cake nests

We love, love, love our chocolate bundt cake recipe. As I’ve said before, it’s a magical one bowl concoction that is easy to throw together, serves a ton and is crazy delicious. I like to undercook it just a bit, so the inside is incredibly moist. Yum.

Usually, I find the fact that it doesn’t require frosting to be an advantage of the recipe. But sometimes you need something cute and festive, and Easter is one of those times.

Mini bundt cake nests

Armed with a bag of adorable pastel jelly beans, I crossed my fingers and prayed that the recipe would work in my mini fluted pan. I hoped the little cakes would naturally look like tiny nests, and I’m happy to say that (with the help of some chocolate shavings) they did!

Nest supplies

Decorating Ingredients:
Mini chocolate bundt cakes or cupcakes
A chocolate bar
Chocolate chips
A bit of cream
Speckled jelly beans or malted milk balls, 3 per cake

Mini bundt cake nests

Directions:
1. Pull a knife across the back of your chocolate bar to make chocolate shavings. More details on my last chocolate nest dessert. These nests are pretty small, so the shavings can be tiny.

2. Make a bit of ganache: Add a handful of chocolate chips and a splash of cream to a glass bowl; stir and microwave in 30 second bursts until smooth.

3. The ganache acts as glue, so use the back of a spoon to spread a little bit over a cake.

4. Carefully press chocolate shavings in a circle on top of the cake. Angle some toward the middle, as well; you need to fill the hole a bit, so the candy doesn’t fall straight in.

5. Add candy eggs on top of the nest, using a bit more ganache if needed.

Mini bundt cake nests

Cakes keep well in an airtight container for several days — if you make enough for them to stick around!

Candles and Wheatgrass in Eggshells

10 Apr

Candles and wheatgrass in eggshells

This is part two of my wheatgrass Easter decorations! Since I was growing a lot of wheatgrass anyway, it was little additional effort to grow some in eggshells.

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Because shells don’t have drainage holes, be careful not to flood them when watering. You can also skip covering them. Otherwise, the growing directions are the same as for a larger container.

I bought the super cute ceramic egg crates at TJ Maxx and use them in the fridge year round. They’re everywhere at Easter time — World Market sells some that are nearly identical, and of course Anthro has them. If you aren’t interspersing candles with your wheatgrass shells, cardboard egg cartons would be equally cute and effective. I loved the look of cardboard when I planted succulents in eggshells.

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Eggshell candles are also incredibly easy to make! There are plenty of tutorials for adding wicks and hot wax to eggshells, but that’s completely unnecessary. Standard tea-light candles are the perfect size to drop into shells; just remove the metal tin! Be sure to use decent quality candles, so that the wick doesn’t just drop out the bottom when you remove the tin. And I think this goes without saying, but wash those eggshells very thoroughly!

Now what else can we put into shells besides eggs?

Wheatgrass Easter Centerpieces

8 Apr

Wheatgrass Easter Centerpieces

I grew wheatgrass for several projects last Easter and really enjoyed the process. It’s the perfect project for kids (or the rest of us who love instant gratification) because it grows so quickly. Even so, there are just a few days left to plant wheatgrass in time for Easter!

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You can buy wheat berries (seeds) at Whole Foods and similar stores. The Bob’s Red Mill package I bought (containing a million times more than I needed) was about $3. The only other supplies you need are some soil and a container with drainage holes. In case you have trouble finding and identifying wheat berries, here’s a close up of what they look like:

Wheat seeds

The grass from these seeds was plenty tall in 10 days. If it gets too tall before Easter, you can just trim it!

12-day-old Wheatgrass

I planted my grass in a few metal trays (from the dollar store and a thrift store). Greg added the necessary nail holes to the bottom of the trays for drainage. I didn’t realize it at the time, but the grass looks nicer in something with sides — it hides the dirt and seeds that are otherwise visible.

How to Grow Wheatgrass:

1. Soak seeds overnight. (Be sure to soak enough seeds to completely cover the surface of whatever vessel you’re planting them in.)

2. Add soil to your container and water it.

3. Sprinkle the seeds on top of the layer of soil.

Wheat seeds

4. Place your container in indirect sunlight, then loosely cover with plastic wrap or a transparent plastic tray to retain moisture.

5. For the first three days, water heavily in the morning. If the grass seems dry, mist or water again in the evening. Keep the container covered.

6. After three days of growth, uncover your grass. Continue to water heavily once per day.

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To finish the centerpieces, I downloaded and printed the adorable banner from Paper Coterie. (Paper Coterie is apparently recently out of business — sorry about that. Pomegranate Paper Co. has a similar banner, you just may need to scale it down a bit.) I hot-glued the banner pieces to string, and glued that to wooden skewers.

After realizing that my dirt wasn’t deep enough to hold the skewers upright, I stuck the skewers into hard-boiled eggs, instead. Worked like a charm! The polka dot eggs in my centerpieces were blown out before decorating, but you could use dyed hard-boiled eggs — just don’t leave them outside in the sun for the day!

Hard-boiled egg as banner stand

After the holiday, trim your wheatgrass and throw it into a smoothie! You can also grind up leftover berries to make flour.

I have another small wheatgrass project coming later this week — so go buy some wheat berries and stay tuned!