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Spicy Double Chocolate Mexican Cookies

Around this time last year I made a few different kinds of cookies that Bogdan took to work. Honestly, these chill-chocolate cookies were included as sort of a last minute afterthought. Now, a year later, I had to really dig deep to remember the other types because the chocolate-chili Mexican cookies were by far the crowd favourite. You see those ones on the end? They’re cream cheese frosted pumpkin spice cookies. The ones on the other side are lemon & walnut shortbread. I still don’t get why the chili-chocolate were so much more popular!

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I’m noticing more and more lately that people won’t necessarily be impressed by whatever I think is most exciting. For example, a little while ago I posted my Harvest Biryani With Chickpeas, Dried Cranberries, and Pepitas and my Pumpkin Spice Steel Cut Oat Brûlée (again, as an afterthought) at the same time on Instagram (see my feed to the right!). I thought people would like the Harvest Biryani way more…the pictures were striking, it had much more going on and was (relatively) a bit more complex than the Oat Brûlée.

Wrong.

The Oat Brûlée was way more popular.

Back to a year ago. There were a few requests for this recipe at the time. One, in particular, was from one of Bogdan’s co-workers. Bogdan reminded me so.many.times.  The conditions just weren’t ever right: I was in exams, I didn’t have the right vanilla, or cocoa powder…it was summer and too hot to bake spicy chocolate cookies….

Finally, a whole year later, this post is dedicated to you, patient coworker. I’m sorry for delay but it had to be perfect!

I changed the recipe up a bit to make the cookies a little more moist. The chocolate is now inside of them instead of on top but you could easily drizzle more chocolate on top if you like. Also, I used white and bitter-sweet chocolate because it was what I had on hand. I think if I were to do this again I would try bitter-sweet and milk chocolate. Up to you how you do it. The white was really good too.

These cookies are really chocolatey and fudgey with enough spice to really make them pop. I also recently picked up some Vietnamese cinnamon from the girls at Dirty Girl Farm. It has a very bright and rich cinnamon flavour compared to conventional cinnamon. Makes a big difference. Definitely recommended if you can get your hands on some.Ingredients

115 grams / 4 oz / 8 TBSP (one stick) salted butter (softened)

64 grams / 2.25 oz / 1/2 cup granulated sugar

32 grams / 1.12 oz / 1/4 cup brown sugar

2 tsp vanilla extract (my go-to is vanilla bean paste)

1 egg

160 grams / 5.6 oz / 1 + 1/4 cups AP flour

1 tsp baking soda

32 grams / 2oz / 1/2 cup cocoa powder

Pinch of salt

90 grams / 3 oz / 1/2 cup each of white & bitter-sweet chocolate chips

1.5 tsp ground cayenne pepper

1 tsp ground cinnamon (my favourite is Vietnamese cinnamon)

32 grams / 1 oz / 2 TBSP granulated sugar with 1/2 tsp cinnamon for edges (optional)

 

Method

In a large bowl cream together the softened butter and sugars until smooth.

Add egg and vanilla and mix until incorporated.

In a separate bowl mix together the flour, baking soda, cocoa powder and salt.

Use a spatula to fold the dry ingredients into the wet and mix until incorporated.

Add the chocolate chips and mix.

The dough should be chilled before baking. I recommend taking out a sheet of plastic wrap, piling your dough on in a rough log shape and then fold over the plastic wrap and shape it into a nicer log. Place in freezer for about 15-20 minutes.

Preheat oven to 350 F / 175 C.

Mix the cinnamon sugar to coat the edges on a plate and then remove the log from the freezer. Slice into 1 cm thick pieces and run the edges through the cinnamon sugar, then place on a parchment lined baking sheet. You can also cut the log first into larger pieces and run the entire thing over the cinnamon sugar and then cut into 1 cm thick segments. Up to you.

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Bake for about 10 minutes or until the centres of the cookies are still soft but not jiggly. The ideal amount of time for me is 10 minutes for fudgey soft cookies, but conditions can be different so keep an eye on them the first time you make them. If you prefer your cookies crisp bake an additional 2-3 minutes. I also like to bake a test cookie before baking all of them just to make sure it’s to my liking. You could start with less spice, bake a test cookie, and add more if you wanted. If you do bake a test cookie just remember that the cooking time will be different for one cookies versus an entire pan full. Reduce time by 1-2 minutes.

PS: Bogdan’s favourite joke now is that he has to put in requests for things a year in advance. Ha ha.

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Classic Tarte Tatin

I have a confession to make. This is my third time trying to make this tart. The first time it sort of fell apart. The second time it burned. I was so determined to make it and I’m still not really sure why. It seemed so chic and…classically French.

What makes a tarte tatin what it is is the process of cooking the apples underneath the pastry and then flipping it upside down…or right-side up. I gave up on the classic for a little while and tried my hand at potato leek with thyme. I got the hang of it!

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In order for it to work you need a buttered non-stick skillet (about 9 inches / 23 cm ) and precise cooking – see below. Once I knew how to make one type of tarte tatin, it was only a matter of trying my hand again at the classic. It’s really fun to make and the fact that you flip it upside down makes it a bit more forgiving as far as pastry skills go.I really prefer making my own pie dough. It tastes better and isn’t full of artificial fillers. Check the ingredients on any store bought dough you’re considering before buying. The recipe here is adapted from the recipe in The Professional Pastry Chef by Bo Friburg. I cut the recipe in half, reduced the salt and changed the method a little bit.


Pie Dough


Ingredients

350 grams / 12 oz bread flour

1 tsp salt

225 grams / 8 oz cold salted butter (very cold)

70 grams / 2.5 oz lard or vegetable shortening (very cold)

Approximately 1/3 of a cup ice water

 

Method

** A well known pie dough making hack is to grate frozen butter or lard. This is a great idea and makes the process much easier. However, know that if you do grate it you should refreeze for 10-15 minutes in case it’s warmed up from your body heat or the friction of the grater.

Combine flour and salt in a large bowl. Add the butter and lard and quickly mix without handling it too much until just incorporated.

Sprinkle on the ice water and mix just until the dough comes together. It should still look chunky.

Flatten with a rolling pin, cover and let rest in the freezer for at least 30 minutes. My preferred method is to roll it out on a large sheet of aluminum foil, then fold over the edges and put it into the freezer as is. When I take it out I can flip it upside down and lay it onto the apples then peel off the foil with little damage to the dough.

When the dough has chilled enough, you’re going to use it to cover the apples. I used a 9 inch  23 cm non-stick skillet that was about 2 inches / 5 cm high. You’ll probably have some dough leftover if you use the same size…maybe make a hand pie? If you go larger, remember to also make more filling.

**Makes about 700 grams / 1.5 lbs of pie dough.


Tart


Ingredients

5-6 medium sized baking apples like McIntosh or Gala

1/2 cup brown sugar

2 TBSP salted butter (melted) + a bit more to butter the pan

1 tsp cinnamon (I’m obsessed with Vietnamese cinnamon at the moment)

Dash of salt

 

Method

Preheat oven to 375 F / 190 C with a rack in the upper 1/3.

Peel and core the apples then slice them into 1 cm wedges.

Toss them in a bowl with the sugar, butter, cinnamon and salt.

Arrange them in a buttered non-stick skillet in whatever way looks nice to you. I did a sort of swirl on the outside and another swirl going in the opposite direction on the inside.

Cover with the pie dough above or store bought. I like to gently push the edges down to envelope the apples.

Bake uncovered for about 30 minutes or until pastry has turned golden.

Allow to cool for 10 – 15 minutes and then place a plate over the tart and, using both hands, flip both upside down so the tart slides onto the plate. It should slide out without any issues.

Garnish with powdered sugar, toasted walnuts, or salted caramel.

so. good.

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Soft & Chewy Spiced White Chocolate & Pumpkin Seed Cookies

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soft. chewy. crunchy. sweet. salty. spicy. chocolatey. warm. mouthwatering. totally perfect.

These cookies are ah-mazing. Think of a cross between a ginger snap and a white chocolate macadamia nut. I tested the recipe 3-4 times over the course of a week to get it just right. Friends and family were my willing guinea pigs and they absolutely loved these cookies. There’s a bit of extra salt to counter the sweet and the spice and I think that’s what makes them so good.

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Complexity is my goal with baked goods. I always use salted butter in sweet baked goods and then add pinch or two more because it compliments the sweetness so beautifully. As far as desserts go, there are few things worse for me than cloyingly sweet desserts with nothing to balance the sweetness. Those are one note wonders. The mark of really good homemade baked goods is exactly that – they aren’t just sweet. These cookies have such amazing flavours from authentic vietnamese cinnamon, fresh ginger and spicy cayenne combined with sweet white chocolate and salty roasted pumpkin seeds.

Please just trust me and make these for your next fall get together. Everyone will love them and you.

On a related note, I picked up some Vietnamese cinnamon recently and I’m totally obsessed. It has a noticeably different flavour from conventional cinnamon. The only way I can describe it is that it tastes more like a cinnamon heart and less like apple pie (but not at all in a processed candy heart kind of way!). If you can get your hands on some it’s definitely a must-try for your fall baking.

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Ingredients

115 grams / 4 oz / 8 TBSP (one stick) salted butter (softened)

64 grams / 2.25 oz / 1/2 cup granulated sugar

32 grams / 1.12 oz / 1/4 cup brown sugar

1 egg

2 tsp vanilla extract (my go-to is vanilla bean paste)

1 tsp fresh grated ginger

210 grams / 7.4 oz / 1.5 cups plus 2 TBSP AP flour

1 tsp baking soda

1 tsp ground cinnamon

1/2 tsp ground cayenne pepper

Generous pinch of salt (I used about 1/2 tsp) + more for topping (kosher is especially nice if you have it)

60 grams / 2 oz  / 1/2 cup roasted salted pumpkin seeds plus an additional 30 grams / 1 oz / 1/4 cup for topping

130 grams / 4.6 oz / 3/4 cup white chocolate chips

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Method

In a large bowl cream together the softened butter and sugars until smooth.

Add egg, vanilla and ginger and mix until incorporated.

In a separate bowl mix together the flour, baking soda, cinnamon, cayenne and salt.

Use a spatula to fold the dry ingredients into the wet and mix until incorporated.

Add the pumpkin seeds and white chocolate and mix.

The dough should ideally be chilled before baking. I recommend forming balls before chilling because it’s a little easier. This recipe makes about one dozen average sized cookies or 10 large ones. Form balls and stack on a plate with parchment paper in between then place in freezer for about 15-20 minutes.

Preheat oven to 350 F / 175 C.

Bake for about 10 minutes or until the centres of the cookies are still soft but not jiggly. For me the perfect time is 10 minutes but conditions can be different so keep an eye on them the first time you make them. For me 10 minutes makes soft and chewy cookies. If you prefer your cookies crisp bake an additional 2-3 minutes. I also like to bake a test cookie before baking all of them. If you do the same just remember that the cooking time will be different for one cookies versus an entire pan full.

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Pumpkin Spice Steel Cut Oat Brûlée

Wow. That name is a mouthful. I wasn’t sure what to call this. I’ve seen recipes for all kinds of brûléed things: oatmeal on the view from great island, rice pudding on baked bree, even savoury corn on tasty kitchen. I was excited to try my hand at brûléeing something other than custard. I wanted to make a healthier version of crème brûlée but honestly I don’t think this is that much healthier. It needs quite a lot of sugar on top in order to caramelize rather than burning. In a few spots you can see tiny black marks where the oats weren’t covered properly by the sugar and burned rather than caramelizing.

I learned through this process that there’s a simple way to minimize this effect and get a nicer sugar crust without using as much sugar: when your oats are ready and still hot spoon into ramekins, flatten with a spoon as much as possible, and let them sit for at least 30 minutes so they form a dry layer on top. The sugar is less likely to soak in liquid this way and you’ll get less char and more caramel. Also on that note, once you’ve sugared the tops move quickly to get them torched or broiled because the sugar will begin soaking in sugar very quickly.

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I think I stewed my oats for about 40 minutes. I used 2.5 cups total of whole milk plus one whole cup of pumpkin puree, which resulted in really creamy and decadent tasting oats. I divided it into four ramekins for quite hearty servings. I think it would also divide nicely into six or even eight for a smaller component to go with the rest of brunch.

I tried to minimize the amount of sugar in the actual oats because there’s so much in the crust. There’s a total of 4 TBSP of brown sugar in the oats, plus about 1 TBSP of granulated sugar on top of each of my four ramekins. Bogdan said he would have liked more sugar in the oats. While the oats are cooking, taste and adjust to your preferences (keeping in mind that you don’t taste sweet as well when something is very hot). You can use less sugar on top as well just remember that anything not covered in sugar might just char.

I used a torch but you can also use your oven’s broiler setting. Moving quickly, slide your sugared ramekins (on a half sheet pan) under the broiler with the rack near the top but low enough that you can still see what’s happening. Don’t close the oven. Keep an eye on them because they’ll caramelize very quickly and can go from perfect to burnt in the blink of an eye.

Like I said above, I don’t think this is that much healthier than regular crème brûlée. I also don’t consider this a “healthified” version of crème brûlée. It’s a standalone recipe. A slightly more decadent take on a healthy breakfast or brunch.

creme brulee from above

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Ingredients

  • 1 cup / 200 grams dry steel cut oats
  • 2.5 cups / 585 ml whole milk, divided
  • 1 cup + / 235 ml + water
  • 1 cup / 250 grams pumpkin puree (unsweetened)
  • 4 TBSP / 50 grams dark brown sugar
  • 1/2 tsp cinnamon
  • 1 whole star anise pod (if you don’t have it it’s ok but if you do it really adds a nice flavour note)
  • pinch of nutmeg
  • pinch of salt
  • 4 – 8 TBSP granulated sugar for tops

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Method

Heat a heavy bottomed pot on the stove on high heat. Once pot has heated up, add oats and keep them moving around to evenly toast them a bit and bring out a more nutty flavour.

Once they smell toasty and nutty or they’ve browned slightly, reduce heat to medium, pour over 2 cups / 470 ml milk and add the star anise if you’re using it.

Stew uncovered until the oats have absorbed a lot of the milk (about 15-20 minutes). Stir and scrape up anything sticking to the bottom every so often. Add 1 cup / 235 ml of water, the pumpkin puree, and the cinnamon, nutmeg and salt. Stew again until the oats are fully cooked (about 15-20 more minutes – taste as you go to see). Again, stir and scrape every so often. A lot of the liquid will reduce during the next stew. Feel free to add more water if the oats get really thick.

When the oats are cooked, add the remaining milk and stir until incorporated (continuing to cook for a few more minutes if it doesn’t absorb).

Spoon out into 4, 6 or 8 oven safe ramekins. Wait about 30 minutes for a skin to form on the tops then (moving quickly so the sugar doesn’t absorb liquid) sprinkle about 1 TBSP granulated sugar on the top of the oatmeal then torch (do one by one).

Alternatively, if you’re using the broiler slide your sugared ramekins (on a half sheet pan) under the broiler with the rack near the top but low enough that you can still see what’s happening. Don’t close the oven. Keep an eye on them because they’ll caramelize very quickly and can go from perfect to burnt in the blink of an eye.

Serve with fruit or crème fraîche for a cool counterpoint.

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Gajar Halwa Gummies With Carrot, Cardamom & Raw Honey

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A few months ago when we were doing whole30 I started reading up on a lot of different health foods. As it turns out gelatin has a really devoted following both for its health benefits and for the variety of things it can do from a culinary standpoint. I ordered some Great Lakes Unflavored Beef Gelatin, which has a reputation for being the best (mostly because it’s grassfed). I was so excited to experiment with my new gelatin but then I got caught up with other things and didn’t end up using it until yesterday. There are a lot of really cool recipes for gelatin gummy candies on pinterest. These are some of my favourites:

Sour Watermelon Gummies 

Sweet n’Sour Hibiscus Ginger Gummies

Green Juice Detox Gummies

I really liked the idea of a veggie gummy and started thinking of recipe combinations. I had some carrots and a juicer so I knew I could make a carrot juice that would take the gelatin quite well. My first thought was carrot ginger but that seemed…not very exciting.

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I also had some raw honey from Romania given to us by my in-laws. I started to think of ways I could combine carrot with honey. I remembered a sweet South Asian dessert made with carrot. Gajar Halwa is a North Indian carrot pudding usually made from a sticky sweet combination of grated carrot, sugar, milk, and cardamom. That seemed like a perfect combination, minus the dairy and sugar. I made them from carrot juice, gelatin, raw honey, and cardamom.

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Despite being cold and gelled, the resulting gummies have a beautiful aroma and remind me a lot of actual gajar halwa. The best part is that they’re really healthy. The heating process is gentle so the carrot and honey preserve a lot of their beneficial properties, like antioxidants and enzymes.You’ll feel better for having eaten these natural candies – and isn’t that what food should always do?

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Also, they’re really easy to make. All you need is some gelatin, a silicone mould, and about 15 minutes. This recipe made a bit more than 36 gummies so I used the rest to make this sort of avant-garde egg-yolk looking giant gajar halwa gummy. If you wanted to you could also mould them in actual ramekins and serve them as dessert.P1120202

 

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Ingredients

1 cup carrot juice
1/4 cup raw honey
3 TBSP gelatin
1/4 tsp cardamom (preferably not decorticated because for some reason it’s just more fragrant)
pinch of salt

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Method

Gently heat the carrot juice on low-medium heat for about 3-5 minutes (until you can tell it’s warm-hot but before it’s even close to boiling)
Once the carrot juice is heated, bloom the gelatin by sprinkling it in an even layer over the surface of the juice.
Wait one minute and then whisk it in. Continue whisking on gentle heat until the gelatin has dissolved.
Remove from heat and mix in the honey, cardamom, and pinch of salt.
Pour into silicone mold and refrigerate at least one hour.
When you’re ready to eat, gently pop the gummies out. Keep refrigerated.

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PS: If you’re always wondering what you can do with leftover juicer pulp like I am, try making these curried carrot & quinoa cakes.

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They’re perfectly crisp and taste amazing. I would juice just to have pulp to make them.

 

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Mini Cheesecakes Two Ways: Eggnog & Nutella

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We were invited to a holiday party and of course it was the perfect excuse to bake something exceedingly decadent (that we wouldn’t have to eat on our own). I’ve wanted to make eggnog cheesecake since I first experimented with cardamom creme brûlée cheesecake bars a few months back. There’s something about the combination of sweet creaminess and spice that elevates dessert to another level of complexity. This cheesecake is made with my always reliable and almost-as-good-as-beans bourbon vanilla bean paste. I used actual eggnog, but also added rum extract and freshly grated nutmeg in the mix and as a garnish for an extra pop of flavour. The resulting mini cheesecakes are everything you would expect from eggnog cheesecake and more. Generally, my preferred method for cheesecakes is Chicago style (i.e. soft and creamy center) and that’s exactly how these are made. The soft center makes them taste all the more decadent. The cookie crust is a traditional graham cracker base with sugar and a generous dash of salt to give it some complexity. I grated a bit more nutmeg in and also added just a tiny pinch of fresh grated ginger. I was iffy about the ginger because it can be a really overpowering flavour but just a pinch of it added a spicy note that complemented the other components very nicely.

My initial recipe was just for eggnog cheesecake, but never being one to shy away from experimenting with flavours I decided to split my composition in two and play around with some ingredients. Everyone always loves anything with hazelnut chocolate, or more specifically, everyone loves anything to do with Nutella. I once made three different donuts: salted dulce de leche, maple candied walnut, and buttered apple cider. I decided at the last minute to make a chocolate one frosted with Nutella and garnished with slivered dark chocolate with hazelnuts. It was by far the favourite of the night. My friends still talk about that Nutella donut whenever I mention that I’m baking anything. So, to return to my point, I’ve had good results with Nutella and hazelnut chocolate so I thought, why not put it in a cheesecake for a party? I added a generous amount of Nutella to the cheesecake composition and tasted along the way to make sure it was coming through. When they came out of the oven I slivered some dark hazelnut chocolate on top for some dimension and texture. If you want creamy chocolate cheesecake these are it. If you’d like a more decadent dessert you could also frost them with Nutella and then sliver the hazelnut chocolate, like I did for the Nutella donuts. In any case, these hazelnut chocolate mini cheesecakes are full of richness and flavour. The crust is graham cracker with cocoa, sugar, and again a generous pinch of salt for depth.

I made my mini cheesecake in two batches. For the first batch I pre-baked the crusts for 5 minutes. For the second batch I didn’t pre-bake. I definitely recommend pre-baking. It caramelizes the sugar in the graham cracker composition and makes for  crisp sweet candy crust that adds a nice textural element and also tastes really different. It’s just one small extra step that really goes a long way. Overall, although I wouldn’t call them “super easy” these mini cheesecakes looked a lot more difficult to make than they were. Once the basic cheesecake mix is prepared it’s just a matter of adding flavourings and baking. Unlike a traditional full size cheesecake you don’t really have to worry about cracking so they aren’t as finicky as far as temperature is concerned. I took mine right out of the oven and on to the balcony to chill with no adverse effects.

Also, the party was great 🙂

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Mini cheesecake two ways

Total time: 45 minutes

Bake time: 15 minutes + 5 minutes for crust optional

Equipment: mini cupcake pan and mini cupcake liners

Makes approximately 30 mini cheesecakes

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Graham cracker crust

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Ingredients

♦ 1 cup graham cracker crumbs

♦ ½ cup butter

♦ 2 TBSP sugar

♦ 1 tsp salt

Pinch of nutmeg optional

Pinch of ginger optional

1 TBSP cocoa powder optional

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Preparation

Preheat oven to 325.

Melt butter.

Combine all ingredients in a bowl.

Optional ingredients

If making two flavours, divide your mix equally into two parts after combining the first four ingredients. For eggnog cupcakes add grating of nutmeg and pinch of fresh ginger. For hazelnut chocolate add cocoa powder.

Put approximately 1½ tsp of mix in each cupcake liner and flatten down with your thumb.

Pre-bake at 325 for 5 minutes.

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Cheesecake

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Ingredients

♦ 3 packages of cream cheese (8oz each)

♦ 1 cup of sugar

♦ pinch of salt

♦ 1 tsp vanilla bean paste

♦ 2 eggs

Additional Ingredients

hazelnut chocolate

♦ 5 TBSP Nutella

♦ hazelnut dark chocolate (I used Ritter Sport)

eggnog

♦ ½ cup eggnog

♦ 1 tsp rum extract

♦ grating of nutmeg (approximately 1/4 tsp)

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Preparation

Bring cream cheese to room temperature. This step is very important or the mix could be clumpy. Use a hand mixer or stand mixer to cream together cream cheese and sugar until smooth.

Add pinch of salt and vanilla and mix.

Add one egg at a time, mixing each until just incorporated.

If making two flavours, divide equally into two bowls.

For hazelnut chocolate cheesecake, add nutella and mix until incorporated.

For eggnog cheesecake, add eggnog, rum extract, and nutmeg and mix until incorporated.

Spoon approximately 1 TBSP into each liner (chocolate into chocolate crust and eggnog into nutmeg crust – in case its not obvious :p) It’s alright if the mix reaches the very top of the cupcake liner, it will rise but then will also fall again back into the liner.

Very important – before baking make sure you gently but firmly hit your pan onto a counter or other hard surface a few times to remove any air bubbles. If you don’t do this – you will be sad and so will your cheesecake.

Bake at 325 for 15 minutes.

Remove cheesecake from oven. Garnish immediately so your garnish sticks. Garnish eggnog cheesecake with a grating of nutmeg. Garish hazelnut chocolate cheesecake with slivers of the hazelnut chocolate bar. I used a knife and just scraped bits off right onto the cheesecake. If you try to put it on a plate first it clumps together and makes a mess.

If you have time, allow cheesecake to cool at room temperature for 1 hour and then cover with aluminum foil and place in the fridge until ready to serve.

If you don’t have time (I never do) cover with aluminum foil and place directly in fridge.

Enjoy!

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