Friday, December 20, 2013

Mini Pumpkin and Cream Cheese Pies

I wanted to make some kind of pumpkin dessert for Thanksgiving this year (yes, I know, this post is a little late).  I couldn't find a recipe that was exactly what I wanted so I decided to put a couple of recipes together instead.  These creamy pumpkin pies turned out great... and they're even better with vanilla ice cream!

I could have just made a pumpkin pie, but that seemed too ordinary.  I found this recipe for individual peanut butter cheesecakes and decided to use it to create a similar pumpkin cheesecake, except that I didn't have enough cream cheese to actually make cheesecake... and who wants to go back to the grocery store on Thanksgiving day?  Not me... so I improvised (pumpkin is a pretty forgiving ingredient so it worked out).  Besides, I wanted pumpkin anyway.  Too much cream cheese would have just gotten in the way!

Mini Pumpkin and Cream Cheese Pies

Makes 12 mini pies

4 Tbsp sugar
1 1/2 cups graham cracker crumbs
1/4 cup butter, melted
1/8 tsp salt
12 oz. cream cheese
1 cup sugar
1 tsp
1/2 cup canned pumpkin
2 eggs
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp nutmeg
1/2 tsp cloves (ground)
1/2 Tbsp pumpkin pie spice


1.  Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Line a 12-count muffin tin with 12 cupcake liners.

2.  Mix together graham cracker crumbs, melted butter, sugar (4 Tbsp) and salt until well combined.  Scoop a heaping tablespoon into each cup.  Use the rounded back of the tablespoon to press down into cups and slightly up the sides.  Set aside.

3.  In the bowl of a stand mixer, beat cream cheese and sugar (1 cup) together until smooth.  Add vanilla and pumpkin.  Beat again until smooth.  While mixer is going, sprinkle in the flour and spices. Then add the eggs one at a time until they are fully incorporated.

4.  Add pumpkin mixture to cups until almost full.

5. Bake for 20 minutes or until centers are set.  Allow to cool to room temperature.  Serve at room temperature or refrigerate and serve later.


Thursday, December 19, 2013

Peanut Butter Balls

These Peanut Butter Balls were a holiday staple in my house, one of my mom's "Christmas Candies" that she's been making for as long as I can remember.  According to the recipe, they are actually called Chocolate Graham Cracker Balls, but I choose to just call them Peanut Butter Balls... and I'm publishing this online so I think this suffices as an official name change.

This is a super simple recipe (with the possible exception of actually dipping them in the chocolate with dropping them), and they're delicious.  Of course they are.  Who doesn't like peanut butter and chocolate, combined with cookies and lots of sugar?!

There were often multiple batches of Peanut Butter Balls in my house growing up because my dad and brother don't like coconut, and I don't like nuts.  Both of those are optional ingredients, clearly.  You can choose which type of chocolate pieces to use.  I recommend milk or dark chocolate.  The semisweet chocolate chips are just not sweet enough after melting them with the paraffin wax.


For Peanut Butter Balls:
2 cups crushed graham cracker crumbs
1 cup pecan chopped fine (optional)
7-oz. chopped coconut (optional)
2 sticks of margarine
10-oz. confectioners sugar
1 1/2 tsp vanilla
1 small jar creamy peanut butter

For Dipping:
3/4 cake paraffin wax
1 pkg chocolate pieces

1.  Melt wax with 1 pkg chocolate pieces in a double boiler (or you can use a bowl over a pot of boiling water if you don't have a double boiler).

2.  Mix the peanut butter ball ingredients and make them into balls.  Chill for 30 minutes.

3.  Dip balls into chocolate from the double boiler, using toothpicks, and allow them to dry on wax paper.

Note:  If the balls are falling apart as you try to dip them, try chilling them for longer, or even putting them in the freezer.  When I made them this year, my kitchen was too hot because there was a lot of baking happening at once and they kept falling apart!  I put them in the freezer and tried again once all of the other items were finished!

Saturday, November 16, 2013

German Chocolate Cream Cheese Brownies

These decadent German Chocolate Cream Cheese Brownies are a perfect addition to my plethora of recipes for chocolate lovers (which happens to include me).  Sometimes I feel bad for making so many amazing desserts and tempting my friends with them.  On one side, I'm a workoutaholic who prefers to have a healthy diet, but on the other side, I love chocolate (and sugar in general).  My personal opinion is that if I have a sugary sweet available to satisfy a craving, I'm less likely to binge on sweets when I just can't take it anymore!  And, I only bake when I know there will be others to share in eating. Moderation is key!

I got this recipe from my mom.  She used to make these when I was a kid.  I asked for the recipe years ago, but this is the first time I've made them.  They are absolutely delicious.  I deviated from the original recipe by using semi-sweet chocolate chips instead of the german sweet baking chocolate (because that's what I had on hand).  I think the almond extract makes the brownies.  They wouldn't be the same without it.


4 oz. German sweet baking chocolate
5 tbs. butter
3 oz. Cream cheese
3 Eggs
1/2 cup plus 1 tbs. flour
1 1/2 tsp. vanilla
1/2 tsp. Baking powder
1/4 tsp. Salt
1/4 tsp. Almond extract
Optional: 1/2 cup chopped nuts

Melt chocolate and 3 tbs. butter over very low heat (I actually microwaved the butter and chocolate for about 30 seconds - it won't appear to be melted, but it will be liquid once stirred).  Cool.  

In a mixing bowl, cream remaining butter with cream cheese until softened.  Gradually add 1/4 cup sugar, cream until light and fluffy.  Stir in 1 egg, 1 tbs. flour and 1/2 tsp. vanilla until blended.  Set aside.  

Beat remaining eggs until fluffy and light in color.  Gradually add remaining 3/4 cup sugar beating until thickened.  Fold in baking powder, salt and remaining 1/2 cup flour.  Blend in chocolate mixture.  Stir in nuts (optional), almond extract and 1 tsp. vanilla.  Set one cup of brownie batter aside.

Spread remaining chocolate batter in greased and floured 9 inch pan.  Pour cream cheese mixture over top.  Drop measured chocolate batter over top and swirl to marble.

Bake at 350 degrees for 35 to 40 minutes.

Cool and cut into squares.

Friday, October 4, 2013

Super Chocolate Cake

Chocolate cake is my favorite, and this one certainly delivered!

Three of the members of our Life Group have September birthdays so I decided to celebrate, and what better to celebrate with than a chocolate cake!  This is a simple chocolate cake topped with dark chocolate ganache and chocolate buttercream frosting.  It was AMAZING... so amazing that I "need" to make another one ASAP!!

The cake recipe and the buttercream recipe both called for unsweetened chocolate, but I didn't have any so I decided to use semi-sweet chocolate.  As far as I'm concerned, the sweeter the better!

The buttercream turned out a little bit dry, which wasn't super pretty, but tasted great.  I ended up covering it with ganache anyway.  I didn't actually take a photo of the cake with my camera, but I did snap a "you're late and this is what you're missing" photo on my phone to send to one of the birthday girls!  It's not the best picture, but here it is...

I knew I'd be short on time so I made the cake the night before and the frosting the day of.

By the way...  this cake received great reviews from my guests!

KitchenAid Chocolate Cake:
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/2 cups sugar
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup shortening
1 cup milk
1 teaspoon vanilla
2 eggs
2 squares (1 oz each) unsweetened chocolate, melted (or semisweet chocolate)

Combine dry ingredients in mixer bowl.  Add shortening, milk and vanilla.  Mix on low speed about 1 minute.  Scrape bowl.  Add eggs and chocolate.  Continue on low speed for 30 seconds.  Beat on medium/high speed for about 1 minute.

Pour batter into two greased and floured 8 or 9-inch baking pans.  Bake at 350 degrees F for 30 to 35 minutes or until toothpick inserted in center comes out clean.  Cool 10 minutes.  Remove from pans.  Cool completely on wire rack.  Frost if desired.

KitchenAid Chocolate Buttercream Frosting:
1 cup butter, softened
2 tablespoons light corn syrup
4 cups powdered sugar
2 squares (1 oz each) unsweetened chocolate, melted (or semisweet)

Place butter in mixer bowl.  Turn to medium speed and beat about 1 1/2 minutes, or until creamy.  Stop and scrape bowl.  Add corn syrup.  Turn to low speed and mix well.  Stop and scrape bowl.

Turn to stir speed.  Gradually add powdered sugar, mixing until blended.  Turn to medium speed and mix about 1 minute.  Stop and scrape bowl.  Turn to low speed.  Slowly add melted chocolate and mix about 1 1/2 minutes. Stop and scrape bowl.  Turn to medium speed and beat about 1 minute.

Dark Chocolate Ganache (from: Oysters and Pearls)
1 cup heavy whipping cream
1 cup dark chocolate pieces
1 tablespoon room temperature butter

Bring the cream to a simmer in a sauce pan.  Be careful -- it's easy to scald it.  Put the chocolate in a measuring cup or bowl.  Pour the hot cream over the chocolate and let it sit for 5 minutes.  Using a whisk, stir it up until creamy.  Then add the room temperature butter and continue whisking.  Let cool for a few minutes before using to drizzle over or ice anything.

Saturday, July 13, 2013

Berlin: Olympiastadion


Jesse Owens wins four gold medals for the USA!  Berlin was the site of the 1936 Summer Olympics, during the time that Germany was under Nazi control.  Hitler believed that the Germanic People were the most pure race and were thus superior to other races.  He hoped to use the games, which were awarded to Berlin prior to Nazi control in 1931, to show the world  the superiority of the Germanic Race.  In contrast to Hitler's belief, Jesse Owens, an African American Track and Field Athlete from the United States, considered inferior by the Nazi's because of his race, won four gold medals and was the most successful athlete at the 1936 games (The German athletes also fared well at the games).

Inside Olympiastadion 2013
There have been two stadiums on this site.  The first, Deutsches Stadion, was built by Otto March for the 1916 Summer Olympics, which were aborted because of the First World War.  Prior to the building of the first stadium, a horse-racing facility existed on the site.  When the International Olympic Committee named Berlin as the site of the 1936 Olympics, the German government planned to restore the original stadium and retained Otto's son, Werner, to do the restoration.  When the Nazi's came into power in Germany in 1933, they decided to use the Olympics as Propaganda and commissioned the building of a new stadium, called Reichssportfeld.  Werner March was still in charge of the project and was assisted by his brother, Walter March.

Roof of Olympiastadion 2013
Construction on Olympiastadion took place between 1934 and 1936.  It's capacity reached 110,000 spectators.  In 1998, there was much controversy over what to do with the the stadium.  Some wanted to tear it down and build a new stadium.  Others wanted to allow it to slowly crumble (similar to the Colosseum in Rome).  The final decision was to renovate the stadium.  The playing field was lowered and the lower tier of seating, built into the ground, was demolished and rebuilt.  During construction, the workers found an unexploded WWII bomb buried beneath a section of seating.  The reinauguration ceremonies were held on July 31st and August 1st 2004.  Currently the stadium is home to soccer team, Hertha BSC, and many concerts have also been held at the stadium.

Stadium entrance from inside the park
Marathon Gate and site of the Olympic flame
Next to the stadium is Maifeld (Mayfield).  Maifeld was created as a huge lawn that would be used for demonstrations, especially May Day demonstrations.  The total capacity of the field was 250,000 people (60,000) in the stands.  During the Olympics, the field was used for polo and equestrian events.  After the war, it was used by the British forces to celebrate The Queen's Official Birthday and for sports.  Maifeld became the home of the Berlin Cricket Club in 2012, and the day that we visited, there were cricket matches on the field.

Maifeld, Langemarck-Halle and the Bell Tower
The Bell Tower reaches high into the sky on the western end of the Reichssportfeld among the seating area of the Maifeld.  The entire city of Berlin can be observed from its peak.  The bell tower housed the Olympic Bell.  During WWII, Reichssportfeld was mostly untouched, but the Bell Tower was set on fire by the Soviets, who wished to destroy Nazi archives that were inside.  The British forces demolished it in 1947 but rebuilt the tower in 1962.  The bell fell 77 meters and is unable to sound.  Today it is displayed in front of the stadium and a replica is in its place in the tower.

Langemarck-Halle and the Bell Tower
Langemarck Hall sits beneath the seating area at Maifeld.  It was originally intended as memorial to young soldiers who died in WWI.

Inside Langemarck-Halle
The Forest Theatre, Waldbuene, which is used for concerts today, is currently closed to the public.  We got our only glimpse of the theatre from the top of the bell tower.  It was built in 1936 and was used for gymnastics competitions during the Olympics.  It seats up to 25,000 spectators and is used as one of Berlin's largest concert venues.

Waldbuene, among the forest
Equestrian Facility at Olympiastadion
Swimming Facility
Many statues, like this one, can be found at Olympiastadion
View of Olympiastadion from the Bell Tower, looking toward the Marathon Gate.  The Berlin skyline can be seen in the background.

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Berlin: Charlottenburg Palace

Schloss Charlottenburg

After a long day of touring Berlin, and on the way back into the city from The Olympic Stadium, we stopped in Charlottenburg to visit the palace and search for dinner.  Parts of the palace are open to the public for a fee but had already closed for the day.  However, we were still able to see the grounds and garden (chances are that we wouldn't have paid to go inside anyway).

The Charlottenburg Palace (Schloss Charlottenburg), located in the Charlottenburg-Wilmersdorf borough, is the only remaining royal palace in Berlin.   It was originally commissioned by Sophie Charlotte, wife of Friedrich III, Elector of Brandenburg (Friedrich later crowned himself King Friedrich I of Prussia in 1701).  It was inaugurated in 1699.  At the time it consisted of one wing and 2 1/2 stories.

Charlottenburg Palace Orangerie

The palace was named Charlottenburg after Sophie Charlotte, who died in 1705.  The orangery was built in the years after her death.  The dome was also added to the center of the building at that time.

There is a wind vane in the form of a gilded statue on top to the dome.
The garden at Charlottenburg was designed in 1697 in the Baroque style.  It was redesigned in 1787 but was restored back to its former Baroque style after WWII.  The gardens are freely open to visitors today and are frequented by local residents and tourists alike.

Garden at Charlottenburg

Duck Pond at Charlottenburg

View of the garden and back of Charlottenburg Palace
Charlottenburg Palace was damaged during WWII but was later reconstructed.

Friday, July 5, 2013

Around Berlin

Berlin is the capital of Germany and home to a rich history.  The city was first documented in the 13th century, but at the time, was not an important city.  Because of its location, over the years, Berlin became one of the most important cities in the area.  Between 1701 and 1945, Berlin was the capital of the Kingdom of Prussia, The German Empire, The Weimer Republic and the Third Reich.  After WWII, Berlin was divided into East and West (see Berlin: The Wall), and West Berlin, contained entirely in East Germany, was surrounded by the Berlin Wall from 1961-1989.  After German Reunification in 1990, the city of Berlin again became the capital city of Germany.

Today Berlin is a meeting of old and new.  In the midst of the modern city stand many structures that are a daily reminder, both to residents and visitors, of the city's past.

Potsdamer Platz
Today, Potsdamer Platz, named after the city of Potsdam, consists of modern buildings containing offices, restaurants and a movie theatre.  The owners/developers of the two largest sections of Potsdamer Platz are Daimler and Sony.  Because the Berlin Wall passed directly through the square it mostly laid in ruin from 1961-1989.  After that time, it was seen as a way to reconnect the east and west sectors of Berlin.

Potsdamer Platz marks the point where the road from Potsdam passed through the old city wall of Berlin at the Potsdam Gate, which was severely damaged during WWII and later demolished when the Berlin wall was built.

A small section of the old city wall of Berlin still exists near Klosterstrasse
The Spree River looking towards the Berlin Dome
The 4.7 Acre Holocaust Memorial, located in the Friedrichstadt neighborhood, is a memorial to the Jewish victims of the Holocaust.  Designed by architect, Peter Eisenman and engineer, Buro Happold, the memorial contains 2,711 concrete slabs that vary in height.  Eisenman's project text states that the memorial was designed to produce a confused and uneasy feeling in its visitors.

Holocaust Memorial
Walking into the memorial from the street, it appears that all of the slabs are of similar height, but the memorial was built on a hill.  As visitors get deeper and deeper into the memorial, the slabs become taller and taller, eventually reaching close to 16 ft.  Many visitors also point out that the memorial resembles a cemetery.

One block from the Holocaust Museum stands Berlin's Brandenburg Gate, one of the most well-known landmarks of Germany.  The gate, which should not be confused with the Brandenburg Gate in Potsdam, was rebuilt in the late 18th century as a neoclassical triumphal arch.  The gate was commissioned by King Frederick William II of Prussia.  It was damaged during WWII and was inaccesible in postwar Germany because it was directly next to the Berlin Wall (click here for a photo of the Brandenburg Gate and the Berlin wall shortly before it fell in 1989).  The gate was fully restored between 2000 and 2002.

Berlin's Brandenburg Gate
The Brandenburg Gate was not one of the old city fortifications but instead was one of 18 gates erected in the 1730's as part of the Berlin Customs Wall, which included the old fortified city and many of its suburbs.  Atop the Brandenburg Gate rests the Quadriga, sculpted by Johann Gottfried Schadow.  After the Prussian defeat in 1806, Napoleon took the Quadriga back to Paris, but the Quadriga was restored to Berlin only a few years later, upon Napoleon's defeat in 1814.

Note the height of the Brandenburg Gate
Sidewalk Chalk Artist near the Brandenburg Gate
Hotel Adlon, near the Brandenburg Gate, was made popular in American pop culture when Michael Jackson dangled his son out of the hotel's windows in 2002, but the hotels history dates back much farther than 2002.  The hotel originally opened in 1907 and was one of the most famous hotels in Europe.    It was largely destroyed during WWII (though a small wing continued operating until 1984).  It later rebuilt and reopened in 1997.

Hotel Adlon on the Pariser Platz
The Berlin Hauptbahnof, or Berlin Central Station, is the main train station in Berlin.  The Hauptbahof, which opened in 2006, is on the site of the historic Lehrter Bahnof, which opened in 1871.

Berlin Hauptbahnof
The Oberbaum Bridge crosses the Spree River near the East Side Gallery.  The double-decker bridge is considered one of the city landmarks.  The lower deck carries a roadway, while the upper deck carries line U1 of the Berlin U-bahn line.  In 1732, a wooden drawbridge was built in this spot, but after several modifications, it was no longer adequate.  The new bridge opened in 1896.  When the Berlin Wall was built in 1961, the Oberbaum Bridge became part of the border between East and West Berlin.

The Oberbaum Bridge is a double-decker bridge crossing the Spree River on Oberbaum Strasse.
Ampelmann, Berlin's pedestrian traffic signal, was created by Karl Peglau in 1961.  Today, Ampelmann has become somewhat of an icon in Berlin.

East Berlin Ampelmann character in front of an Ampelmann Store
Sign in front of an Ampelmann store showing the pedestrian traffic signals in several countries
Statue of Frederick the Great, King of Prussia from 1740-1786
Hackescher Markt was laid out as a market square in 1750 by King Frederick II.  After German reunification, the area, with its old buildings, became an area of commerce.  Today, the old buildings of Hackescher Markt boast many shops and restaurants.

Hackescher Markt

Pink Shops in Hackescher Markt
To read more about my time in Berlin

Berlin:  The Wall and Berlin: Alexanderplatz and Museuminsel and look for more posts to come!