A Baker’s Foursome to Thaw Winter Chills


Whether you have a practical desire to warm up your kitchen or a primal need to elevate your mood with treats in the winter months, here are four decadent desserts to keep you toasty.

As wintry January gives way to February, I find myself motivated to bake. Call it a practical desire to warm up my kitchen, or a primal need to elevate my mood with chocolates and treats. Whatever the reason, my family and friends seem pleased. Here are four of our favorites:
Cheesecake Cupcakes
My mother has been making these for years. She was given the recipe about four decades ago by a fellow PTA mom and they’ve been in her repertoire ever since.
They are the perfect mimic of the creamy, classic cheesecakes made famous by New York Jewish delis, but they are petite and pretty and delicate. Ideal for a buffet or when you are asked to bring a sweet to a party. And they are small enough that when you eat three, you don't feel too terrible.
2 packages (8 oz. each) cream cheese, softened
2 eggs
1⁄2 cup sugar
1 tsp. vanilla extract
16 vanilla wafers
16 paper cupcake liners
Toppings of your choice: fresh raspberries and jam, your favorite pie filling, lemon or lime curd, drizzled chocolate, caramel, be creative!
Heat oven to 350˚.
Line cupcake tins with paper liners and place a vanilla wafer in the bottom of each one.
Mix cream cheese, eggs, sugar and vanilla well.
Spoon mixture onto wafers in paper cups, about 3⁄4 full.
Bake for 12 to 15 minutes until cupcakes are set and just barely beginning to brown at edges. 
Chill and top as desired.
Makes 16 cupcakes.
Uber-Chocolate Brownies
With so many winter meals featuring meat, it seemed essential to include a pareve selection in this column. These brownies fit the bill and always receive rave reviews.
21⁄2 sticks margarine
3⁄4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
2 cups sugar
1 cup flour
4 eggs
2 tsps. vanilla
Heat the oven to 350˚. Grease a 13×9-inch oblong pan.
Melt margarine in large microwave-safe bowl. Add cocoa, mix with a wooden spoon, then add all remaining ingredients. Mix well.
Spread into prepared pan and bake 25 to 30 minutes until just done. Cool before cutting.
Makes 24.
Raspberry Shortbread Bars
This recipe is life-changing. Utterly delicious, supremely versatile, visually appealing and containing — wait for it — only four ingredients!
These bars are a wonderful make-ahead simple dessert or gift, but they easily convert to a more formal presentation. To do that, follow the same technique described here, but instead of a square pan, use a fluted tart pan or pie pan and cut servings into wedges.
I offer a raspberry version here, but there are endless options for fillings.
2 sticks butter, softened
1 cup sugar
21⁄4 cups flour
10 oz. jar raspberry jam (see note below for variations)
Heat oven to 350˚. Grease 8×8-inch square pan.
In a large bowl, mix butter, sugar and flour until they resemble crumbly bits about the size of lentils. Press 2⁄3 of this dough firmly into the bottom of the greased pan. 
Spread the jam over the dough, taking care not to hit the edges. The jam will burn if it makes contact with the pan so leave about 1⁄4-inch border. Crumble remaining dough over top, scrunching it into clumps and sprinkling it over the top of the jam. Press gently on the topping to settle it.
Bake for 40 minutes until just turning a golden brown. Cool completely, cut and serve, or store in airtight container for up to three days.
Makes 16 bars.
A Note on Fillings: You can use just about anything (well, anything sweet — I’d avoid things like pickle relish, tuna carpaccio and chicken salad). Any of the following options are quite delectable — lemon curd (personal fave); Nutella (kids love this); 1 cup chocolate chips (or a blend of chocolate and white chips); apple butter; pumpkin butter; blueberry (or any other flavor) jam.
Chocolate Souffle
This is a good selection to finish off a heavy or fried meal. 
One warning: While this recipe is not difficult, it does involve precision, four separate mixing bowls and a water bath for baking. But please don’t let that dissuade you; the “wow” factor is worth the extra steps.
2⁄3 cup best quality dark chocolate chips or chopped chocolate
1⁄4 cup flour
1⁄4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1⁄4 tsp. salt
1 cup sugar (divided)
3 eggs, separated
11⁄3 cups whole milk
Heat oven to 350˚.
In a small, microwave-safe bowl, melt chocolate for 3 minutes on 50 percent power. Stir until smooth.
While chocolate melts, in another small bowl, whisk flour, cocoa, salt and 3⁄4 cup sugar.  
Separate eggs carefully, placing whites into a large bowl and yolks in a medium bowl. (Do not allow any yolk to drip into the whites or they won’t whip.) Beat whites with an electric mixer until soft peaks form.
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Add remaining 1⁄4 cup sugar and mix thoroughly. To the yolks, add milk and melted chocolate; whisk until blended.
The chocolate will harden; just mix it up and don’t worry about the texture.
Add the flour mixture to the yolk mixture and whisk to blend. Then gently fold this into the egg white mixture.
Butter a 11⁄2-quart gratin or souffle dish and pour batter in. Place souffle dish in water bath — a pan filled with water that covers the sides of the souffle at least halfway.
Carefully place souffle in heated oven and bake 45 to 50 minutes, until top is brown and slightly hardened.
Serve warm, at room temperature or chilled. This can be topped with whipped cream or fresh berries but is equally wonderful unadorned.
Serves 4 generously or 6 sensibly.
Keri White is a regular contributor to the Exponent's food blog, jewishexponent.com/philacatessen.


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