Pumpkin Cake with Cheesecake, Gingersnap, and Salted Caramel Topping

In case you’ve managed to avoid looking at a calendar lately, Thanksgiving is coming up later this week!  If the dessert portion of your menu is still up in the air (or if you want another dessert!), this one could be for you.

It’s delicious and impressive-looking, without being terribly difficult to make.  It is slightly involved, but well worth the effort.  Pumpkin Cake with Cheesecake, Gingersnaps, and Salted Caramel Topping

Let the record show that, despite his occasional complaints, Sean is encouraging my pumpkin-loving behavior.  He surprised me with the cookbook that this recipe came from; it just so happens that this cookbook is all about cooking and baking with pumpkin.

Pumpkin Cake with Cheesecake, Gingersnaps, and Salted Caramel Topping

This recipe comes from the cookbook Cooking with Pumpkin: Recipes that Go Beyond the Pie.

You’ll need:

Pumpkin Cake

  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • 1 tsp pumpkin pie spice
  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 tsp baking soda
  • 1/2 tsp baking powder
  • 1 tsp cinnamon
  • 1 tsp nutmeg
  • 1/2 tsp ground cloves
  • 3/4 cup pumpkin
  • 1 egg
  • 1/2 cup buttermilk
  • 4 tbs unsalted butter, softened
  • 1 1/2 tsp vanilla extract

Pumpkin Cheesecake

  • 6 oz. cream cheese, softened
  • 1/4 cup granulated sugar
  • 1/4 cup pumpkin
  • 1 tsp pumpkin pie spice

Other Toppings

  • 2 tbs turbinado sugar (granulated sugar can sub here)
  • 1/2 cup gingersnap cookies, coarsely crushed
  • 1/3 cup caramel sauce

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F.  Grease and flour a 9-inch springform pan.  Set aside.

For the cake layer, combine the 3/4 cup sugar, teaspoon pumpkin pie spice, flour, baking powder, baking soda, nutmeg, and cloves.  Mix just to incorporate.

Add the 3/4 cup pumpkin, egg, buttermilk, butter, and vanilla extract.  Using a hand mixer, beat for 1 minute.  Scrape the sides of the bowl down periodically, if needed.  Pour the batter into the prepared pan and smooth the top slightly with a spatula.

For the cheesecake layer, using a hand mixer, combine the cream cheese, 1/4 cup of pumpkin, 1/4 cup of sugar, and teaspoon of pumpkin pie spice until smooth and creamy.

Add the cheesecake mixture in an even layer on top of the cake batter.  Smooth slightly.  Sprinkle the top with the turbinado sugar.

Bake for 30 minutes, or until the center is set and not jiggly.

Set the cake on a wire rack to cool completely.

Once it’s cool, run a knife around the outside of the cake to loosen it.  Then, pop the springform pan off and lift the bottom, along with the cake, out from the pan.  When you’re ready to serve the cake, sprinkle the top with the crushed gingersnaps and drizzle the caramel sauce.

Pumpkin Cake with Cheesecake, Gingersnaps, and Salted Caramel Topping

Double the Chocolate Cake

Sean is a serious chocolate-lover, and it just so happens that his birthday is today.  What better way to celebrate than with a ridiculously chocolatey cake?  Though I’ve been eyeing quite a few of the recipes in Joy the Baker’s newest cookbook, this is the first that I’ve made from it.  Just like the rest of her of her recipes, this one is right on target.

I now have both of her cookbooks (the first one can be found here: Joy the Baker Cookbook: 100 Simple and Comforting Recipes), and love them both.  They’re full of really delicious, easy to make, recipes, and the photos are so gorgeous.

Double the Chocolate Cake | A Nerd Cooks

Prior to this, I didn’t really have a go-to chocolate cake recipe.  But honestly, I don’t know that I need another one after trying this recipe out.  For one thing, it’s perfectly moist, something I’ve found hard to come by in chocolate cakes (maybe this is just me?).  It’s also perfectly chocolatey, and not too sweet, which is nice.  No one wants their teeth to hurt from an overly sweet dessert.

Even though she didn’t get to sample it, Maeby was a diligent helper and supervisor in the kitchen.

 Maeby | A Nerd Cooks

These recipes come from Joy Wilson’s new cookbook, Homemade Decadence: Irresistibly Sweet, Salty, Gooey, Sticky, Fluffy, Creamy, Crunchy Treats.

Basic Three-Layer Chocolate Cake

  • 3 cups cake flour
  • 3/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 2 tsp baking powder
  • 1 1/2 tsp baking soda
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 2 sticks unsalted butter, room temperature
  • 1 1/2 cups light brown sugar, packed
  • 1 1/2 cups granulated sugar
  • 4 large eggs, room temperature
  • 1 tbs vanilla extract
  • 1 cups buttermilk

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.  Prepare three 9-inch round baking pans by either: 1) greasing and flouring; or 2) lining the bottoms with parchment paper (trace the pan and cut out the circle) and grease the sides.  Set the pans aside.

In a medium bowl, whisk the flour, cocoa powder, baking powder, baking soda, and salt together.  Set aside.

In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat the butter and sugars together on medium speed for 3-4 minutes.  Add the eggs, one at a time, beating for a minute or so after adding each egg.  Add the vanilla extract.

Lower the speed of the mixer to low, add half of the flour mixture, and beat until it is well-incorporated.  Slowly stream in the buttermilk until it is all combined.  Add the remaining flour mixture and beat until it is just combined.  Finish stirring everything with a spatula, if necessary.

Divide the batter between the 3 pans.  You can use a small kitchen scale to weigh the pans to ensure even amounts of batter in each if you like.  Or you could just eyeball it.

Bake the cakes for 20-25 minutes, or until a toothpick or knife comes out clean when inserted into the center.  Rotate the pans about halfway through to ensure even baking.

Let the cakes cool in the pans for about 20 minutes before turning them out onto wire racks to finish cooling completely.

You can double-wrap the cakes in plastic wrap or foil and store them in the freezer if you aren’t going to frost them immediately.  Actually, freezing the cakes can make them a bit easier to frost!

Whenever you’re ready to frost, you’ll want to put a dollop of frosting on top of the first cake, smooth it around, stack another cake and add more frosting, smoothing it around.  Add the third cake on top, and frost the rest!  You can use whatever frosting recipe floats your boat, but I used the one from Joy’s cookbook (below).

Glossy Chocolate Sour Cream Frosting

  • 1 lb semisweet or dark chocolate, coarsely chopped (or use chocolate chips!)
  • 2 cups sour cream
  • 1/4 cup light corn syrup
  • 2 tsp vanilla extract
  • pinch of salt

Using a double boiler (a heat-proof bowl over a saucepan of simmering water), melt the chocolate.  Let the chocolate cool for a few minutes.

While the chocolate is melting, whisk together the sour cream, corn syrup, vanilla, and salt.  Add the sour cream mixture to the cooled chocolate.  Allow the frosting to cool to room temperature.  The longer it cools, the thicker it will become.  When it has thickened to your desired consistency, frost your cake!

I chose to top the cake with mini chocolate chips, but that’s optional.

Double the Chocolate Cake | A Nerd Cooks

Old Kentucky Mule – Updated

I originally blogged about this cocktail 3 years ago, but felt like this one deserved a bit of a facelift.  I’ve been drinking these pretty regularly over the past week or so.  They’re spicy and sweet, but not too sweet.  All in all, it is a pretty excellent little Autumn cocktail.

I’ve been making them individually, but this would be an easy drink to make in larger quantities and serve in a pitcher.  Perfect for parties.

Old Kentucky Mule | A Nerd Cooks

In addition to this refreshing drink, I’ve been excited to talk a little bit about the homemade background that I used in these photos (you can see it here in the Hearty Chicken Pumpkin Soup post, too).

I got tired of just using my light-colored and darkish wood cutting boards as a background, but didn’t really have many other options.  After doing a bit of searching, I came across this post by Brunch Time Baker.  If you’re in the market for some cheap, DIY photo backgrounds, go check it out.  I bought a 2×2 piece of wood and picked up some paint samples (they’re free!) at Lowe’s and followed her instructions for painting.  It was so easy, and I’m really happy with how it turned out.  When I get some free time, I’m going to paint the other side of the wood, too, so that I have two backgrounds in addition to the cutting boards I’ve been using.

Old Kentucky Mule | A Nerd Cooks Old Kentucky Mule | A Nerd Cooks

My original post for this cocktail can be found here.  I discovered the recipe for this drink on the blog The Tampopo Press.

You’ll need:

  • Good quality bourbon (I prefer Bulleit)
  • Apple cider
  • Ginger beer
  • Apple slice for garnish, optional

To make one cocktail, combine 1 part bourbon, 1 part apple cider, and 1 part ginger beer in a glass over ice.

Garnish the glass with a thin apple slice, if you’re feeling fancy.  Drink up!

Old Kentucky Mule | A Nerd Cooks Old Kentucky Mule | A Nerd Cooks

Hearty Chicken Pumpkin Soup

A couple of statements that we all know to be true: 1) Soup is good; 2) Pumpkin is good.  So it stands to reason that soup + pumpkin would also be a good thing.  The verdict?  Extra good.  This soup is hearty and delicious.  The pumpkin flavor isn’t overwhelming, but is definitely present in the background and helps to make the soup creamy.

 Chicken Pumpkin Soup | A Nerd Cooks

I found this recipe on the blog Wishes and Dishes, and just had to make it.  I’ve made a couple of modifications to the original recipe.

You’ll need:

  • 4 tbs olive oil
  • 1 medium onion, chopped
  • 5 ribs celery, chopped
  • 5 carrots, peeled and chopped
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 2 tsp fresh thyme
  • 2 chicken breasts, cooked and shredded
  • 32 oz. chicken broth
  • 15 oz. can pumpkin puree
  • 1/2 cup milk (or heavy cream)
  • 1 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1/2 tsp black pepper, freshly ground
  • 1/4 tsp garlic salt
  • 1/4 cup fresh parsley, finely chopped (or cilantro)
  • 1 cup sharp cheddar cheese, shredded

In a large pot or Dutch oven, heat the olive oil over medium heat.  Add the onion, celery, carrots, garlic, and thyme.  Cook for about 15 minutes, or until the vegetables are softened.

Add the shredded chicken, broth, pumpkin, milk/cream, salt, pepper, garlic salt, and parsley/cilantro.  Stir to combine.

Once things are heated through, add the cheese and stir, allowing it to melt.  Taste and adjust the seasonings accordingly.

 Chicken Pumpkin Soup | A Nerd Cooks

Butternut Squash Fettuccini Alfredo

Sean already asked me if every meal that I make this week will include pumpkin.  Maybe?  Regardless, I’m not sorry.  It is that time of year, after all.

Even though this isn’t exactly pumpkin, it’s close enough.  The butternut squash adds beautiful color and great flavor to the béchamel sauce, along with some nutritional value.  To make things easier on whoever prepares dinner, consider roasting the squash ahead of time.  That way, everything can come together in as much time as it takes to boil the pasta!

Butternut Squash Fettuccini Alfredo | A Nerd Cooks

This recipe is adapted from the one found on Teaspoon of Spice.

You’ll need:

  • 1 (3 lb) butternut squash
  • 1 box fettuccini (or whatever pasta you’d like)
  • 3 tbs butter
  • 1/4 cup all purpose flour
  • 2 cups milk
  • 1/2 tsp cumin
  • 1/2 tsp curry powder
  • 1/2 cup parmesan cheese, plus more for topping
  • salt and pepper, to taste

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F.  Take a 9×13-inch casserole dish and fill it with 1-2 inches of water.  Set aside.

Slice the butternut squash in half, lengthwise.  Scoop out the seeds.  Flesh side down, lay the squash halves in the prepared dish with water.  The water will help to keep the squash moist while roasting.  Place the casserole dish in the preheated oven and roast for 30-45 minutes, or until the squash is pierced easily with a fork.

Allow the squash to cool for 10 minutes or so.  Scoop the flesh into a blender and blend until everything is smooth.  Use a few tablespoons of milk or water to assist the process, if necessary.

Cook the pasta according to the directions on the package.  When cooked, drain and set aside.

While the pasta cooks, melt the butter in a large, deep skillet or pot.  Once it is melted, whisk in the flour to create a roux.  Allow the roux to cook for a minute or two.

While whisking constantly to avoid creating lumps, pour the milk into the skillet/pot.  Add the cumin and curry powder, whisking to combine.  Allow the béchamel sauce to thicken a bit, then turn the heat off.  Add the pureed butternut squash, parmesan cheese, salt, and pepper.  Taste and adjust the seasonings if necessary.

Add the cooked pasta to the sauce and toss until the noodles are coated.

Top with more parmesan cheese, if desired.

Butternut Squash Fettuccini Alfredo | A Nerd Cooks

Butternut Squash, Kale, and Feta Hand Pies

I was invited to a pie-themed potluck party recently.  When trying to decide what I wanted to contribute, I kept a few things in mind:  1) The hostess is a vegetarian; 2) Something savory would lessen the chances of us ending up with several pumpkin pies; and 3) Cute food is almost always good.

Enter: the hand pie.

Butternut Squash, Kale, and Feta Hand Pies | A Nerd Cooks

You’ll need:

  • cooking spray
  • 1 butternut squash, peeled and cubed
  • 3 tbs olive oil, divided
  • spices of your choice (I used salt, pepper, cumin, garlic powder, and chili powder)
  • 2-4 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 bunch kale, de-stemmed and sliced into ribbons
  • 1/2 cup water or broth of choice
  • salt and pepper, to taste
  • 1/2 cup feta cheese
  • pie crust dough of your choosing (I cheated and used store-bought!)
  • 2 eggs, beaten
  • kosher salt for sprinkling

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F.  Line two baking sheets with foil and spray the foil with cooking spray.  Set aside.

Put the peeled and cubed butternut squash in a large zip top bag.  Add 2 tbs olive oil and spices.  Zip the bag shut and toss the contents around until all of the squash pieces are evenly coated.  Divide the squash onto the two prepared baking sheets, spreading it into an even layer.  Bake for 15 minutes, toss everything around, and bake for an additional 15 minutes, or until the squash is tender and cooked through.

In a large skillet, add the remaining 1 tbs olive oil and heat over medium heat.  Add the minced garlic and cook until just fragrant.  Add the kale and stir to coat the greens with the garlicky oil.  Cook uncovered for a few minutes, stirring occasionally.  Add the water/broth and cover the skillet.  Cook for 5 minutes, or until the kale has begun to wilt down.  Turn off the heat and remove the lid.  Add salt and pepper to taste.

Once the butternut squash is cooked, add it to the pan of kale, along with the feta cheese.  Stir everything together.  Take a taste, and adjust your seasonings accordingly.

Remove the foil from the baking sheets, and line the sheets (or different baking sheets) with parchment paper.

Using whatever pie dough you choose, use a cookie cutter or water glass to cut circles of dough (2 per hand pie).  I used a circle that was about 3.5 inches in diameter.  Place circles of dough for the bottom half of the hand pies onto the baking sheets.  I was able to fit 6 per baking sheet.  Place 2-3 tbs of the squash/kale/feta filling on the middle of each circle of dough.  You want to have a decent amount of filling in each hand pie, but also want to make sure that you’ll be able to seal everything closed without filling spilling out.  Top each with another circle of dough to make the top of the hand pie.

Use the tines of a fork to crimp the edges of the dough (see the picture below).  This will help to seal the pies shut.

Brush the tops of the hand pies with the beaten egg.  This will help to ensure that the hand pies get brown and crispy.  Sprinkle each hand pie with kosher salt.  Cut a small slit or two into the top of each pie to allow steam to escape.

Bake your pies according to the directions for whatever pie dough you’ve used.  I baked mine at 400 for 20ish minutes to get them to be golden-brown.

Butternut Squash, Kale, and Feta Hand Pies | A Nerd CooksThey are delicious right out of the oven and piping hot, as well as at room temperature.

Chicken Tikka Masala

I talked about my affinity for Chinese food takeout in my post about Crockpot Honey Sesame Chicken.  And that is still true.  I like it more than I probably should.  However, my love of Chinese takeout is eclipsed only by my love of Indian food (and maybe sushi…).  But seriously, I am unable to say no to Indian food.

Since moving out to the suburbs, we have yet to find an Indian restaurant in our area that will satisfy my cravings.  Rather than, you know, being patient or having self control, I took matters into my own hands.

Chicken Tikka Masala | A Nerd Cooks

I found this recipe through Bon Appétit, and made a few small modifications.

You’ll need:

  • 4 tsp ground turmeric
  • 2 tsp garam masala
  • 3 tsp ground cumin
  • 6 garlic cloves, finely grated
  • 4 tbs peeled ginger, finely grated
  • 1 1/2 cups whole milk yogurt (not Greek*)
  • 1 tbs kosher salt
  • 2 lbs boneless, skinless chicken breasts
  • 3 tbs olive oil
  • 1 small onion, thinly sliced
  • 1/4 cup tomato paste
  • 6 cardamom pods, crushed
  • 1/2 tsp red pepper flakes
  • 28 oz. can whole peeled tomatoes
  • 1 1/4 cups heavy cream
  • 3 tsp curry powder
  • salt, to taste
  • steamed rice, for serving**

Combine the turmeric, garam masala, and cumin in a small bowl.  To another, medium-sized, bowl add half of the spice mixture, garlic, ginger, yogurt, and salt.  Stir everything to combine.

Add the chicken to the bowl and turn to coat everything.  Cover and chill for 4-6 hours.  Cover the remaining half of the spice mixture and set aside.

Heat the olive oil in a large, heavy pot over medium heat.  Add the sliced onion, tomato paste, cardamom, and red pepper flakes.  Cook, stirring often, until the onion begins to soften and the tomato paste has darkened (~5 minutes).  Add the remaining half of the spice mixture, stir to combine, and cook for another 4-5 minutes.

Add the tomatoes with juices, crushing the tomatoes with your hands*** as you add them.  Bring everything to a boil, reduce the heat, and simmer.  Stir often, scraping up the brown bits on the bottom of the pot, until the sauce starts to thicken (~8-10 minutes).

Add the cream and cumin.  Simmer, stirring occasionally, until the sauce thickens a bit more (~30 minutes).

While the sauce is cooking, preheat the broiler to high.  Line a rimmed baking sheet with foil, and top that foil with a wire rack (like the one you’d use for cooling your cookies).  Arrange the marinated chicken breasts on top of the rack.  Broil for 10 minutes, or until black spots start to form on the chicken.  Note that the meat will not be cooked the whole way through.

After broiling the chicken, cut it into bite-sized pieces.  After the sauce has been simmering for about 30 minutes, add chicken to the sauce and simmer, stirring occasionally, until the chicken is cooked through (~15 additional minutes).  Add salt to taste.

Serve over rice.

This chicken tikka masala is pretty fabulous.  It’s very, very close to the stuff I would get from Lumbini or Mughal Garden in Baltimore.  I will be making this again and again, and hope that you will too!

*I had a bit of a difficult time finding whole milk, non-Greek yogurt.  The grocery store where I usually shop had exclusively Greek yogurt and low-fat flavored varieties.  I ended up finding it at Wegmans, though.

**I cooked some basmati rice according to the directions on the bag. Before putting the lid on to let things simmer, I added a bit of salt, a couple of star anise, and a few more crushed cardamom pods.

***Holy crap, these things were messy.  I should have taken a picture of the mess that I made.  Every now and then, when squeezing one, it would squirt across the room: on the floor, the (white!) walls, all over my clothes… you name it, it got dirty.  Please be more careful than I was! =)