Merlot Chocolate Cheesecake

I know, it’s another cheesecake post on what’s technically a clean eating blog. 🤷‍♀️🍷🍫But yesterday I teamed up with my sister Lauren and her friend Julia from Lauren and the Foreign to bring to you this rich, decadent cake. The base is an egg-free, chocolate cheesecake on a delicate graham cracker crust. Then I topped it with a sweet, homemade merlot reduction. It’s the perfect combination of cheese, chocolate and wine!

Be sure to click on the link above watch Lauren and the Foreign’s YouTube channel and check out their Instagram here!

Ingredients

Crust

1 1/2 cups graham cracker crumbs

1 tsp. sugar

1/4 cup melted coconut oil or butter

Filling

1 cup dark chocolate chips

2 Tbs. melted coconut oil or butter

2 8-oz. packages of 1/3 fat cream cheese (room temperature)

1/2 cup sugar

2 Tbs. raw honey

1 Tbs. unsweetened cocoa

2 tsp. pure vanilla

1/4 tsp. sea salt

Topping

1/2 cup merlot

1 cup sugar

Directions

Grease the bottom and sides of an 8 inch spring-form pan with canola spray or melted coconut oil/butter.

Put the graham crackers in a food processor and grind until they are just small crumbs. Add the sugar and pulse a few more times.

In a small bowl, mix the graham cracker crumbs with the melted coconut oil or butter. Then press the mixture firmly into the bottom of the prepared pan. Set aside.

Add approximately an inch of water to the bottom of a double boiler and melt 1 cup of dark chocolate chips on medium heat. Stir every few minutes and be sure not to get any water in the chocolate. When the chocolate chips are melted, remove from heat and stir in 2 Tbs. of melted butter or coconut oil. Allow the mixture to cool for 10 minutes.

Preheat the oven to 325°F. In a large, deep bowl, combine the somewhat-cooled chocolate mixture, cream cheese, sugar, honey, cocoa, vanilla, and salt. Use an electric mixture to mix all the ingredients until smooth and creamy. Be sure to scrape down the sides every so often to ensure that everything is well combined. Be sure not to use the slowest setting and do not over mix.

Put the filling in the spring form pan and using a small offset spatula, smooth out the filling until it is even across the pan.

Bake for 30 minutes, making sure to not open the oven! Any rapid change in temperature or humidity can lead to cracking and caving.

Turn the oven off and let the cheesecake rest in the oven for another 30 minutes, still not opening the door. When the time is up, let the cheesecake cool for approximately 30 more minutes before letting it chill and set up in the refrigerator for at least three hours and up to overnight.

While the cheesecake is baking, it is time to start the reduction! In a saucepan, add the sugar and merlot. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer for three minutes. Remove from heat and allow to cool and set up.

Pour the merlot reduction on the cheesecake and smooth it out with a small offset spatula. Enjoy!

Tips

Make sure you put together the spring form pan correctly. Otherwise, oil from the crust will leak into the oven causing a huge mess. I’ve learned this the hard way. Three times to be exact.

Line a baking sheet with foil and put the spring form pan on it while baking. This will prevent any major mess in the event that some leakage does occur.

Allow the cream cheese to reach room temperature so that it mixes smoothly.

Again, whatever you do, do not open the oven until it is time to take it out. I know it’s tempting, but this is crucial to cheesecake success! This is also where it becomes imperative that the pan is put together correctly and a baking sheet is below the pan. If you have to open the oven to clean up burned butter as the house fills with haze, the cheesecake will surely cave in the middle. (Yes, I also learned this the hard way.)

If the cake does cave in, the ganache will likely fill the crater, but not the edges. What you can do to remedy the situation is make a little buttercream frosting and pipe a boarder around the cake. No one will know that it’s caved in and you get frosting too!

Don’t cover the cheesecake in the fridge until it is totally cool to prevent condensation from collecting on top. If this does happen, dab it off with a paper towel.

Vegan Cranberry Orange Muffins

Good morning! Since everything is still closed due to the extreme cold, I figured it would be a perfect time to bake a batch of muffins. Although I’m only egg free, I decided to make this recipe totally vegan for those of you who are. The egg is replaced by flax seed and butter with coconut oil. To make the muffins a little healthier, I used whole wheat flour instead of white and reduced the sugar to only 1/4 cup since the orange juice and cranberries have enough sweetness of their own. The recipe is also super simple and will be ready to go in the oven in only a few minutes.

Ingredients

1 Tbs ground flax seed

3 Tbs hot water

2 cups whole wheat pastry flour

1/4 cup sugar

1 tsp baking powder

1/2 tsp baking soda

1/2 tsp salt

1/4 cup melted coconut oil

3/4 cup orange juice

Zest of one orange

1 cup dried cranberries

Directions

In a small bowl, mix the flax seed and water to form an egg substitute and set aside. Preheat the oven to 400°F and grease a muffin tin or line it with muffin cups.

In a large bowl, combine the flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. In a separate bowl, whisk the “egg”, juice, oil, and zest. Add the wet ingredients to the dry and stir until everything is moistened, being careful not to over mix. Gently fold in the dried cranberries.

Fill each muffin cup 3/4 full with batter and bake for about 15 minutes or until the tops are golden and a toothpick inserted in a muffin comes out clean. Enjoy!

Artisan Bread

Today I want to share a super simple bread recipe from It’s Always Autumn. There are only four ingredients and no kneading is required. All you need is flour, yeast, salt, and water! It’s crisp and chewy on the outside, but soft and delightful on the inside. Enjoy a slice or two alongside your favorite winter soup or by itself with butter and raw honey.

Ingredients

  • 3 cups all purpose flour
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1/2 tsp yeast
  • 1 1/2 cups warm water

Directions

In a large bowl, combine all of the ingredients and stir until the dough comes together into a cohesive ball. It will still be sticky, but that’s okay.

Cover the bowl and set aside for 8-24 hours at room temperature. When you’re ready to bake it, turn the dough onto a well floured surface, form it into a ball, and let rest for 30 minutes.

While the dough is resting, preheat the oven to 450° and place a baking dish with sides in the oven.

Remove the dish and grease with olive oil before placing the dough inside. Cover and bake for 30 minutes.

Remove the cover and continue baking for 10-15 minutes or until the top is golden brown. Enjoy!

Lemon Cheesecake

Around Easter last year, I shared a recipe for Egg-Free Lemon Cheesecake. Since then, I have improved the recipe and would like to give an updated version. This is a great recipe to have on hand for spring and summer or right now in the middle of January when we sometimes wish it was already spring.

This cake features a soft graham cracker crust, sweet lemon filling, and is topped off with a tangy, curd. It’s a rather involved recipe, so I would recommend reading through it before starting so you know what you’re getting into. Enjoy!

Makes one 8 inch cheesecake or four 4 inch cheesecakes

Ingredients

Crust

1 1/2 cups graham cracker crumbs

1 tsp sugar

1/4 cup melted butter

Filling

1 cup white chocolate chips*

2 Tbs. melted butter

2 8-oz. packages of 1/3 fat cream cheese

1/2 cup sugar

2 Tbs. raw honey

2 tsp. lemon extract

1/4 tsp. sea salt

Zest of one lemon

Lemon Curd

1/2 cup heavy cream

1/3 cup + 1 Tbs. fresh lemon juice

1/3 cup + 1 Tbs. sugar

1/3 cup melted butter

1/4 cup water

1/8 tsp. sea salt

2 Tbs. corn starch

Directions

Grease the bottom and sides of an 8 inch spring-form pan with canola spray or melted butter.

Grind graham crackers in a food processor and until they are just small crumbs and you have 1 1/2 cups worth. In a small bowl, mix the cracker crumbs with sugar and add melted butter. Then press the mixture firmly into the bottom of the prepared pan. Set aside.

Add approximately an inch of water to the bottom of a double boiler and melt 1 cup of white chocolate chips* on medium heat. Stir every few minutes and be sure not to get any water in the chocolate. When the chips are melted, remove from heat and stir in 2 Tbs. of melted butter. Allow the mixture to cool for 10 minutes.

Preheat the oven to 325°F. In a large, deep bowl, combine the somewhat-cooled chocolate mixture, cream cheese, sugar, honey, lemon extract, sea salt, and lemon zest. Use an electric mixer to blend all the ingredients until smooth and creamy. Be sure to scrape down the sides every so often to ensure that everything is well combined. Do not over-mix.

Put the filling in the spring form pan and using a small offset spatula, smooth out the filling until it is even across the pan.

Bake for 30 minutes, making sure to not open the oven! Any rapid change in temperature or humidity can lead to cracking and caving.

Turn the oven off and let the cheesecake rest in the oven for another 30 minutes, still not opening the door. When the time is up, remove the cake let it cool for approximately 30 more minutes before letting it chill and set up in the refrigerator. Wait at least three hours before serving.

While the cheesecake cools, it is time to make the lemon curd! In a small saucepan, heat the cream, lemon juice, sugar, butter, water, and sea salt on medium heat. Whisk frequently. After about 2-3 minutes, add the cornstarch and whisk continuously until it thickens. You will know the curd is thick enough when it has a custard-like consistency and the whisk leaves a mark in it. Allow to cool slightly before spreading over the cheesecake with a small offset spatula. Do not wait for it to set up completely, as it would be hard to spread. Any leftover curd can be stored in the refrigerator for two weeks. Serve with whipped cream and enjoy!

Tips

*Be sure to read the ingredients on the white chocolate chips and avoid artificial flavors. I use Trader Joe’s brand because they contain actual cocoa butter.

Make sure you put together the spring form pan correctly. Otherwise, oil from the crust will leak into the oven causing a huge mess. I’ve learned this the hard way. Three times to be exact.

Line a baking sheet with foil and put the spring form pan on it while baking. This will prevent any major mess in the event that some leakage does occur.

Again, whatever you do, do not open the oven until it is time to take it out. I know it’s tempting, but this is crucial to cheesecake success! This is also where it becomes imperative that the pan is put together correctly and a baking sheet is below the pan. If you have to open the oven to clean up burned butter as the house fills with haze, the cheesecake will surely cave in the middle. (Yes, I also learned this the hard way.)

If the cake does cave in, the curd will fill the space. To make the edges more appealing, you can make a little buttercream frosting and pipe a boarder around the cake. No one will know that it’s caved in and you get frosting too!

Don’t cover the cheesecake in the fridge until it is totally cool to prevent condensation from collecting on top. If this does happen, dab it off with a paper towel.

The lemon curd is naturally an cream color, so if you want it to be yellow, simply add a drop or two of yellow food coloring.

Pumpkin Cheesecake

Happy Thanksgiving! Despite this being a clean eating blog, I just have to share my favorite Thanksgiving dessert. (Comment below with your favorites!) Besides, as long as it’s in moderation, a homemade dessert from scratch is always acceptable! This cheesecake features a buttery, chocolate chip cookie crust and a pumpkin spiced filling, topped off with a smooth, creamy, chocolate ganache. If you’re feeling extra ambitious, try piping a buttercream border around the top. 

This recipe is a bit involved, especially if you want to make your own cookies for the crust first, so I’d suggest reading through the whole recipe before you get started. Also, refer to some general cheesecake tips below:

  • Don’t open the oven at anytime will the cake is baking or resting in the hot oven. Rapid temperature fluctuations can cause cracking and caving.
  • Place a baking sheet under the spring-form pan. Sometimes butter leaks out the bottom which can cause a real mess in your oven otherwise.

Ingredients

Cheesecake

1 1/2 cup cookie crumbs

1/4 cup melted butter

1 15 oz. can pumpkin puree

2 8 oz. packages cream cheese

1/2 cup sucanat

1/2 cup sugar

3 Tbs. cornstarch

1 tsp. Penzeys ground cinnamon

1/2 tsp. Penzeys ground ginger

1/4 tsp. Penzeys ground nutmeg

Chocolate Ganache

1/2 cup semisweet chocolate chips

1/3 cup whipping cream

1 tsp. melted butter

 

Directions

Cheesecake

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit and grease an 8-inch spring-form pan. In a small bowl, combine the melted butter and cookie crumbs. Press into the bottom of the spring-form pan and set aside.

In a large bowl, combine the cream cheese can pumpkin using an electric mixer until smooth. In a smaller bowl, whisk together the other dry ingredients and add to the cream cheese mixture. Again, use the electric mixer, but do not mix more than necessary.

Place the filling in the spring-form pan on top of the cookie crust. Smooth it out using an offset spatula. Be sure that the filling is even and there are no large air pockets underneath. Set the pan on a baking sheet to catch any dripping butter and bake for 45 minutes. Turn off the oven and let cake rest in the hot oven for another 30 minutes.  Do not open the oven at all during this time! Any rapid changes to temperature will cause the cheesecake to crack or cave in. Remove the cheesecake from the oven and allow to cool completely before refrigerating. The cake will need at least three hours in the fridge to set up.

Chocolate Ganache

Place chocolate chips in a heat safe bowl. In a small saucepan, bring whipping cream and melted butter to a boil. Remove from heat and pour over chocolate chips. Let the chocolate and cream sit for 5 minutes before stirring to combine. Pour over cooled cheesecake and smooth with an offset spatula. Place the cake in the refrigerator to allow ganache to set up.

Optional

  • Use vanilla buttercream frosting to pipe a border around the cheesecake for an extra touch. 
  • Serve with whipped cream. 

3 Ingredient Roasted Butternut Squash

Fall is finally here which means back to school as well as lots of opportunities for fall baking. I’ve been settling into apartment life for the past month and now that classes have started again, it’s hard to find time to actually cook wholesome meals. Thankfully I had yesterday morning free to do a little meal prep, including roasting some squash from my grandpa’s garden. It makes a perfect side with pretty much anything. This recipe is extremely simple and easy too (only three ingredients), so it’s perfect for this busy time of year. Enjoy!

butternut (1)

Ingredients:

1 Butternut squash

2 Tbs. butter

2 Tbs. brown sugar

Directions:

  1. Preheat oven to 400°F.
  2. Cut squash into halves vertically and scoop out seeds to discard. Place the squash skin side down in a glass baking dish.
  3. Make three slices in each half of the squash, being sure not to cut all the way through. (See above photos.) This will allow the butter and brown sugar to flavor more of the squash.
  4. Spread the butter evenly on both halves and sprinkle with brown sugar.
  5. Bake skin side up for approximately 30 minutes or until the squash is soft a fork can be inserted easily.
  6. Squash can be eaten as is or scooped out of the skins and mashed. Enjoy!

 

Mocha Chocolate Chip Scones

I’m not sure what took me so long, but just a few months ago I discovered that coffee is actually really good! Back in first and second grade, my school had Friday cooking classes. Well one fateful week, the recipe was coffee milkshakes. All it took was one sip and I didn’t touch coffee for ten years! Yeah, it was that bitter.

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As it turns out though, I wasn’t actually scarred for life. One day, during my second semester of college, I thought I’d give it a try again just to see what I thought. Yes, I was in need of a caffeine source, but that honestly wasn’t the only reason. Besides, there’s only so much sleep coffee can replace anyway.

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I decided to only try it black because I didn’t want to get hooked on any sugary drinks. To my surprise, though it was bitter, I kind of liked it! And ever since then I’ve been drinking coffee…and baking with it. Because let’s be honest, what goes better with a warm cup of coffee than a mocha chocolate chip scone?

Makes 16 scones

Scone

Ingredients

Scones

1 Tbs. ground flax seed

3 Tbs. hot water

2 cups whole wheat pastry flour

1/3 cup sugar

1/3 cup cocoa

1 Tbs. baking powder

1/2 tsp. salt

1/3 cup cold butter

1/4 cup half and half

1/4 cup coffee reduction sauce

1 tsp. pure vanilla extract

2/3 cup mini chocolate chips

Glaze

Powdered sugar

Cocoa

Half and half

Coffee syrup

Directions:

  1. Make the coffee syrup according to the linked recipe and set aside.
  2. In a medium sized bowl, whisk the flax and hot water to make an egg substitute. Set aside.
  3. Preheat the oven to 400°F and line a baking sheet with parchment paper or with a silicone baking mat.
  4. In a large bowl, mix the flour, sugar, cocoa, baking powder, and salt.
  5. Cut in the butter and begin combining the ingredients using a pastry blender. Then, use your hands to make sure all the butter is evenly distributed and there are no large pieces left.
  6. Add the half and half, coffee syrup, and vanilla to the flax mixture and give it a whisk.
  7. Pour the liquid ingredients into the large bowl and stir until the ingredients come together. Again, you may have to use your hands to knead the dough since scones are by nature a little dry.
  8. Fold in the chocolate chips.
  9. Turn out the dough on a lightly floured surface and divide it into two pieces. Form each piece into a circle about two inches thick.
  10. Cut each circle into eight triangular scones.
  11. Place all 16 scones on the baking sheet and bake for 12-14 minutes. A toothpick inserted into the center should come out clean when they are done (with the exception of some melted chocolate chip).
  12. While they are cooling, whisk together the ingredients for the glaze. I don’t have an exact recipe for it, so it can be adjusted based on your taste preferences. I recommend using roughly 1 to 1 1/2 cups powdered sugar and 2 Tbs. cocoa (more or less depending on how much chocolate flavor you want). Then add half and half and coffee syrup until the glaze comes together. The consistency shouldn’t be liquid, but it should be thin enough to drizzle over the scones. If you want a mild coffee flavor, use more half and half and if you prefer a stronger flavor, use more coffee syrup.
  13. Drizzle the scones with glaze using a fork , whisk, or piping bag. Enjoy!