Tips for creating beautiful holiday treat boxes

Christmas cookies selection
Note: this post contains affiliate links.

For the better half of the past decade, one of my favorite parts of the holiday season has been creating treat boxes for our friends, neighbors, and families. I don’t remember a lot of the gifts I received as a kid, but I do remember the couple annual homemade cookie packages we’d receive every Christmas. While I didn’t have a clue about baking then, I admired the care and time required to create something so special.

Once I started baking, I knew I wanted to start my own tradition of spreading cheer through edible gifts. If you want to do the same but don’t know where to start, have no fear! This post lays out all my best practices for creating beautiful treat boxes, stress-free. In this guide, you’ll find advise on:

  • Treat selection
  • Scheduling, including a suggested timeline
  • Packaging supplies
  • Storage
  • Shipping cookies
  • Bonus pro-tips
  • Recipes to get you started

Treat Selection

Variety

For the most interesting treat box, variety is king. I aim for 8-12 different treats; but even 4 to 6 varieties will dazzle. Variety can be visual — think different shapes, colors, and sizes. But also consider varieties of texture and flavor. For example, I aim for a range of chewy, crunchy, and melt-in-your-mouth buttery textures.

When it comes to flavors, I like including at least one treat in each of the following categories:

Think Beyond Cookies

In addition to cookies, I love adding chewy caramel candies, marshmallows, English toffee, peppermint bark, and even little packages of savoury crackers in my holiday treat boxes. An added bonus is that many confections last for several weeks when stored properly, so you can make these ahead of time.

Familiar vs. new recipes

I know how it is. Your favorite blogger or foodie magazine publishes a dozen new holiday recipes. You want to make All. The. Cookies.

If you are trying to make holiday treat boxes on a somewhat large scale (i.e. more than a dozen), I HIGHLY recommend making a test batch of any new recipe you want to include. There’s nothing more disappointing than having a flop right in the middle of production with no time, ingredients, or energy to replace it with something else. At the very least, bake one test cookie for new batches so you can determine the proper bake time and temperature for your oven. King Arthur Baking has an excellent article on how to effectively bake test cookies.

I usually make about 2/3 familiar favorites and 1/3 new recipes each year. If you do treat boxes year after year, eventually you’ll build up a varied repertoire of cookies that you can mix and match to keep things fresh for both you and your recipients.

Time and Energy

Are you swamped every December with barely any time to bake? That doesn’t mean you can’t pull off a beautiful treat box, but you’ll need to plan your baking schedule carefully and choose recipes that aren’t too time-consuming. For example, bar and drop cookies are faster to make than cutout or sandwich cookies.

Do you genuinely like decorating individual gingerbread men with royal icing or do you lose steam after the first cookie (*raises hand*). Go for treats that you actually enjoy making and add flair with simple flourishes like sparkling sugars, festive sprinkles, or dipped glazes.

In the end, creating these boxes is about bringing cheer to others. It’s hard to do that if you’re stressed and overcommitted, so take some time to plan a selection that’s appropriate given your time and skill. Have fun!

Scheduling

I give myself about a month to plan out and execute treat boxes. A slow and steady approach allows me to enjoy the process without getting stressed out. Here’s how I break it down:

  • 4 weeks out
    • Create recipient list
    • Make treat selection and calculate number of batches needed per recipe
    • Do test batches for new recipes
    • Inventory and shop for packaging supplies
    • Can start making and freezing cookie dough
  • 3 weeks out
    • Inventory and shop for ingredients
    • Continue making and freezing cookie dough
  • 2 weeks out
    • Make and package confections
    • Bake longer shelf-life cookies
    • Continue making and freezing cookie dough
  • 1 week out
    • Print any labels or lists to include inside boxes
    • Finish making all cookie dough (freeze or refrigerate per recipe instructions)
  • 1-2 days before delivery
    • Bake shorter shelf life cookies
  • 12-24 hours before delivery
    • Assemble packages

Storage

Once you’ve baked your treats, cool them completely before storing. Keep each type in a separate container. If you store everything together, dry-textured cookies will pull moisture from chewier cookies; and individual flavors will all start melding into each other (peppermint-flavored gingerbread, anyone?).

To keep everything as fresh as possible, I try to package treat boxes within 24 hours of delivery. Let your recipients know that the contents are best consumed ASAP!

treat boxes

Packaging

While there are a myriad ways to package your treats, I like using bakery-style window boxes. They’re professional-looking, budget-friendly, and available in various sizes. I buy mine from a local packaging company here in Toronto. Check your local baking supply store for options. If you go with any paper style box, lay down some tissue or parchment paper on the bottom to prevent grease stains.

Here are some other packaging materials I use every year:

  • Clear candy bags for confections or anything that needs an extra layer of protection. These come in many sizes.
  • Twisting wax paper for individually wrapping caramels or other sticky candies. A huge time saver!
  • Cupcake liners of different sizes to separate different treats. Get them in festive patterns to add some color!

I also like to include a list of all the cookies included (noting any that contain nuts or other allergens) so that people have an idea of what they’re getting.

Execution

The freezer is your friend

Most cookie doughs freeze well for several months, so you can actually prep many recipes well in advance. You can freeze some fully baked cookies, though avoid any with a sugar coating or glazes — those elements don’t hold up well in the freezer. In general, I prefer freezing unbaked dough vs. already baked goods. I try to bake off dough within two months for optimal freshness.

Whether you freeze your cookies baked or unbaked, keep them well wrapped and sealed, and label everything clearly. The biggest enemies of frozen goods are freezer burn and unwanted scents.

Create a game plan

Once you’ve selected what treats to include, determine the approximate order of when items should be prepared. Many recipes include shelf life and make ahead information; if not, google is your friend. I like make all my confections (marshmallows, caramels, toffee) first, as they have a longer shelf-life than cookies. Next come sturdy/drier cookies, such as shortbread and biscotti. Bake drop-style cookies last as they usually are at their peak for 3-5 days.

Assembly line

If you’re packaging up more than a couple boxes at a time, have each item prepped before doing your final assembly. Confections should be sealed up, and cookies can be portioned out and placed in cupcake liners. Put together one sample box to make sure everything fits the way you like, then use that as your guide for packaging all the other boxes.

Shipping cookies

While I don’t mail cookies, I’ve often flown across the country with packages of baked goods. My best advice is to pack your baked goods in airtight, sturdy, non-crushable boxes — tins are great. Wrap pairs of cookies like sandwiches in plastic wrap and use plenty of padding material so they can’t move. If the cookies can rattle around, they’ll probably break. Stick to sturdy cookies and bars. Here are a few excellent articles for more information on shipping cookies successfully:

Bonus Pro-Tips

If you’re changing a recipe’s batch size, write out the new ingredient quantities.

If you’re halving, doubling, or tripling a recipe, calculate and write out the new ingredient quantities before starting. Do not depend on your mental math in the moment. At some point you will forget you’re not making the recipe as written and ruin your batch of cookies by not properly scaling the sugar, raising agent, or flour. I SPEAK FROM EXPERIENCE.

On big baking days, bake recipes starting from low oven temp to high oven temp.

To maximize efficiency when baking multiple types of cookies, take a minute to check the oven temperatures for each recipe. Start with the cookies that require the lowest temperature, then work up to those with the highest oven temperature. As always, I recommend an oven thermometer to make ensure your oven is running true to dial. My favorite is the ThermoWorks Dot coupled with a high temperature probe and clip.

Take notes during and after assembly.

If you want to make treat boxes an annual tradition, your future self will appreciate your taking good notes about the process each year. Beyond a basic thumbs up or down for each new recipe, I like to include logistical details (i.e. Only include x number of cookies per tray or they’ll spread into each other! Cut marshmallows into an 8×10 grid so you have enough for everyone!) and links to products I found especially useful. Every year I learn something new and the entire process feels more efficient.

christmas cookies on sheet tray

Recipes to get you started

Pumpkin Cream Cheese Bundt Cake with Maple-Olive Oil Glaze

pumpkin bundt cake
Note: this post contains affiliate links.

Several years ago, while looking for a new way to use up some pumpkin puree (in Canada, a typical can size is almost twice as big as the 15-oz. can in the States, so I ALWAYS have some leftover after making pumpkin pie) I stumbled upon Yossy Arefi’s beautiful pumpkin bundt cake recipe in the New York Times. After the first bite I remember thinking, “This is it, this the only pumpkin cake I need.” It’s perfectly textured and spiced (please use freshly ground cardamom and black pepper — it makes such a difference!), simple to make, and keeps like a dream.

I’ve been meaning to remake and post about it every year since then; it’s taken a few years, but better late than never. Of course I couldn’t help tinkering a bit, as am wont to do. I swapped in some barley flour, my most recent obsession in sweet baking. Pick up a bag if you have a chance — barley flour is sweet and nutty and subs really well for all purpose, particularly in tender baked goods as it has a low gluten content. I’ve been using it in pancakes/waffles/banana bread/cookies with great success (start with a 1/3 swap and try more the next time if that works out well).

I also added a cream cheese filling because pumpkin and cream cheese are BFFs. And though the brown butter glaze in the original recipe is delicious, I went for an even easier, no stove required maple-olive oil glaze (another Yossy recipe) to echo the olive oil in the cake itself. The addition of olive oil makes an especially rich, glossy glaze — save extras for drizzling over individual slices, if you like.

Baker’s notes:

  • I used my 6-cup heritage bundt cake pan for this cake (a scaled down size of the original recipe). You can double the recipe but make sure to use a 12-cup or larger bundt pan; many large bundt pans are only 9 or 10-cups and I’m pretty sure a double batch would overflow in that size.
  • The eternal question of how to prep a bundt pan…these days I favor cake goop for prepping my bundt pans, but use whatever method works for you! Make sure to get every nook and cranny and don’t forget the middle tube! Let the cake cool for 10 minutes in the pan before turning it out.
  • For the minimalistic glaze drizzle I only needed a tiny amount of glaze (I still had extra, which we drizzled onto slices). If you have a bundt shape that handles more glaze or you want a generous drizzle, make 1.5x the amount listed.

Pumpkin Cream Cheese Bundt Cake with Maple-Olive Oil Glaze

Makes one 6-cup bundt cake | Cake barely adapted from the New York Times | Glaze recipe from Yossy Arefi

Ingredients:

For the cream cheese filling:

  • 113g cream cheese, softened (about half a block)
  • 30g granulated sugar
  • Dash of vanilla extract
  • Pinch of kosher salt
  • Squeeze of lemon juice

For the pumpkin bundt cake:

  • 57g unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 200g light brown sugar
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp baking soda
  • Scant 3/4 tsp kosher salt (I use Diamond Crystal)
  • 1 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 1 tsp ground cardamom (preferably freshly ground – I use 6 pods)
  • 1/8 tsp cloves
  • Few cracks of black pepper
  • 55g extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 large egg, at room temperature
  • 213g pure pumpkin puree
  • 60g sour cream, at room temperature
  • 125g all purpose flour
  • 67g barley flour (or substitute spelt or more all purpose)

For the maple olive oil glaze:

  • 50g icing sugar, sifted
  • Pinch of kosher salt
  • 12g (1 1/2 Tbsp) extra virgin olive oil
  • 15g (1 1/2 Tbsp) maple syrup
  • 1 tsp hot water, plus more as needed

Method:

Make the cream cheese filling: In a small bowl, whisk together all ingredients until smooth. Transfer to a piping bag and set aside while you prepare the cake batter.

Make the pumpkin bundt cake: Preheat the oven to 350F with a rack in the middle. Grease and flour a 6-cup bundt pan (or brush it with cake goop), making sure to get all the crevices and the middle tube, where cake especially likes to stick.

In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, combine the butter, sugar, baking powder, baking soda, and spices. Mix on medium speed until smooth and combined, 1-2 minutes (the mixture will be thick). Scrape down the bowl and paddle and add the olive oil. Mix on medium-high until light and thickened, 2-3 minutes. Add the egg and mix on medium for 20 seconds. Scrape down the paddle and the bowl. Add the pumpkin and sour cream and mix until well combined. Remove the bowl from the mixer.

Whisk the flours together in a small bowl, then add to the wet ingredients (sift them in if lumpy). Use a flexible spatula to fold the flour in until smooth and no dry bits remain. Scrape the sides and bottom of the bowl to ensure the batter is well combined.

Add about half the batter to the prepared bundt pan. Tap to level and dislodge any air bubbles. Snip the end off the piping bag and pipe the cream cheese filling on top, leaving a 1-inch border on each side (try not to touch the edges of the pan). Add the remaining cake batter on top and smooth the top with an offset spatula. Place the bundt pan on a baking sheet.

Bake until the cake is puffed and a skewer inserted near the center comes out clean or with a few moist crumbs, 40-45 minutes. Cool in the pan for 10 minutes, then invert onto a wire rack and cool completely before glazing.

Make the maple olive oil glaze: When the cake has cooled, make the glaze. In a medium bowl, whisk together all glaze ingredients to make a thick and pourable glaze. (Add hot water a 1/4 tsp at a time if needed to thin the consistency). Pipe, spoon, or drizzle glaze onto the cake. Let glaze set for 10 minutes before serving. Refrigerate leftovers in an airtight container for 4-5 days; bring to room temperature before serving.

pumpkin bundt cake slice

Related recipes:

Pumpkin Spice Latte Pie

pumpkin spice latte pie

This pumpkin spice latte pie celebrates the perfect match that is pumpkin and espresso. To ensure the pie is equally about the coffee as it is the pumpkin and spice, I use a triple threat of coffee-infused dairy, espresso powder, and brewed coffee to inject a well-rounded and potent espresso kick into the custard. Using just espresso powder can be overly harsh and bitter; brewed espresso/coffee typically isn’t strong enough to make an impression on its own. So I prefer to steep my cream and milk with whole coffee beans to establish a solid baseline flavor, then use espresso powder and brewed espresso to adjust the strength.

But I encourage you to choose your own level of coffee forward-ness in this pie: before adding espresso powder and raw eggs, taste the custard and adjust to your liking. If you’re more of a latte drinker, you may want to not add any powder or just a touch. If you lean towards espresso shots or black coffee, add more to taste.

pumpkin spice latte pie in pie plate

Baker’s notes:

  • The whole coffee beans will absorb some of the dairy during steeping, so I start with 15% more dairy to account for loss. Measure the amount after steeping and top up as necessary — every batch will yield a slightly different amount due to different coffee bean size/shapes, how well pans are scraped out, etc.
  • To avoid cracks in your pie, use the spoon bouncing technique to rid your custard of any errant air bubbles (see an example in my Instagram reels). Note: if you’re doing this once the filling is in the crust, don’t bang the pan to avoid cracking your crust! These bubbles can rise to the surface during baking and cause little fissures. Also, don’t overbake the pie! Take the pie out when there’s still a wobble in the center — it will continue to bake and set as it cools.
  • Make sure to allow time for your pie to completely cool and chill. I like baking my pumpkin pies a day ahead of serving; the spices meld a little and the custard firms to the texture I prefer.
  • You can find a more classic version of pumpkin pie (along with my favorite pie crust recipe) in my cookbook!

Pumpkin Spice Latte Pie

Makes one 9″ pie | Adapted from Baked to Order

Ingredients:

For the coffee-infused dairy (start the night before baking the pie):

  • 200g heavy cream (35%), plus more as needed
  • 145g whole milk
  • 42g (1/2 c) whole coffee beans, preferably espresso roast

For the pumpkin spice latte pie:

  • 425g pure pumpkin puree (one full 15 oz can)
  • 150g (3/4 c) light brown sugar
  • 1 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 tsp ground ginger
  • 1/4 tsp ground nutmeg, preferably freshly grated
  • 1/8 tsp ground allspice
  • 1/8 tsp ground cloves
  • 1/8 tsp ground black pepper
  • 1/2 tsp kosher salt (I use Diamond Crystal)
  • 300g coffee-infused dairy, cold
  • 1/2-2 tsp espresso powder (to taste)
  • 15g freshly brewed strong coffee or espresso (optional, or substitute bourbon)
  • 1 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
  • 3 large eggs, cold
  • 1 large egg yolk, cold
  • One par-baked 9″ pie crust (regular or graham cracker; homemade or store-bought)

For serving:

  • Softly whipped cream, lightly sweetened
  • Freshly grated nutmeg or finely ground coffee, for garnish

Method:

Make the coffee-infused dairy: In a medium saucepan, combine the heavy cream and milk. Heat on medium-low until steaming, then remove from heat. Stir in the whole coffee beans, cover, and refrigerate overnight (or up to 24 hours).

When done infusing, strain out the coffee beans with a fine mesh sieve. Measure out 300g infused dairy (top up with more heavy cream, if you’re a little short). Cover and refrigerate until ready to use.

Make the pumpkin spice latte pie: Preheat the oven to 350F with a rack in the middle. Place a baking stone or sheet pan in the oven while it preheats; baking the pie on this preheated surface helps ensure a crisp bottom crust.

In a medium saucepan, combine the pumpkin puree, sugar, spices, and salt. Bring to a sputtering simmer over medium heat, stirring frequently with a heatproof spatula to avoid scorching. Continue to simmer the pumpkin mixture, stirring constantly, until thick and shiny, about 5 minutes.

Remove the pan from the heat and whisk in the coffee-infused dairy until smooth. Taste and add espresso powder until you reach your desired coffee strength (2 tsp will give you an intense coffee kick; start with 1/2 tsp if you want something more subtle). Whisk in the brewed coffee, vanilla, eggs and egg yolk. Strain the mixture into a medium bowl using a spatula to press the solids through the strainer — this takes a little time and effort but ensures a silky-smooth texture.

Place the par-baked pie crust on a foil-lined sheet pan. Re-whisk the filling mixture and scrape it into the crust. Bounce a spoon across the top of the pie to encourage any air bubbles to rise to the surface and pop. Continue bouncing until no more bubbles appear.

Bake, cool, and serve the pie: Bake the pie for 35-45 minutes, or until the edges of the pie are set but the center still wobbles like set jello. Transfer the pie to a wire rack and cool completely to room temperature, then refrigerate for at least 2 hours (I prefer my pumpkin pie cold so I like chilling at least 4 hours or overnight). Serve slices chilled or at room temperature with dollops of softly whipped cream and a grating of fresh nutmeg or some finely ground coffee, if desired. Refrigerate leftovers in an airtight container for up to 3 days.

pumpkin spice latte pie from above
pumpkin spice latte pie slice

Related recipes:

Toasted milk powder (extra-strength brown butter) chocolate chunk cookies

toasted milk powder cookies

Everyone has opinions about chocolate chip cookies. For me, it’s always been about the dough. If I’m going to the effort to make cookies, the cookie dough itself should be full of flavor and well-seasoned, worth eating with or without chocolate. I don’t like cookies that are more chocolate than cookie — if I want that much chocolate, I’ll just eat a chocolate bar.

My go-to base is in my cookbook, Baked to Order. I use brown butter, a mix of flours (including rye), and a hit of espresso powder for an extra flavorful cookie. I still make that recipe often, but lately I’ve been tinkering with it a little to really focus on one particular element: brown butter.

Brown butter has been the darling of the culinary world for…I don’t know, decades now? I’m sure you’re familiar with it. Browning butter is the process of heating butter until the water evaporates and the milk solids (which make up about 3-5% of the butter content) brown. In French, brown butter is called beurre noisette, or “hazelnut butter”, because the aroma resembles toasted hazelnuts. It’s a beautiful thing.

But what if you want to add more brown butter flavor? You can’t just add more brown butter, or the ratio of fat to everything else will result in a very end product. Enter: toasted milk powder.

Milk powder is essentially a concentrated powder of milk solids, made by preheating, evaporating, and reheating milk. It’s a staple in my baking kit; I use it most often in my enriched sourdoughs to make extra tall and soft loaves (by increasing the protein and lactose without adding extra liquid). I first came across the concept of toasting milk powder on Francisco Migoya’s blog, where he talks about adding it to financier batter. It’s brilliant — by toasting the milk powder, you’re adding more of the tasty brown bits that give brown butter its flavor and aroma!

There are a number of ways to toast milk powder. If you want to make a large batch to have on hand, try the microwave method or the pressure cooker method. For these cookies, I decided to just toast the milk powder directly in the browning butter.

Baker’s notes:

  • When toasting the milk powder, keep the heat down and whisk constantly to avoid clumping. Normally I crank the heat up once the butter has melted, but I got more consistent results with the milk powder keeping the temp around medium-low. If your milk powder is clumpy, definitely sift it / break up any lumps before adding to the butter.
  • You can make these cookies straight from the melted butter stage, but these days I prefer the texture of the final cookies when the butter is brought back to a spreadable consistency. Creaming the butter also helps break up any bits of clumpy toasted milk powder that may have formed during the browning process.
  • I’ve added in a touch of liquid (usually coffee) to make up for the moisture loss from browning the butter. It helps the cookies spread more predictably, especially if you’re refrigerating/freezing the dough for more than a day.
  • To get perfectly round cookies, you can scoot them with a round cookie cutter just larger than the baked cookie or use an offset spatula or spoon to nudge them into shape IMMEDIATELY after the cookies come out of the oven. Totally optional; it’s just for looks.

Toasted milk powder (extra-strength brown butter) chocolate chunk cookies

Makes 12-14 cookies | Adapted from Baked to Order

Ingredients:

  • 113g unsalted butter, cubed
  • 45g nonfat milk powder
  • 100g light brown sugar
  • 65g granulated sugar
  • 1/2 tsp baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp baking soda
  • 3g (3/4 tsp) Diamond Crystal kosher salt
  • 1/2 tsp espresso powder (optional)
  • 1 large egg, cold
  • 1 large egg yolk, cold
  • 18g coffee or milk
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 175g all purpose flour
  • 140g good quality dark chocolate, chopped (I like a mix of 55% and 70%)
  • Flaky sea salt, for garnish (optional)

Method:

Make the extra-strength brown butter: In a medium saucepan, melt the butter over medium-low heat. Once the butter has melted, whisk in the milk powder. Continue cooking on medium-low heat, whisking constantly, until the milk solids darken and the butter takes on a toasty, nutty smell. Remove from heat and scrape the butter and all the toasty bits into a heatproof container. Refrigerate until spreadable, about 45 minutes. (You can speed up the process by stirring the butter over an ice bath or sticking it in the freezer, stirring every 5-10 minutes.) You can make the extra-strength brown butter up to a week in advance; bring to room temperature before mixing cookie dough.

Make the cookie dough: In a medium bowl, combine the softened extra-strength brown butter, sugars, baking powder, baking soda, salt, and espresso powder. Using an electric hand-held mixer, mix on medium speed until well combined, 2-3 minutes (the mixture will be a bit crumbly). Scrape down the beaters and sides of the bowl. Add the egg and egg yolk and mix until smooth, then add the coffee or milk and vanilla. Mix until well combined. Scrape down the sides of the bowl. Add the flour and mix on low until the flour is mostly mixed in, then add the chopped chocolate. Switch to a spatula and mix just until the chocolate is evenly distributed and no streaks of flour remain. Cover and refrigerate for BARE MINIMUM 1 hour, but preferably at least four hours (or up to 3 days).

Bake the cookies: Preheat the oven to 350F with a rack in the middle and line two baking sheets with parchment paper. Portion the dough into golf-ball sized portions (weigh them if you want perfectly even cookies — I usually make mine around 55g each, which gives me a baker’s dozen). Place the cookies on the prepared baking sheets about 2½ inches apart and sprinkle the tops with flaky sea salt.

Bake the cookies one sheet at a time until the edges are set and the centers no longer look wet, about 12 to 14 minutes. Rotate the sheet in the oven halfway through baking. Cool the cookies on the baking sheets for about 5 minutes, then transfer to a wire rack to cool completely. Store leftovers in an airtight container.

toasted milk powder cookies

Related recipes and resources:

Sourdough Discard Cheese Crackers

sourdough cheese crackers

These sourdough discard cheese crackers are one of my “oops, got lots of discard that needs using up QUICK” back pocket recipes. But honestly, these crackers are also tasty enough that I’d build lots of starter just to make a batch. I made probably a dozen batches of these over Christmas, portioning them into little packages to include with my yearly cookie boxes as a savoury counterpart to all the sweetness; and nowadays I make a batch every couple of weeks to satiate all the hungry snackers in my house.

The original recipe for these crackers comes from the ever-excellent Bake from Scratch website; I’ve tinkered just slightly with the spices and salt level and developed some handy tips for baking them.

Baker’s Tips:

  • The starter in this recipe is primarily for flavor, not leavening, so its ok to use discard that’s a little old. I just try to use my discard within a week, before it starts developing a layer of alcohol on top or smelling too fermented. The original recipe says to use room temperature discard but I always use cold from the fridge without a problem.
  • A pasta machine is hands-down my favorite way to roll out these crackers thinly and evenly. Of course you can roll by hand — just go thinner than you think as the crackers do puff in the oven. I highly recommend rolling directly on parchment so it’s easy to transfer the dough to the sheet pan; it’ll be too delicate to move without tearing. You can roll on a silicone mat too; just be careful when scoring that you don’t accidentally damage your mat.
  • I prefer to bake crackers on convection setting — it’s a little quicker and I find the browning more even. Every oven is different, though — the first time you make these, I recommend baking one tray of crackers at a time to gauge how long they take in your oven. Also, how thinly you roll your crackers plays a major role in how long they’ll take to bake.
bowl of sourdough cheese crackers

Sourdough Discard Cheese Crackers

Makes about 2 sheet pans’ worth of crackers | Adapted from Bake From Scratch

Ingredients:

  • 65g white whole wheat or sifted wheat flour
  • 63g all-purpose flour
  • 1/4 tsp baking soda
  • 1/2 tsp granulated garlic
  • 1/2 tsp dry mustard
  • 1/4 tsp smoked paprika
  • 5g (1 1/4 tsp) kosher salt (Diamond Crystal)
  • 275g sourdough discard (100% hydration; straight from the fridge is fine)
  • 57g unsalted butter, melted and cooled slightly
  • 60g freshly grated sharp cheddar

Method:

In a small bowl, whisk together the flours, baking soda, spices, and salt.

In a medium bowl, stir together the sourdough discard and melted butter until smooth. Stir in the cheese.

Add the dry ingredients to the wet. Stir/knead together until all the flour is incorporated and the dough has a clay-like consistency. Flatten and wrap with plastic. Refrigerate until chilled, at least 20 minutes (or up to 24 hours).

When ready to bake, preheat the oven to 350F (I prefer convection, if possible; but 350F conventional works fine too) with racks in the upper and lower thirds. Have ready two large pieces of parchment paper and two large baking sheets.

To roll by hand: Divide the dough in half. Place one half in the center of one piece of parchment. Roll into a rectangle as thin as possible (aim for thinner than 1/8″ thick) doing your best to keep the entire piece even. Slide the rolled out dough, still on the parchment, to one of the baking sheets. Repeat with the second half of dough.

To roll with a pasta maker: Alternatively, roll out dough using a pasta maker (my preferred method). In this case, work with about 1/6 of the dough at a time. For my pasta machine, I roll to the 3rd (out of 6) settings. Transfer the strips of dough to parchment lined baking sheets, cutting the strips as needed to fit.

Dock the dough all over with a fork. Use a pastry wheel to score into desired sizes (or leave them whole, and break into shards after baking). If you want to make them look like certain popular commercial cheesy crackers, you can skip the docking, score them into roughly 1.25″ squares, and poke the center of each with a chopstick (this is easier if you’ve rolled with a pin vs. a pasta maker).

Bake, rotating sheets halfway through, until the entire surface is evenly golden and the crackers are crisp. Timing will vary wildly depending on how thinly you rolled the dough; start checking around 15 minutes. Crackers can go from pleasantly golden to too dark very quickly; so once they’ve started to take on color keep a close eye on them. Crackers will also make it blatantly obvious where the hot spots in your oven are; so you may need to transfer some crackers to a cooling rack and let other pieces continue baking a little longer.

Cool crackers completely on a wire rack, then break into pieces and store at room temperature in an airtight container. They should keep for at least a couple weeks, though they’ve never lasted that long around here…

Related recipes and posts:

Simple and classic peach cobbler

peach cobbler
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It’s been a couple years since I made any kind of fruit cobbler. So when we were faced with a fridge overflowing with beautiful Red Haven peaches, I knew it was time. Cobblers exist in many forms; this is the good-old fashioned biscuit-topped style. Both the biscuits and fruit are lightly sweetened so you can enjoy it with a big scoop of ice cream, as God intended.

I usually make cobblers / crumbles / crisps when I crave a fruit-forward dessert but don’t have the time or energy to commit to a pie. To that end, I pack a pie’s worth of fruit into this peach cobbler — two whole pounds, weighed after pitting. My favorite peaches to bake with are ripe but firm — soft ones will turn to mush, and I like my filling to still retain a little bite. Save the extra juicy ones to eat over the sink.

Oh yeah — I don’t peel the peaches. You can if you want, but the skins don’t bother me. I don’t find them leathery or tough, especially after they cook down. If anything, the skins add some welcome texture and more vibrant color. Just make sure to scrub them clean before slicing into wedges.

I also take the speedy approach to biscuits and just chop them into square-ish pieces with a knife. No wastage, no re-patting dough together. Fast, easy, homey is the name of the game here. So enough talking; let’s make some peach cobbler.

peach cobbler pre-bake
peach cobbler side view

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Baker’s notes:

  • You know I love some whole grain flour in my fruity bakes; this time I used spelt in the biscuits. Feel free to sub in something like einkorn, kamut, or whole wheat here; or use more all-purpose if you don’t have whole-grain on hand.
  • Feel free to sub in other fruits for the peaches. Berries, nectarines, plums would all be beautiful here without need for adjustment. If your fruits are particularly juicy you might want to add a little more cornstarch; but cobbler filling needn’t be too set — I prefer it a little runny so it’ll soak into the biscuits better.

Simple and classic peach cobbler

Serves 8

Ingredients:

For the biscuits:
  • 175g all-purpose flour
  • 40g spelt flour (or substitute more all-purpose)
  • 40g granulated sugar
  • 2 1/2 tsp baking powder
  • 1 tsp kosher salt (I use Diamond Crystal)
  • 86g (6T) unsalted butter, cold and cut into 1/2-inch cubes
  • 80g buttermilk, cold (regular milk should work here too)
  • 80g heavy cream, cold, plus more for brushing
  • Turbinado or coarse sugar, for garnish
For the peach filling:
  • 900g (~2 lbs) firm but ripe peaches, cut into eighths (weighed after pitting)
  • 50g light brown sugar
  • A pinch each of kosher salt, cinnamon, nutmeg, and ginger
  • 15g (2T) cornstarch 
  • Juice of 1/2 a medium lemon

Method:

Preheat the oven to 400F with a rack in the middle.

Start by making the biscuit dough. In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, salt, sugar, and baking powder. Scatter the cold butter pieces over the top and, using your fingers or a pastry blender, cut it into the flour mixture until the butter pieces are roughly the size of peas.

Whisk together the buttermilk and cream. Drizzle the mixture over the top of the dry ingredients and gently fold it into the flour mixture using a fork or flexible spatula. Continue to fold the dough onto itself a few times, just until the dough holds together but is still a bit shaggy with a few dry spots. If the dough seems overly dry and won’t come together, drizzle in extra buttermilk or cream 1 tsp at a time, just until it forms a rough mass. Do not overwork the dough.

Turn the dough onto a piece of parchment paper and fold it gently a few times until cohesive. Use your hands to pat it into a rectangle about 1-inch (2.5-cm) thick. Using a bench scraper or sharp knife, cut the dough into quarters. Stack the pieces on top of each other, sandwiching any stray floury bits between the layers, then pat into a rectangle about an inch thick. Slide the dough still on the parchment onto a sheet tray or plate and refrigerate until well-chilled, about 20 minutes (or up to 2 hours — if longer than 20 minutes, cover with plastic wrap).

While the dough is chilling, prepare the peach filling. Place the peach wedges in a large bowl. Whisk together the sugar, spices, salt, and cornstarch and pour over the peaches. Squeeze the lemon juice over the top. Gently stir to combine. Scrape the filling into a 2-quart ovenproof dish (I used an 11×7 oval casserole similar to this Staub one).

Remove the biscuit dough from the fridge. Use a sharp knife to cut into 8 square-ish pieces. Arrange the biscuits on top of the peaches, leaving at least an inch between pieces. Brush the tops with cream and sprinkle generously (I mean it, don’t be stingy) with coarse sugar.

Bake until the biscuits are golden brown and the filling is bubbling vigorously, about 30-40 minutes. If the biscuits are browning too quickly, tent with foil partway through baking. Let cobbler cool for at least 20 minutes before serving. Cobbler is best served the day it’s baked (preferably still a little warm), but leftovers can be refrigerated in an airtight container for up to 3 days. Rewarm before serving.

Related recipes:

peach cobbler with ice cream

Gooseberry Cheesecake Squares

gooseberry cheesecake squares
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This summer I have fallen hard for tart fruits such as gooseberries and currants. I didn’t grow up eating either of them but here in Ontario, both grow prolifically. We recently planted both gooseberry and currant bushes in our yard. They’re still a year or two out from producing fruit but I thought I’d start figuring out ways to use these berries so that when the time comes, we’ll have plenty of ideas for the harvest.

One of the simplest ways to use any fruit is just to make compote — basically a lightly cooked, chunky fruit topping. I don’t really use a recipe for compote. Just toss some fruit in a pot with a little liquid and sugar to taste, and cook to desired consistency. Serve with oatmeal or yogurt; spoon it over pound cake or ice cream; or swirl it into these simple cheesecake bars. Delicious!

Baker’s notes:

  • I used red gooseberries for these bars. I image any kind would work, though the color contrast with the purple/red ones will be the most striking!
  • Don’t have gooseberries? Feel free to substitute another berry in the compote or use a thick jam. Or just leave out the swirl for plain cheesecake bars!
  • One key to a crack-free cheesecake is to not overmix your batter. I always use a food processor to mix cheesecake batter because it’s super fast and great at mixing without aerating; but you can also use a stand mixer or even just a whisk. Just remember that you’re not trying to beat air into the batter — just combine until smooth. It’s imperative to have all your ingredients at room temperature or you’re more likely to get lumps in your cheesecake.
  • The second key to no-crack cheesecake is to bake low and slow and not overbake. For the cheesecake portion I bake at 275F and pull it out when the center is still a little wobbly. Also, cool the bars to room temperature completely before chilling in the fridge. Sudden temperature changes can cause cracks as well. Definitely don’t skip the chilling — this helps the bars set up completely and also makes them easy to slice.
gooseberry cheesecake squares

Gooseberry Cheesecake Squares

Makes one 8×8″ pan

Ingredients:

For the gooseberry compote:
  • 200g fresh gooseberries (preferably red), tops and bottoms trimmed
  • Squeeze of lemon juice
  • 15g granulated sugar (to taste)
For the graham cracker crust:
  • 175g graham cracker or chocolate cookie crumbs
  • 12g light brown sugar (optional; can sub granulated)
  • Pinch of kosher salt
  • 56g unsalted butter, melted
For the cheesecake filling:
  • 340g (1 1/2 blocks) full-fat cream cheese, at room temperature (I always use Philadelphia brand)
  • 100g granulated sugar
  • 1/4 tsp kosher salt (I always use Diamond Crystal)
  • 1 1/2 tsp pure vanilla extract
  • 1 Tbsp lemon juice
  • 2 large eggs, at room temperature
  • 120g sour cream, at room temperature

Method:

Make the gooseberry compote: Combine gooseberries, lemon juice, and sugar in a small saucepan. Cook over medium heat, stirring and smashing the berries constantly, until the berries release their juices and the mixture comes to a simmer. Reduce heat to medium-low and continue cooking until the juices thicken, about 6-8 minutes. Remove from heat and blend with an immersion blender (or regular blender) until smooth. Taste and add additional sugar if desired — I like to keep the compote on the tart side to balance out the rich cheesecake. Cool to room temperature. (You can make compote a few days in advance — store in the refrigerator until ready to use.)

Prepare the graham cracker crust: Preheat the oven to 350°F (175°C) with a rack in the middle. Line an 8×8 metal baking pan with foil or two pieces of criss-crossed parchment, leaving about 3 inches of overhang on two sides, and lightly grease.

Stir together the cracker crumbs, sugar, salt, and melted butter. The mixture should hold together if you squeeze it in your hand, but shouldn’t feel overly greasy. If the mixture doesn’t hold together, add more melted butter 1 teaspoon at a time until it does. If overly greasy, add more cracker crumbs, 1 teaspoon at a time, until you get the right texture.

Press the cookie crumbs into the bottom of the pan, using a measuring cup or shot glass to compact the crumbs firmly and evenly. Bake until just set, about 10-12 minutes. Cool on a wire rack while you prepare the cheesecake filling.

Make the cheesecake filling: Lower the oven temperature to 275ºF. Combine the cream cheese, sugar, and salt in the bowl of a food processor. Pulse until combined. Scrape down the sides, add the vanilla and lemon juice, and pulse until smooth. Add the sour cream and pulse until smooth. Scrape down the sides.

Add the eggs one at a time, pulsing after each just to combine. Scrape down the sides and fold the batter a few times to make sure it’s well combined. (Note: you can also use a stand mixer with the paddle attachment to mix this batter; mix on a low speed and scrape down the paddle often to keep the batter smooth and lump-free.)

Assemble the bars: Scrape about half the cheesecake batter over the prepared crust and smooth with an offset spatula. Use a small spoon to dollop on half the gooseberry compote (no need to swirl it in right now). Add the remaining cheesecake batter and smooth it carefully over the top. Dollop on the remaining compote and use a skewer or chopstick to swirl it in.

Bake the bars: Bake the cheesecake bars until the edges are set but the center is still a little wobbly, about 30-35 minutes. Transfer to a wire rack and cool completely to room temperature, then refrigerate uncovered until completely firm (at least 4 hours, but preferably overnight). To serve, use the parchment or foil handles to transfer the cheesecake to a cutting board. Use a sharp knife to cut into desired squares, wiping the blade clean after each cut. Refrigerate leftovers in an airtight container for up to 4 days.

gooseberry cheesecake squares separate

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Sourdough English Muffins

sourdough English muffins
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Friends, I’m pretty excited about these sourdough English muffins. I’ve futzed with English muffins on and off for a few years but nothing has quite ticked all the boxes for me. When it comes to these stovetop-griddled breads, I have two main criteria: first, NOOKS AND CRANNIES. No close-textured interiors here — I want irregular holes for soaking up all that butter or egg yolk (because, sorry bagels, English muffins are THE breakfast sandwich bread).

Second, English muffins should be super easy to pull off for breakfast. While I’m usually up early, I am not a morning baker — I’m not going to spend 2 hours before breakfast mixing and proofing to get something on the table! My English muffins need to be prepped and ready to cook as soon as I roll out of bed.

These English muffins solidly meet both these criteria; and they’re naturally leavened to boot (FLAVOR). I’ve made probably 5 batches in the last couple of weeks to ensure they hold their own toasted/untoasted, in breakfast sandwiches, and as vehicles for butter and jam. Safe to say my sourdough English muffin recipe hunt has ended. I hope you enjoy them as much as we do.

Keys to successful English muffins

  • Cut > Individually shaped: I am a bit obsessive about having evenly portioned breads and buns and no wasted dough; so my first instinct was to individually shape all my English muffins. However, I’ve come around to the roll out and cut method for this particular dough. Roll+cut involves less dough handling, which results in more nooks and crannies. Since we’re cooking these on the stovetop instead of in the oven, absolute evenness is less important– you can just pull off any muffins that may be cooking a little faster than the others. If you want zero wasted dough, you can use a bench knife to cut these into squares instead of punching out rounds. I’m partial to rounds, though; so I just punch out as many as I can, then gently smoosh the scraps together and cut that into equalish portions.
  • Don’t roll too thick: Roll to a 1/2″ thick, no more. The muffins will rise in the pan and be the perfect thickness when done. If you start too thick it’s more likely you’ll end up with burnt outsides and undercooked centers.
  • Oil it up: This dough is on the soft and sticky side, so don’t skimp on oiling surfaces/parchment paper/your cutter/your hands when handling.
  • Low and slow heat: Finding the right temp for your stove and pan takes a little Goldilocks-ing. I use a cast iron pan and keep the heat on the low the entire time. You’re aiming to cook the muffins for about 4-5 minutes per side; so if you notice them browning too fast turn down the heat. If you cook your English muffins in multiple batches like I do, you may need to turn down the heat for the second batch.

Baker’s Notes:

  • This recipe is adapted from Dessert Person by Claire Saffitz (her recipe version is yeasted; so I converted to sourdough and modified the mixing method slightly). Claire recommends scalding the milk but I didn’t find that necessary. I do bring the milk to room temperature before mixing the dough (a couple short pulses in the microwave does the trick) to speed up fermentation.
  • Because this dough is loose, I love using the paddle attachment to get it started and develop the dough quickly. If you use a dough hook the entire time, the dough will take quite a bit longer to knead.
  • To have these muffins ready for breakfast, I usually start mixing the dough in the afternoon the day prior.
sourdough english muffin close-up

Sourdough English Muffins

Makes 8-10 muffins | Adapted from Claire Saffitz

Ingredients:

  • 240g ripe, active sourdough starter (100% hydration)
  • 240g milk, at room temperature (I’ve tried whole, 2%, and buttermilk and all worked fine!)
  • 40g honey
  • 260g bread flour
  • 35g whole wheat flour (spelt or einkorn work beautifully too!)
  • 6g kosher or sea salt
  • 28g unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • Cornmeal, for dusting
  • Neutral oil, for coating

Method:

Mix the dough (afternoon, day 1): Combine all ingredients except butter in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment. Mix on low to hydrate all the flour, then increase the speed to medium and mix until the dough is strong enough to gather around the paddle, about 3 minutes. Scrape down the paddle, cover, and rest for 5 minutes.

Switch to the dough hook. With the mixer on low, add the room temperature butter in two batches, incorporating the first addition completely before adding the next. Once the butter is incorporated, raise the speed to medium and mix until the dough is smooth, shiny, and stretchy, about 3 minutes. This is a fairly soft and sticky dough, but it should be strong enough to hold together and be easily picked up in one piece. If not, beat in additional bread flour a teaspoon at a time until the dough comes together.

Bulk fermentation: Transfer dough to a clean, well-oiled container. Let rise at warm room temperature until roughly doubled. With a dough temperature of 77F, this takes me about 3.5 hours; actual time will vary depending on the strength of your starter and dough temperature.

Shape and cold-proof the dough: When the dough has doubled, line a sheet pan with a silicone mat or oiled parchment paper. Dust generously with cornmeal. Turn the dough carefully onto the prepared pan, doing your best not to degas it too much. (Minimal handling will yield the best nooks and crannies!) Oil the top of the dough and your fingers, and gently press the dough out to a rectangle 1/2″ thick. (I aim for dimensions just over 7″ x 12″; this way I can get about seven 3.5″ English muffins from my first pass.) Grease another piece of parchment and set it over the dough. Cover the whole sheet in plastic or tuck the edges of the parchment around the edges of the dough so it won’t dry out. Refrigerate overnight (8-16 hours).

Cut and cook the English muffins (morning, day 2): Heat a large ungreased cast iron or non-stick skillet (two, if you have them) over low heat. Use an oiled 3.5″ oiled round cookie cutter to cut out rounds from the dough (it’s ok to twist the cutter to make sure the whole edge is cut). I find it easiest to retain a round shape if I transfer the muffins to the skillet as I cut them; so if you’re cooking in batches just cut as many rounds as you can fit in your pan at once. Once you’ve cut as many rounds as you can out of the dough, gently press the scraps together and cut more, or just use a bench scraper to cut the dough into equal-ish pieces (I do this to minimize waste!).

Cook the muffins until puffed and the tops are starting to turn matte at the edges, about 4-5 minutes; flip and cook another 4-5 minutes or until both sides are golden brown and the center registers 200F. The trick is to find and maintain your sweet spot temperature so that the muffins cook completely and brown, but don’t scorch. This takes some practice! In general, low and slow is better. (If you find your muffins are scorching before the centers can cook through, you can pop them in a 350F oven for a few minutes to finish cooking. For future batches, lower the stovetop heat.)

Transfer cooked muffins to a wire rack. Cool to room temperature before fork-splitting and devouring (I like these best untoasted when fresh). Store any leftovers in a plastic bag for up to 2 days; split and toast before enjoying!

english muffins with jam
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Strawberry Double Fromage Cheesecake

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strawberry double fromage cheesecake

If you’re a fan of Asian ASMR YouTube channels, you’ve probably encountered some version of double fromage cheesecake over the years. Popularized by Japanese bakery chain LeTAO, double fromage cheesecake is made up of a sponge cake layer, topped with a layer of baked cheesecake, topped with a layer of cheesecake mousse (or no-bake cheesecake). Once set, the entire cake is dusted with leftover sponge cake crumbs. As with many Asian-style cakes it’s light and lightly sweetened — perfect for warm summer evenings.

LeTAO has actually shared their original recipe on YouTube (it’s in Japanese, but you can get a general idea from the subtitles). With their recipe as a guideline, I created this strawberry version by adding a layer of strawberry gelee between the two cheesecakes and strawberry puree to the cheesecake mousse. To pack a stronger strawberry punch, the whole cake is lightly frosted with strawberry whipped cream and strawberry-speckled cake crumbs (strawberry shortcake Good Humor bar vibes, anyone?).

This strawberry double fromage cheesecake isn’t hard to make, but it does take some time for the different layers to set. You can make it leisurely over one day, or break up the work over a couple days to fit your schedule.

strawberry double fromage cheesecake sliced

Baker’s Notes:

  • You’ll need strawberry puree for the strawberry gelee and strawberry cheesecake mousse layers. I made my own by simply whizzing up some fresh strawberries in a blender, but you can use store-bought puree or use frozen berries (thaw before blending). I like to strain my puree to get rid of the seeds, so I always start with 50% more berries (by weight) than what I need for the recipe. (In this case, I suggest starting with 225g fresh strawberries). Freeze any extras for a later use, or just toss into your next smoothie or swirl into yogurt!
  • I absolutely love the flavor combination of strawberries and elderflower, so I used some IKEA elderflower syrup in both the gelee and mousse. You could use another brand or even elderflower liqueur (like St-Germain). No biggie if you don’t have it, though — subs are in the recipe! 
strawberry double fromage cheesecake slice

Strawberry Double Fromage Cheesecake

Makes one 6″ cake | Adapted from LeTAO and Baked to Order

Ingredients:

For the sponge cake:
  • 45g milk 
  • 30g neutral oil (I used grapeseed)
  • 1/8 tsp kosher salt
  • 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
  • 3 large eggs, separated (cold is fine)
  • 1/4 tsp cream of tartar
  • 75g granulated sugar, preferably caster or superfine
  • 80g cake flour, sifted
For the baked cheesecake:
  • 165g full-fat cream cheese, at room temperature 
  • 50g granulated sugar
  • 1/4 tsp kosher salt
  • 1 large egg, at room temperature
  • 2g (1/2 tsp) vanilla extract 
  • 3g (3/4 tsp) lemon juice
  • 80g sour cream, room temperature
  • 5g (2 tsp) cake flour 
For the strawberry gelee:
  • 2g (scant 3/4 tsp) powdered gelatin
  • 10g cold water
  • 85g strawberry puree (strained or unstrained, depending on your preference)
  • 10g elderflower syrup (or more strawberry puree)
  • 5-15g granulated sugar (to taste)
For the strawberry cheesecake mousse:
  • 125g heavy cream, cold
  • 3.5g (slightly rounded 1 tsp) powdered gelatin
  • 20g milk, cold
  • 1 large egg yolk (~18-20 grams)
  • 40g granulated sugar
  • 20g elderflower syrup (or water)
  • 65g cream cheese, room temperature
  • 65g strained strawberry puree, room temperature 
For the strawberry whipped cream:
To finish:

Method:

Make the sponge cake:

Preheat the oven to 350F with a rack in the middle. Line the bottom of a round 8″ cake pan (with at least 2″ sides) with parchment. Lightly grease the parchment, but don’t grease the sides of the pan.

Combine the milk, oil, and salt in a small saucepan. Heat over low until warm (but not hot) to the touch. Remove from heat, add the vanilla, and keep warm while you prepare the rest of the batter.

Place the egg whites in a large, spotlessly clean stainless steel bowl. (You will eventually be mixing all the cake batter in this bowl, so pick one that’s nice and wide.) Using a handheld electric mixer, mix the egg whites on low until foamy. Add the cream of tartar and continue whisking on low to medium-low until the bubbles tighten and resemble shaving cream. Add the sugar a spoonful at a time, whisking all the while. Turn the speed up to medium and whisk until the meringue holds stiff, shiny peaks when the beaters are raised slowly.

Add the egg yolks one at a time, whisking on low after each addition. Mix just enough so the color is homogenous.

Sift in the flour in 2 batches. Use a balloon whisk or flexible spatula to fold the flour in after each addition. Fold just until the flour is mixed in, doing your best not to deflate the batter. Take extra care to scrape the sides and bottom of the bowl, as flour likes to hide and stick there!

Scoop about 1/2 a cup of batter into the milk-oil mixture. Whisk to combine — no need to be gentle about this; you’re just “tempering” the liquid so it’s more similar in consistency to the rest of the main batter, making it easier to fold the two together with minimal deflation.

Drizzle half the milk-oil mixture around the perimeter of the main batter. Use a balloon whisk or flexible spatula to fold in. Repeat with the remaining milk-oil mixture. Fold just until no streaks of liquid remain and you have one homogenous batter. (Again, scrape the sides and bottom of the bowl thoroughly!)

Scrape the batter into the prepared pan and smooth the top. Whack the pan firmly on the counter 2-3 times to break any large air bubbles.

Bake until golden and springy to the touch, about 30 minutes. Remove from the oven and immediately drop the pan onto the counter from a height of 12″. (This helps minimize shrinkage.) Let cool for about 10 minutes on a wire rack, then run a thin spatula around the edge. Leave in the pan to cool completely.

Right before preparing the baked cheesecake batter, cut the cake horizontally so you have a round about 1/2″ thick (save the rest of the cake for another use). Use a 6″ cake ring to punch out a circle of cake. Remove the excess cake around the outside of the ring; but do not discard. Remove cake and clean the ring. Line the ring with parchment paper and place on a cake round or sheet pan. Place cut round on the bottom of the ring.

Trim the brown parts off the cake you removed from outside the ring; wrap and refrigerate or freeze — you’ll use this for decorating the outside of the cake.

Make the baked cheesecake:

Preheat the oven to 300F with one rack in the middle and one below.

In a medium bowl, combine the cream cheese, sugar, and salt. Mix on medium-low with a handheld electric mixer. Scrape down the sides, add the egg, and mix until smooth. Add the vanilla and lemon juice, and mix until smooth. Add the sour cream and mix until well combined. Add the flour and mix until smooth.

Pour the batter into the prepared ring. Tap the pan on the counter several times to dislodge any large air bubbles.

Transfer the cheesecake to the middle rack in the oven. On the rack below, place a cake pan filled with about 2 inches (5 cm) of hot water. Bake until the edges are set but the center still gently wobbles, about 30 minutes. Cool to room temperature on a wire rack, then refrigerate uncovered until cold (at least 2 hours).

Make the strawberry gelee:

When the cheesecake has chilled completely, prepare the strawberry gelee. In a small bowl, sprinkle the gelatin evenly over the cold water. Let stand for 5 minutes to bloom.

In a small saucepan, combine the strawberry puree, elderflower cordial, and sugar. Heat over medium until the sugar has melted and the mixture is steaming but not boiling. Remove from heat and add the bloomed gelatin. Stir until the gelatin has completely dissolved, then scrape into a heatproof jug or container. Let cool for 10 minutes, then pour over the baked cheesecake layer. Chill while you prepare the strawberry cheesecake mousse.

Make the strawberry cheesecake mousse:

Whip the heavy cream until just before soft peaks. Chill while you prepare the rest of the mousse.

In a small bowl, sprinkle the gelatin evenly over the cold milk to bloom. Set a sieve over a clean, heatsafe bowl.

Fill a small saucepan with an inch of water and bring to a simmer over medium heat. In a heatproof bowl (that will fit over the saucepan without the bowl touching the water), whisk together the egg yolk, sugar, and elderflower cordial (or water). Heat, whisking constantly, until the mixture thickens and registers 155F on a digital thermometer. (This is to pasteurize the egg yolk.) Remove from double boiler and whisk in the gelatin mixture until completely dissolved. Whisk in the cream cheese and strawberry puree. Strain into the prepared bowl.

Using a flexible spatula, fold in the whipped cream in two portions, just until homogenous. Pour over the gelee layer. Refrigerate until set, at least 4 hours (or overnight).

Finish the cake:

When the mousse has set and you’re ready to decorate, make the strawberry whipped cream. Combine the cream and ground freeze-dried strawberries in a small bowl and whip to medium-firm peaks. (You can also do this in a mini food processor — grind the strawberries to a powder, if whole, then add the cream and pulse until thick like yogurt. It doesn’t take long!) Refrigerate until ready to use.

To make the strawberry crumbs, pulse the reserved cake scraps in a food processor until fine (or press through a sieve). Stir in the freeze dried strawberries.

To decorate, remove the cake ring and parchment paper. Frost the entire cake with a light coat of the strawberry whipped cream. Immediately press the strawberry crumbs all over the sides of the cake (you can do the top too, if you like, but I kept it naked). Transfer any remaining strawberry whipped cream to a piping bag fitted with a French star tip. Pipe a few swirls on top and garnish with fresh strawberries. Refrigerate until ready to serve. Cake is best the day it’s assembled, but you can refrigerate leftovers in an airtight container for up to 3 days.

strawberry double fromage cheesecake

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Fresh Strawberry Sablé Breton Tart with Vanilla Bean Mousse

strawberry sable breton tart

Hello Ontario strawberry season, my unofficial start to summer! Every June I start stalking the websites of our local farms waiting for the announcements that The Strawberries Are Here. I love picking all types of fruit, but strawberries might be my favorite. Pulling back the leaves to find those extra-ripe-and-red ones hiding in the middle of the plants, keeping an eye on the kids to make sure they aren’t sampling more than is socially acceptable — strawberry picking is an experience I relish every year.

One of my must-bakes every strawberry season is a fraisier (cc: this berry basil fraisier from the archives and a strawberry elderflower version in my book), but this year I wanted to work on some other desserts that would showcase the beauty of in-season strawberries. When working with such perfectly ripe fruit, my motto is always “Less is more!” If your strawberries are perfectly candy-sweet, I think it’s a shame to cook them or overshadow their flavor with any strong flavoring.* Enter: this fresh strawberry sable breton tart with vanilla bean mousse.

*If you’re picking pounds and pounds, ok, I get it. Just promise me you’ll enjoy at least a portion of them as unadulturated as possible!

strawberry sable breton tartlets

Sablé breton

Sablé breton, or French-style shortbread, straddles the line between cake and cookie, thanks to richness from egg yolks and butter and lift from baking powder. It makes a wonderful tart base; it’s sturdy and actually holds up fairly well to refrigeration. (Once topped it does soften with time, but doesn’t get as soggy as some other tart crusts do.) I roll out my dough, cut out the pastry with a cake ring and bake the base directly in the ring for the cleanest look and easiest unmolding. However, you can also press the dough evenly into a cake ring or parchment-lined cake pan.

With this amount of pastry, I got one 6″ tart plus three 3.5″ tartlets. Alternatively, you could use all the dough to make one 8″ tart, or bake off extra dough as cookies. One last thing — for the best-tasting sablé breton, I stick with tradition and use European style (84% butterfat) cultured salted butter. If you don’t have salted butter on hand, increase the salt to 1/4 tsp.

Vanilla Bean Mousse

For the creamy element, I borrowed a page from the ever-genius Bravetart with a egg-white vanilla bean mousse. The mousse starts with what is essentially a pastry cream made with just egg whites. (Conveniently, you’ll need the exact amount of egg whites leftover from the sablé breton. Recipe development score!) This may seem odd, as classic pastry creams usually rely on egg yolks for flavor and richness. However, Stella Parks notes in her book that egg whites can thicken pastry cream just as well as yolks. The resulting custard just has a more neutral, clean flavor — perfect for letting infusions take center stage. Here we’re sticking with classic vanilla. It’s definitely worth breaking out a real bean here — your mousse (and tasters) will thank you! You’ll use half the seeds for the pastry and the rest plus the pod for the mousse.

All the beautiful strawberries

Base, check; cream, check — the only thing left is to pack the tart full of as much fresh strawberry goodness as possible. I fill the center with lots of finely diced strawberries mixed with a touch of jam, then pile the top with the prettiest berries I have — I like to keep the stems on a few of them just for aesthetics. You can brush the decorative berries with some warmed apricot jam if you want a little shine or if you’re storing the tart for more than a couple hours (this will keep the berries for drying out).

Light, elegant, and fresh, this strawberry sablé breton tart with vanilla bean mousse has joined the fraisier as one of those desserts I’ll anticipate every strawberry season. I’m also dreaming up some other fruit-mousse combos — cherry and chocolate? Peach and brown sugar? Lychee and coconut? Stay tuned!

Fresh Strawberry Sablé Breton Tart with Vanilla Bean Mousse

Makes one 6″ tart plus a few small tartlets, or one 8″ tart

Ingredients:

For the vanilla bean mousse:
  • 170g whole milk
  • 113g heavy cream (35% milk fat)
  • Seeds of 1/2 vanilla bean, plus pod
  • 65g granulated sugar
  • 1/4 tsp kosher salt
  • 17g cornstarch
  • 60g (from about 2 large eggs) egg whites (reserve yolks for sable breton)
  • 14g unsalted butter
  • 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
  • 85g heavy cream, cold
For the sablé breton base:
  • 125g all-purpose flour
  • 5g (1 1/4 tsp) baking powder
  • 40g egg yolks (from about 2 large eggs), at room temperature
  • 80g granulated sugar
  • 1/8 tsp fine sea salt (increase to 1/4 tsp if using unsalted butter)
  • Seeds of 1/2 a vanilla bean (reserve remaining seeds and pod for mousse)
  • 85g salted European-style butter, very soft
For the fresh strawberry filling:
  • 150g fresh strawberries, stemmed and finely diced
  • 40g (2 Tbsp) seedless strawberry preserves (or other complementary flavour)
To finish:
  • Fresh strawberries
  • 1-2 Tbsp apricot preserves (optional)

Method:

Make the vanilla mousse:

Set a fine-mesh strainer over a medium heat-safe bowl or container.

In a medium saucepan, combine the milk and 113g heavy cream and bring to a simmer over medium heat. Meanwhile, place the sugar in a medium bowl and rub in the vanilla bean seeds. Add the empty vanilla bean pod to the heated dairy; then remove from heat, cover, and infuse for 30 minutes (or up to 1 day, in the refrigerator).

Remove the vanilla bean pod and scrape any pulp back into the saucepan. Bring dairy back to a simmer over medium heat. Meanwhile, whisk the salt and cornstarch into the vanilla-sugar until well combined. Whisk in the egg whites.

Once the dairy reaches a simmer, remove from heat. Pour about half the dairy in a slow, steady stream into the egg white mixture, whisking constantly to avoid cooking the eggs. Scrape the warmed egg white mixture back into the saucepan. Cook over medium heat, whisking constantly, until the custard thickens and starts to bubble. Once bubbles appear, continue whisking the custard on the heat for one full minute to cook out any starchiness. Strain into the prepared container. Whisk in the butter and vanilla extract. Press a piece of plastic wrap directly against the surface of the custard and cover. Refrigerate until cold, at least 4 hours (or up to a week).

Once the base is chilled, whip the remaining 85g heavy cream to medium peaks. Stir the custard base until smooth; then gently fold in the whipped cream until well combined. Transfer mousse to a piping bag fitted with a large round or open star tip for at least an hour before assembling tarts. (Mousse can be prepared up to 5 days in advance.)

Make the sablé breton base:

In a small bowl, whisk together the flour and baking powder. Set aside.

In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment (or using an electric hand mixer), combine the egg yolks, sugar, and vanilla bean seeds. Whisk on medium-high speed until pale and thickened, 2-3 minutes. With the mixer still running, add the butter a tablespoon at a time. Mix until well combined. Scrape down the sides of the bowl. Add the dry ingredients and fold in with a flexible spatula just until no streaks of flour remain.

Scrape the dough onto a piece of parchment or silicone mat and place a piece of plastic wrap on top. Roll out the dough into a round between 1/4″ and 1/2″ inch thick, peeling off and replacing the plastic wrap every few rolls to avoid getting creases in the dough. Transfer the dough (with the plastic wrap on top) to a sheet pan and refrigerate until firm, at least 1 hour (or up to 5 days).

When ready to bake, preheat the oven to 350F with a rack in the middle. Flip the dough over (the plastic will now be on the bottom) and peel off the parchment or silicone mat. Then replace the parchment and re-invert the dough. (This step ensures the dough isn’t stuck to the parchment or silicone.) Transfer the parchment with the dough on it back to the baking sheet and remove the plastic wrap. Use a 6″ cake ring to punch out a circle of dough. Remove the excess dough around the outside of the ring, but keep the cut round inside the ring. Use a fork to poke the dough in the ring all over. Press the remaining dough into tartlet molds or refrigerate/freeze for later use.

Bake the sablé breton until golden, about 25-30 minutes for the 6″ round (about 20 minutes for smaller tartlets). Let cool completely in the molds before assembling.

Assemble the tart:

When ready to assemble the tart, mix together the diced strawberries and jam. Spread the filling on the tart base, leaving about a 1″ border. Pipe the mousse around the edge and over the filling. Decorate with fresh strawberries as desired (you can brush the berries with warmed apricot jam for a little shine). Refrigerate until ready to serve. Tart is best enjoyed the day it’s assembled. Store leftovers in an airtight container for up to 3 days. The pastry will soften with time, though it becomes more cakelike rather than soggy — not a bad thing at all!

large and small strawberry sable breton tarts

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