Sweetheart Cherry Cake And A Giveaway

Valentine's Day is such a love/hate thing... and I happen to love it! I think that's actually because of my mom. I can't remember a Valentine's Day when I lived at home when my mom didn't make us heart-shaped french toast and give us little gifts. Even after I moved out, she would still send Valentine's Day care packages -- only now I have to make my own heart-shaped french toast (or even heart-shaped waffles), as that wouldn't ship very well. She started such a great tradition and gave me so many great memories of Valentine's Day that it hasn't mattered over the years whether I've been single, celebrating with friends or family, or sharing the day with a special someone.

Valentine's Day may seem all commercialized now, but you don't have to celebrate it that way. It doesn't have to be about buying expensive presents or going out for fancy dinners on one of the worst nights to be at a restaurant. It's more meaningful to me that my boyfriend decided to bake corn muffins (from scratch -- a Cook's Illustrated recipe too!) to go with dinner the other night (the first time he's ever baked for me!) or that he offers to drive me to work at the bakery at 6:30 am than if he were to show up with a dozen roses on Valentine's Day or drop hundreds of dollars on dinner.

(I'm not a very good stealth photographer.)

It's more about the simple gestures you make that show someone you care. And since it's best to show people how much you care about them every day, you can just embrace Valentine's Day as yet another day to do something special with your family, good friends, or that someone special. For me, that something special is usually food-related -- hence, why the heart-shaped french toast is the first thing I associate with Valentine's Day.

One year one of my old roommates and I hosted a girls-only party and invited a bunch of our friends. We made lots of food, and everyone brought something too. We even had fondue, and it was fabulous. You could always use Valentine's Day as an excuse to eat and party with friends.

When I choose to celebrate it as a day for two -- instead of an all-out girls' gala -- I like to plan a special meal (or sometimes meals) and an extra special dessert. In some of my posts leading up to the big day, I'm going to offer you some fabulous Valentine's Day dessert ideas -- starting with this Sweetheart Cherry Cake from Lucky Leaf.

About a week ago, Krista (from Brunner) asked me if I'd like to make a cake using a recipe and pie filling from Lucky Leaf. She also mentioned she'd be sending along a heart-shaped pan (made by Wilton). Now I always get excited when I get things in the mail, especially free things, but this offer made me unusually giddy. I love baking, as you know, and I had actually been contemplating going out and getting a heart-shaped pan to make my Valentine's Day dessert this year. Krista had impeccable timing. Of course I responded that I'd love to try the pie filling and make the cake recipe she'd be sending along with it.

Here's what she sent (full disclosure -- all free): 2 cans of Lucky Leaf Premium Cherry Pie Filling, a recipe card for the Sweetheart Cherry Cake, a heart-shaped cake pan, and heart-shaped measuring spoons.

I was so surprised to find these adorable measuring spoons in the package along with the items I knew I'd be getting. They say cute things like "A spoonful of Devotion" and "A pinch of Bliss."

Lucky Leaf makes a variety of pie fillings from cherry to blueberry to chocolate creme. This was actually the first time I'd ever used a Lucky Leaf pie filling. It was interesting using the filling in a cake because it loses that gel-like consistency when it's mixed with batter. Even people who don't really enjoy pie might be able to find a Lucky Leaf recipe and filling they like.

The recipe I made is the Sweetheart Cherry Cake. It just seemed so perfect to me to be making a pink cake flecked with red cherry pieces in a heart-shaped pan.

Sweetheart Cherry Cake (from Lucky Leaf)


1 (18.25 ounce) dry white cake mix
2 large eggs
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 teaspoon almond extract
1 (21 ounce) can Lucky Leaf Premium Cherry Pie Filling


Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Lightly grease 9 x 2 1/2-inch heart-shaped cake pan.

Mix together on medium speed, dry cake mix, eggs, baking powder, both extracts, and 1 can of Lucky Leaf Premium Cherry Pie Filling. (You can blend in half the can and then stir in the other half, but I blended all of it because I wanted to have cherry pieces rather than whole cherries in the cake.)

Pour batter into pan, and level with a spatula.

Bake for 55 to 65 minutes or until wooden skewer inserted in center of cake comes out clean. (A toothpick won't cut it here as the cake is about 2 1/2 inches high!) Remove cake from oven and allow to cool completely in pan. Invert cake onto a serving platter to decorate.

Buttercream Icing (from Lucky Leaf)


1 cup butter, softened
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 teaspoon almond extract
4 cups (1 pound) confectioners' sugar, sifted
2-4 tablespoons milk
pink or red food coloring (optional)

Cream butter and both extracts. Slowly add confectioners' sugar, beating well. Add 2 tablespoons of milk. Mix well. If needed, continue adding milk 1 tablespoon at a time until icing is smooth and spreadable. Mix in food coloring, if desired.

Lucky Leaf suggests frosting the cake with white icing and then spooning a half can of cherry pie filling on top. I considered doing this because it sounds fabulous, and it would have looked gorgeous, but then I decided to save the can to try a different Lucky Leaf recipe at some point soon or maybe to enter a contest Lucky Leaf is hosting -- more details at the end of this post.

Instead, I made my frosting pink, and then I made some chocolate hearts (Martha Stewart idea, which I'll tell you about in an upcoming post) and topped the cake with those. I had them standing up on the cake, but they immediately began to melt and drape themselves over the cake. It wasn't what I originally had in mind, but it still looked pretty.

Then I had my favorite photographer (a.k.a. my boyfriend) come over and help me photograph the final product. We both decided that it was a little difficult to tell the heart was a heart in the pictures, so to make it stand out better, we outlined it with mini chocolate chips. Yes, we pushed each one of those mini chips into the cake, pointed side down.

I really liked the pink and brown together and thought the final product looked like the perfect Valentine's Day treat. The cake itself was delicious. The combination of the cherry pie filling with the almond extract was just scrumptious. I'm a big fan of cherry-almond. Another decorating idea was even to press sliced almonds into the side of the cake. And I couldn't believe how incredibly moist the cake was. I bet a lot of that has to do with the pie filling.

I had toyed with the idea of splitting it into two layers and filling the middle with chocolate ganache. The cake really didn't need it though, so I'm glad I didn't. It might have been too rich that way. That's not to say I don't advocate adding chopped chocolate or mini chocolate chips to the batter if you give this recipe a try! But you can't really try it out unless you have your very own heart-shaped pan, right?

So now for the giveaway... Krista also told me that I could offer 10 readers the chance to win their own heart-shaped pans! So, if you'd like a chance to win, please leave a comment telling me what your Valentine's Day food plans are this year. Are you making an extravagant meal or dessert? Are you braving the packed restaurant scene? Are you having a festive brunch?

For another chance to win, tweet about this giveaway, and then leave a comment letting me know you tweeted and what your Twitter handle is.

For yet another chance to win, become a fan of one or both of Delicious Dishings' Facebook pages or become a Follower of this blog (see right sidebar), and leave a comment for each one you joined, letting me know that you joined.

Facebook Fan Page

And finally, if you link to this giveaway in your blog, leave another comment letting me know that you did so for another chance to win.

Please leave all of your comments by 11:59 PM EST, Wednesday, February 3. I want whoever wins to get their pans in time for Valentine's Day!

I'll be using the Random Integer Generator to select winners, so it's very important that you leave separate comments if you follow, tweet, or link to this post. Each comment is an entry. Thanks!

Remember to check back over the next two weeks for other Valentine's Day dessert ideas. If you're looking for a mouthwatering dinner idea, click here to see what I made last year. I have something equally delicious planned for this year, but you'll have to wait to find out what it is!

Winners have been announced!


Daring Bakers: Homemade Graham Crackers And Nanaimo Bars

The January 2010 Daring Bakers’ challenge was hosted by Lauren of Celiac Teen. Lauren chose Gluten-Free Graham Wafers and Nanaimo Bars as the challenge for the month. The sources she based her recipe on are 101 Cookbooks and http://www.nanaimo.ca/.

Lauren wanted us to make Nanaimo bars because they are actually from a city in Canada (called Nanaimo), and this is the perfect time to feature a Canadian dessert since the 2010 Winter Olympics are starting in Vancouver very soon!

What can I say? This was another great Daring Bakers' challenge. Lauren gave us the option of making the graham wafers (or graham crackers) gluten free or with flour. I originally planned to make them gluten free, but ultimately I used flour just to save myself a trip to the grocery store. Yes, I know. It was slightly lazy of me. But can you really call someone who spends the time to make graham crackers from scratch lazy?

Homemade Graham Crackers (adapted from 101 Cookbooks)


2 cups plus 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1/2 cup whole wheat flour
1 cup dark brown sugar, lightly packed
1 teaspoon baking soda
3/4 teaspoon kosher salt
7 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into 1-inch cubes and frozen
1/3 cup mild-flavored honey, such as clover
5 tablespoons whole milk
2 tablespoons pure vanilla extract (I would cut this way back if I made these again. Just a teaspoon would be plenty.)


Combine flour, brown sugar, baking soda, and salt in food processor fitted with the steel blade. Pulse to incorporate. Add the butter, and pulse until the mixture is the consistency of coarse meal.

In a small bowl, whisk together the honey, milk, and vanilla extract. Add to the flour mixture, and pulse a few times until the dough barely comes together. It will be very soft and sticky.

Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured work surface, and pat the dough into a rectangle about 1 inch thick.

Divide the rectangle in half using a bench scraper or knife, and wrap each half in plastic and chill until firm, about 2 hours or overnight.

Take out one package of dough and roll the dough into a long rectangle about 1/8 inch thick on a lightly floured countertop. The dough will be sticky, so flour as necessary. Cut dough into whatever size crackers you'd like. Gather any scraps together, and set aside.

Place the crackers on one or two parchment-lined baking sheets, and, if desired, sprinkle with cinnamon-sugar (3 tablespoons of sugar mixed with 1 teaspoon of cinnamon). Chill until firm, about 30 to 45 minutes. Repeat with the second batch of dough.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Gather the scraps together into a ball, chill until firm, and reroll. Dust the surface with more flour, and roll out the dough to get about two or three more crackers. (You can also freeze the leftover dough if you're all crackered out by this point.)

If desired, mark a vertical line down the middle of each cracker, being careful not to cut through the dough. Using a toothpick or skewer, prick the dough to form two dotted rows about 1/2 inch for each side of the dividing line.

Bake each sheet of crackers in preheated oven for 10 to 12 minutes, or until browned and slightly firm to the touch, rotating the sheets halfway through to ensure even baking.

I thought these had a much better texture than store-bought graham crackers. They were crunchy but also slightly chewy. I also think they look much more appetizing. What do you think?

It made me a little sad to know I had to crush up my newly made graham crackers, but the Nanaimo bars came out so good that I didn't miss the grahams all that much in the end!

Below is the recipe Lauren provided with a few modifications I made to simplify the process (such as skipping the double boiler). I also opted to toast the almonds and coconut, which you don't have to do, but I prefer the stronger, nuttier flavor that comes with the toasting, not to mention the added crunch.

Nanaimo Bars


Bottom Layer
1/2 cup unsalted butter
1/4 cup granulated sugar
5 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa
1 large egg, beaten
1 1/4 cups graham cracker crumbs (from homemade graham crackers)
1/2 cup almonds (toasted and finely chopped)
1 cup shredded coconut (toasted)

Middle Layer
1/2 cup unsalted butter
2 tablespoons and 2 teaspoons heavy cream
2 tablespoons vanilla pudding mix (or vanilla custard powder, if you can find it)
2 cups confectioners' sugar

Top Layer
4 ounces semisweet chocolate
2 tablespoons unsalted butter


Bottom Layer: Melt unsalted butter, sugar, and cocoa in a small pot over low heat. Add egg, and stir to cook and thicken. Remove from heat. Stir in crumbs, nuts, and coconut. Press firmly into an ungreased 8- by 8-inch pan.

Middle Layer: In bowl of electric stand mixer, cream butter, heavy cream, pudding mix, and confectioners' sugar together. Continue beating until light in color. Spread over bottom layer.

Top Layer: Melt chocolate and unsalted butter in microwave. Cool, pour over middle layer, and chill.

It's best to take the bars out of the fridge about 15 minutes before you plan to cut them, otherwise they will be too hard to cut and the top chocolate layer will shatter.

Note: You can freeze the bars... and you may want to so you don't eat them all in one sitting. Another option is to bring them to the office and share them with coworkers.

I loved these! The bottom layer is rich and crunchy. The middle is supposed to be a custard, but mine came out more like frosting -- no complaints there. And who doesn't love a nice layer of chocolate to top the whole thing off? If you're planning to watch the 2010 Olympics, you might want to make these to snack on during the Opening Ceremonies!

Thank you, Lauren!


Fried Brussels Sprouts With Walnuts And Capers

So many people are anti-brussels sprouts, and I just don't get it. I love them. They're in the same family as broccoli, cauliflower, and cabbage, which I also adore. I think they're wonderful quartered and sauteed in olive oil with some salt and pepper. I love to let them sit in the pan a little until their edges get all browned.

If you love brussels sprouts, or even if you don't -- because you may just find that you like them in this dish -- you've got to try this recipe. We're right in the middle of brussels sprout season, so there's really no better time.

This is another of the recipes I experimented with when some friends came over on New Year's Eve. I was just stunned at how delicious it was. It's one of those recipes that you make and think that there's no way it could possibly taste good when all is said and done, but oh it does. It tastes unbelievable.

The brussels sprouts are deep-fried with parsley and capers and then mixed with a dressing of anchovy fillets, a serrano chile, scallions, garlic, walnuts, red wine vinegar, olive oil, and honey. Somehow the different ingredients combine to bring an array of flavor in each mouthful. There's the bite from the vinegar, the heat from the serrano pepper, the brininess from the capers, and a hint of sweetness from the honey to bring it all together.

According to The Flavor Bible (can you tell it's my new obsession?), anchovies work really well with garlic, parsley, capers, olive oil, and red wine vinegar, so that's most of the components of this dish. Now I just need to figure out how to come up with recipes with these complex and cohesive flavor combinations on my own.

Along with the crazy good combination of flavors, this dish has varied textures too. The brussels sprouts are crunchy but soft from the deep frying, and the walnuts add a bit of firmness. It's somewhat like a warm salad.

You can find the recipe over on Leite's Culinaria. It's from Michael Symon's Live to Cook. A couple of tips: Be careful when deep-frying. Make sure you use a deep pot, and watch out for splatter, especially when you add the capers and parsley.

Let me know if you try this and what you think. My friends and I really enjoyed it!

A little note: According to Kim Severson (of The New York Times), they are brussels sprouts now and not Brussels sprouts. There's that editor nature of mine coming through.


Make-Your-Own Pinwheels

Do you remember that one of my cooking resolutions is to be more creative in the kitchen? Well, I did it -- sort of. I started in a very small way, but you have to start somewhere, right?

I found a recipe for prosciutto and mozzarella pinwheels in Giada's Kitchen. After glancing at the recipe, which was as simple as rolling up some mozzarella, prosciutto, and spinach in pizza dough, I decided to improvise. My boyfriend doesn't like spinach, so I first considered just putting the spinach on one end for me, but eventually I nixed it completely. I kept the prosciutto and mozzarella and added roasted red peppers, sauteed onions and garlic, and tomato paste. I think the end result was a brand new pinwheel. Okay, maybe that's going a bit far. So I didn't come up with the pinwheel concept myself, but at least I played with the flavors a bit. I actually deviated from a recipe!

Prosciutto, Mozzarella, And Roasted Pepper Pinwheels (adapted from Giada's Kitchen)

Print this recipe


Cornmeal, for dusting
3 tablespoons olive oil, divided
1 small onion, sliced into rings
2 cloves garlic, minced
Roasted peppers from 7.25-ounce jar, sliced into strips
1 pound pizza dough, store-bought or homemade
flour, for dusting
2 tablespoons tomato paste
1/4 pound thinly sliced prosciutto
Fresh mozzarella, sliced or grated (I used 10 small balls, but use as much or as little as you like)
Kosher salt


Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper, and lightly dust it with cornmeal.

Heat 2 tablespoons of olive oil in medium pan over medium-high heat. Add onions, and saute until soft. Add garlic. Saute for another minute or two, or until onions begin to brown. Remove to a plate, and set aside.

Toss pepper strips in the pan, and saute just until warmed (optional).

Add to plate with onions and garlic, and set aside.

On lightly floured countertop, roll dough out into a roughly 12- by 18-inch rectangle. Spread tomato paste evenly over dough.

Top with slices of prosciutto.

Top with mozzarella pieces, and then arrange onions, garlic, and peppers over prosciutto and mozzarella.

With the long side in front of you, roll the dough into a cylinder, tucking in the ingredients as you roll.

You will probably have some dough hanging at each end.

Just tuck it under, being sure to close any openings so nothing leaks out.

Transfer the cylinder to prepared baking sheet. Brush all over with the remaining tablespoon of olive oil. Lightly sprinkle with salt.

Bake for 20 to 25 minutes, or until dough is golden brown all over, turning the pan once halfway through.

Cool for about 5 minutes. Cut into approx. 1-inch wide slices using a serrated knife.

Have leftovers? Arrange slices on a cooling rack set in a baking sheet. Reheat in a 350-degree oven for about 10 minutes. Turn slices over, and pop them back in the oven. Turn oven up to 425 degrees, and heat for about another 10 minutes, or until slices reach your desired crispness (we liked them crispy).

After I made these, I consulted The Flavor Bible to see how I did with my flavor combinations. Prosciutto works well with tomatoes and olive oil, but a cheese like Fontina or Gruyere might have been better than the mozzarella. I can see that. I love the sharp and salty bite of Gruyere. Onions have an affinity for garlic, tomatoes, bell peppers, and olive oil. But again, mozzarella's not on the list. However, bell peppers and mozzarella have a strong connection, so incredibly, I managed to connect the flavors of all the ingredients.

We had this for dinner with Caesar salad, but it would also make a good party appetizer -- think Superbowl Party! The whole thing can even be prepared and baked the day before and then rewarmed (as in my suggestion for leftovers above) for the party.

I think a tomato, broccoli, cheddar one would be fabulous. Pepperoni, provolone, and sauce would be tasty too. And Gruyere, spinach, and prosciutto could really pack some intense flavor.

What would be in your pinwheel?