French Christmas Bread/ Gibassier

Among the world’s many artisan breads and cakes, the breakfast bread ‘gibassier’ is one of the most popular in the French tradition. This buttery, textured bread is somewhat like an Italian panettone. What makes gibassier unique, is the use of orange blossom water which gives the bread a distinct flavor that is difficult to replicate with any substitute.

The recipe appears to have originated in the rocky, southeast of France, in Lourmarin Village, Provence. Many believe that this generations-old treat is named after the mountain called Le Gibas, which forms part of the village’s horizon.

Gibassier can be shaped and made as one big round loaf or larger or smaller single serve breads. Whatever size they come in, they are slashed or snipped decoratively before they are baked to give the fleur de lis or snowflake appearance.

It is difficult to say whether gibassier is a biscuit, a pastry, doughnut or a cookie. One thing is for sure …. its taste is unique. Traditionally served at breakfast and is dipped into honey butter while it is still warm.

Each Christmas I enjoy to try making a Christmas bread from another culture. Of course, that means as an extra bonus, researching the food history behind it.

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French Christmas Bread/ Gibassier
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Course Brunch, dessert
Cuisine European, French
Keyword Gibassier
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Instructions
  1. In a small bowl, combine water, yeast & 2 Tbsp sugar. Allow to sit until foamy, about 10 minutes.
  2. In a large bowl, whisk together flour, salt, 1/4 cup sugar & aniseed. Make a well in the center of the flour mixture & add eggs, butter, orange blossom water, orange zest & candied orange peel. Whisk to form a slurry, pulling in a little flour from the sides of the bowl.
  3. Pour the yeast mixture over the egg slurry. Mix to make a 'shaggy' dough. Turn out on a floured surface & knead until a smooth, elastic dough forms, about 10 minutes.
  4. Place the dough into a lightly buttered bowl, cover with a tea towel & allow to rise in a draft-free place until doubled in size, about 1 1/2 - 2 hours.
  5. Punch down the risen dough & turn out onto a lightly floured surface. Divide into two equal pieces & shape each one into a ball. Line two baking sheets with parchment. Flatten each ball of dough into a disc about 1.5 cm thick & place each one on one of the baking sheets. Cut the disc into 6 sections, leaving them connected at the center.
  6. Make a cut through the center of each section without cutting all the way through to the edge. Best to use something you can press straight down as opposed to dragging a knife through the dough. Pull the sections outward to separate & elongate them a little. Using your fingers, open out the slits & form a V-shape in the top of each section.
  7. Cover each loaf loosely with buttered plastic wrap. Set aside to rise in a draft-free place for 45 minutes to 1 hour.
  8. Preheat oven to 350 F.
  9. Brush each loaf with a little egg wash. Bake for 20-25 minutes until golden & baked through. Slide the loaves onto a wire rack & brush with honey butter while still warm or dust with sugar.

Bacon & Potato Cheese Ring

If foods were granted awards, bacon wouldn’t rank high for healthiness but it might win first prize in the food addition category.

Bacon simultaneously appeals to all three flavors many people crave …. sugar, salt & fat. Its the perfect combination that goes to the brain which says, take another bite. Even the distinctive scent of bacon is unique.

Flavor variations of bacon include peppered bacon, Applewood, chicory, maple and wood smoke options, which are derived from woods that impart their own unique flavor notes. It all becomes very, very complex. This ‘salty-sweet-fat’ combination has been used to enhance any food group from breakfast to dessert nowadays.

This recipe combines bacon with potatoes and cheese to make an ultimate comfort food meal.

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Bacon & Potato Cheese Ring
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Instructions
  1. In a large pot, cook potatoes & mash. Add flour, egg, butter & Parmesan. Season with salt & pepper.
  2. Line a 10-inch ring mold pan with half of the bacon so that the slices overlap & cover the inner & outer walls of the pan.
  3. Distribute about 2/3 of the potato mixture evenly over the bacon. Use a spoon to create a 'tunnel' in the potato all the way around the pan.
  4. Preheat oven to 350 F.
  5. Place the cubes of Swiss cheese in the tunnel then add the rest of the potato mixture on top, smoothing it flat.
  6. Add another layer of bacon on top & bake for about 50 minutes. Flip out of ring pan & bake another 40 minutes or until bacon is browned.

Caramel Pear Pudding Cake

The fall season seems to orchestrate a return to the kitchen, to lure us who enjoy to cook, back to the stove. With the cooler days and nights, heating up the oven to cook or bake becomes conceivable once more.

Like many baked desserts, the self-saucing pudding is a combination of mystery and chemistry. In the baking process, the flour/baking powder, rises to the top and the heavier sauce falls to the bottom.

Not quite a pudding and not exactly a cake, self saucing pudding has a souffle-like quality. It’s origins are unclear, but there is evidence that the concept of pouring hot water (or sauce) over the cake before baking to partially steam it as it bakes may be an Australian innovation.

It really doesn’t matter where the concept came from. What matters is that it works brilliantly to create a dessert with lightness and richness all in one pan. A simple dollop of whip cream on the top and there you have it … home baked goodness!

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Caramel Pear Pudding Cake
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Caramel Sauce
Pudding
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Caramel Sauce
Pudding
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Instructions
Caramel Sauce
  1. In a small saucepan, combine sugar, water & butter; bring to a boil. Remove from heat, cover & set aside.
Pudding
  1. Preheat oven to 350 F. Butter 4 oven-proof custard dishes ( 1 1/4 cup capacity) & place on a baking sheet. Place half of a pear in each dish.
  2. In a small bowl, combine flour, sugar, butter, spices, milk & vanilla; mix well. Spread the mixture evenly over pear halves in dishes. Sprinkle batter with pecans. Carefully pour HOT caramel sauce over pudding batter in custard cups.
  3. Bake for about 25 minutes or until puddings are firm. Serve with ice cream or whipped cream if desired.

Pumpkin Cinnamon Buns

It doesn’t have to be fall to crave something pumpkin. It’s still a bit early for Halloween jack-o-lanterns but not too early for some pumpkin cinnamon rolls.

This recipe builds on the traditional cinnamon roll, but adds the magic of pumpkin and fall spices. The dough is more subtle, moist and not too sweet in taste. With the addition of pumpkin to the dough, it adds a nice vibrant orange color. The filling is the classic pumpkin pie spice mix, blended with butter and sugar. What makes the buns even more special is they are then ‘baked‘ in the spiced ‘sauce’ mixture. Last but not least, topped with some whole pumpkin seeds, adds a delicate crunchy texture.

Pumpkin, like zucchini, seem to grow in abundance so it is always nice when they can be used in either sweet or savory recipes.

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Pumpkin Cinnamon Buns
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Filling
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Filling
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Instructions
  1. In a small bowl, add yeast, lukewarm water & 1 tsp sugar. Allow to sit about 10 minutes until frothy.
  2. In a large bowl, combine yeast mixture, butter, salt, cinnamon, eggs & pumpkin puree. Mix well. Add flour, one cup at a time, until well combined. Knead dough for about 8-10 minutes or until smooth & soft. Place dough in a greased bowl, cover with a tea towel & allow to rise for about 1 hour or until doubled in size.
  3. While the buns are rising, place sauce ingredients (except pumpkin seeds), in a saucepan over medium-high heat. Cook, while whisking, until sugar has dissolved & ingredients are combined. Remove from heat & set aside to cool for a few minutes while you are preparing the buns.
  4. In a small dish, combine filling ingredients, set aside.
  5. LIGHTLY butter a 9 x 13-inch baking pan. Turn dough out onto a floured surface; roll out into a rectangle (about 12"x 18"), approximately 1/2-inch thickness. Spread the melted butter across the rolled out dough leaving 1/2-inch around the top edge. Sprinkle filling mixture over butter. Roll up tightly lengthwise towards the top edge. Using a sharp knife (or a string), cut dough into 12 slices. Place in prepared pan. Pour cooled sauce evenly over buns. You can reserve a bit for drizzling on top after they are baked if you wish.
  6. Cover the buns with plastic wrap & a tea towel. Set aside in a warm place for 20 minutes.
  7. Preheat oven to 350 F. Bake for about 20 minutes. Remove from oven; allow to rest for a few minutes then drizzle with remaining sauce & sprinkle with pumpkin seeds.
Recipe Notes
  • Once the sauce is cooked & cooled, you can blend with a mixer or blender to keep it from separating if you wish.

Mini Harvest Galettes

Its like a mix between carrot cake and apple pie. Vegetables and fruit in a pie …. this recipe never fails to be fantastic even if you don’t like zucchini.

The oral history of pie predates its written record. Many cooks stand by family secrets scrawled on stained index cards. It seems, pie is eaten for breakfast, with lunch and for dessert after dinner. In many ways, pie is more prized because it takes time and effort, a slice carries more importance than a cookie, but is less fussy than cake.

The perfect pie (or galette), is built on two things …. a well made crust with a flaky texture and golden color and a fresh, well set, flavorful filling.

The combination of carrots, apple and zucchini is something special. The carrots and zucchini are really interchangeable, so if you’d like to use more of one than the other, no problem.

When baked, zucchini has a similar texture to an apple; it gets soft but retains some texture. Add the same warm, fragrant spices as in an apple pie, lemon juice, a bit of extra sugar to compensate and you got it!

This recipe has been one of my fall favorites for many years and we still enjoy its wonderful flavor.

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Spicy Harvest Galette
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Instructions
  1. Prepare pastry & either use 6 mini flan pans or one 9"deep pie pan. Preheat oven to 425 F.
  2. In a large bowl, combine apples, zucchini, carrots, nuts & flour; toss to coat.
  3. In a medium bowl, cream together brown sugar & butter; add cinnamon, cardamom, salt, lemon juice, vanilla, orange zest & 2 eggs. Blend well. Add apple mixture & combine well.
  4. Roll out pastry larger than your pans. Line pans leaving the jagged edge to fold over filling. Make a few pastry designs for the tops if you wish. Spoon filling into a pastry lined, mini pans. Flip rough edges over filling. Top with pastry in a fall leaf pattern. In a small dish, blend egg wash & brush over crust.
  5. Bake for 40-50 minutes or until deep golden brown. If necessary, cover pies loosely with foil during last 15 minutes of baking to prevent excessive browning.
  6. Serve warm with whipped cream. Store any 'leftovers' in refrigerator.
Recipe Notes
  • I laid the grated zucchini on paper towel  & placed the grated apple in a strainer while I prepared the rest of the ingredients. In both cases, I did NOT hand squeeze them as you still need some of that moisture to prevent having a dry filling when baked.

Potatoes Stuffed w/ Bratwurst, Caramelized Onions & Sauerkraut

CELEBRATING OKTOBERFEST!

When the air becomes crisp and summer turns to fall, Germany marks the change of the season’s with Oktoberfest. A tradition dating back to 1810 in Munich Germany. Originally a celebration of the marriage of the King of Bavaria and Princess Therese. Everybody had so much fun that it was resolved to repeat the celebration, which has been done, every year since.

Oktoberfest is not only about the beer, singing, dancing and fair attractions. Many of the best known and most loved Bavarian specialties are enjoyed during the festival. Just to name a few …..

*Flammkuchen – a ‘white pizza’, popular on beer garden menus, has a thin crust, topped with sour cream, thinly sliced onions & smoked bacon.

*Sauerkraut & Bratwurst Balls – the two best known German foods rolled into bite-sized balls, breaded & fried & served with Bavarian mustard.

*Sauerkraut Strudel – a version of the famous Bavarian dessert, this savory treat features sauerkraut & bratwurst flavored with traditional German spices as its filling.

*Half Roast Chicken – Typically whole chickens are spit roasted, then split in half and served.

*Beer Brats – bratwurst simmered in a malty beer & onion sauce & served with mashed potatoes as a plated entree or on a soft pretzel bun.

*Pan Fried Trout – this dish is very popular in beer gardens across Bavaria, especially in the areas nearest to the mountains. Sometimes whole char is used,brought down from the cold waters of the North Sea.

*Schnitzel – German pork schnitzel is as recognizable as sauerkraut. Also made with chicken which is equally delicious.

*BBQ Pork Spare Ribs – a beer garden classic that has a prominent place on the Oktoberfest table.

*Bavarian Cream – a German high-cuisine dessert with French origins.

*Candied Apples – an irresistible favorite of young & old at Oktoberfest events.

*Candied Roasted Almonds – another favorite of both young & old.

Since the list of wonderful items is endless, I’m sure you could eat something different on every day of the festival. It runs from Sept 19th – Oct 4th/2020.

Brion & I are acknowledging Oktoberfest with a German stuffed potato meal. Its the perfect complement to sauerkraut and bratwurst.

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Potatoes Stuffed w/ Bratwurst, Caramelized Onions & Sauerkraut
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Instructions
  1. Preheat oven to 400 F. Line a baking sheet with foil; place a wire rack over the baking sheet. Place the potatoes in a bowl & drizzle a bit of oil over them; sprinkle with salt & pepper. Rub oil/seasoning into their skins. Place the potatoes on the wire rack & bake for about 70 minutes or until tender when pierced with a knife. Remove from oven & allow to cool just until they can be handled.
  2. While potatoes bake, place a large saucepan over medium-high heat. Drizzle a small amount of oil into pan. Add bratwurst slices in a single layer; allow sausage slices to brown on the first side for about 3-4 minutes, then flip the slices & brown on the other side, until completely cooked through; drain on paper towel & set aside.
  3. Drain the grease from the pan leaving about 1-2 Tbsp. With heat still on, add the sliced onions plus a pinch or two of salt & pepper to caramelize to a deep golden brown, for about 20-25 minutes on a medium-low heat, stirring frequently.
  4. Once the onions are caramelized, add the bratwurst slices back into the pan with the onions; add flour & mustard & stir to combine. Add in the chicken broth (or lager). Simmer until just slightly thickened, turn off heat, check to see if any more seasoning is needed; set aside keeping mixture warm.
  5. Once potatoes are cool enough to handle, cut the potatoes in half lengthwise, being careful not to cut all the way through. Carefully scoop out most of the flesh, leaving about 1/4-inch border all the way around. Reserve the flesh for another use.
  6. Brush some of the melted butter onto the inside of each potato (add salt & pepper to taste) as well as onto their skins. Place back on the rack, flesh side up; place under the broiler to brown for several moments, once inside is slightly browned, flip the potato & crisp the skins for a couple more minutes.
  7. Fill each crispy potato skin with the brat/onion mixture, & sprinkle with a some grated cheese; return under broiler to melt cheese for just a few seconds; then finish potatoes by topping with a bit of the sauerkraut & a twist of black pepper.
Recipe Notes
  • If you prefer, lager beer can be used instead of chicken broth. If doing so, omit the flour & mustard.

Apple Walnut Mini Tarts

There is nothing more enjoyable than baking with the flavors and scents of fall. Sometimes I feel like apple season takes a back seat to pumpkin but in my opinion its equally important. With their sweet scent and crisp bite, apples are one of those things that define ‘fall’.

The apple pie as we know it, originated in Europe. The most widely known variations are the English, Dutch & Swedish apple pies. While all made their way into North American food culture, the English version is the one familiar to most of us. Worldwide, there are over 7500 types of cultivated apples, reflecting both their versatility and popularity.

Apples, perfectly spiced in a fall dessert, can be amazing. Like most spice blends, the flavor of apple pie spice is variable since the maker can choose the components according to their preference. In all cases, the goal is to provide warmth and sweetness that compliments the tartness of apples.

These little mini tarts started out with an idea I had to incorporate an upside down cake with some shortbread pastry and spiced apples. They actually turned out better than I had expected. After baking, it seemed like they might be quite dry, but instead were real tender and not too sweet. I’ve always enjoyed to use the cardamom spice. It gives such complexity and depth to the flavor of whatever its used in.

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Apple Walnut Mini Tarts
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Shortbread Pastry
Apple Filling
Walnut Topping
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Ingredients
Shortbread Pastry
Apple Filling
Walnut Topping
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Instructions
Shortbread Pastry
  1. In a bowl, whisk together flour, sugar & salt. Using a pastry blender or a fork, cut in butter & add vanilla & lemon zest. Mix only until combined, divide in half & wrap each piece in plastic wrap. Place in freezer until slightly frozen & ready to use.
Apple filling
  1. In a bowl, combine sliced apples, lemon juice, sugar, flour & spices. Set aside.
Walnut Topping
  1. In a small bowl, combine chopped nuts, brown sugar & melted butter. Divide mixture between 4 mini tart pans. If your tart pans have removable bottoms, I suggest using a large paper cupcake liner, placing it first in the pan & then putting 'bottom' on top. This will avoid having any of the filling leaking out.
Assembly/Baking
  1. Preheat oven to 375 F.
  2. Remove one half of the pastry from the freezer. On a CHEESE GRATER, grate pastry. Divide between the 4 mini pans, placing the pastry on top of walnut mixture.
  3. Strain apples, reserving liquid. Divide apples between mini tarts. Microwave reserved juice for a few seconds just to thicken it a tiny bit, then pour over apples in each tart.
  4. Remove second half of pastry from freezer & grate. Top each mini tart with grated pastry. Bake tarts for about 45-50 minutes or until apples are soft. If browning too fast, float a piece of foil paper over the tarts.
  5. Remove tarts from oven & allow to cool for about 5 minutes before inverting onto serving plates. Nice to serve warm with a little ice cream or whipped cream.
Recipe Notes
  • If you care to make your own, here is a recipe for apple pie spice. It makes about 1/3 cup & of course you can always customize the levels of the spices to suit your own taste. I like to keep some handy in my spice drawer to use for various baked goods.
  • 1 tsp nutmeg
  • 1/4 tsp ginger
  • 4 Tbsp cinnamon
  • 2 tsp allspice
  • 1 tsp cardamom
  • Mix together & store in an airtight container in a cool dark place.

Loaded Hasselback Potatoes

Hasselback potatoes are a type of potato dish, not a variety of potato. In their simplest form, hasselback potatoes are nothing more than whole potatoes cut in such a way as to resemble a fan or accordion when roasted. The outside of the potato becomes crisp and brown while the inside is soft & creamy.

This Swedish dish gets its name from Hasselbacken, the Stockholm restaurant where it was first served. You might say, they are a cross between baked and roasted potatoes. What distinguishes the two is the way the potato is prepared for roasting. The potato, which may or may not be peeled, is cut into very thin slices but without completing the cuts, leaving all slices connected along the bottom of the potato. As the potato cooks, the individual slices separate slightly and give the finished dish its distinctive look. The original recipe drizzles them with melted butter and seasons with salt & pepper which creates their crispy exteriors.

Over time, many variations have been made and are simply products and preferences of the individual preparing them. It is the slicing and roasting that distinguish the dish as hasselback potatoes rather than the variations on seasonings or toppings.

Today, I’m doing a ‘loaded’ version, taking it from a side dish to the main course.

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Loaded Hasselback Potatoes
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Instructions
Potatoes
  1. Preheat oven to 350 F. Make a row of deep cuts in each potato from end to end, they should be just under 1/4-inch apart. Take care not to cut the potatoes all the way through. See 'Recipe Notes' below.
  2. Place the potatoes in a casserole dish, brush them with melted butter & sprinkle with salt & pepper on top. Bake potatoes for an hour OR until TENDER but crispy. Allow potatoes to cool a little then place a small piece of cheese in each gap. Set casserole with potatoes in it aside.
Filling
  1. In a saucepan, heat 1 Tbsp oil & add onions & garlic; saute for a few minutes then add beef & continue to cook until meat is no longer pink. Drain any extra oil/fat from saucepan. Stir in tomato paste (if using) & beef broth; simmering until liquid has been reduced so only a small amount remains.
Bechamel Sauce
  1. In a heavy saucepan, melt butter. Stir in flour & cook, stirring constantly, until bubbly, about 2 minutes. Add hot milk, continuing to stir as the sauce thickens. Bring to a boil; add salt & pepper to taste, lower the heat & cook, stirring 2-3 minutes more. Remove from heat.
Assembly / Baking
  1. Divide the filling between the potatoes, which should still be in the casserole dish. Pour the sauce evenly on top & sprinkle with Parmesan cheese. Place the casserole back in the oven (350 F) for another 30 minutes.
Recipe Notes
  • The secret to making hasselback potatoes is to use a large wooden spoon. Place the potato onto the spoon & cut thin slices across the potato. The edges of the wooden spoon will stop the knife from cutting all the way through the potato.

Parmesan Baked Scallops over Egg Noodles

Whether broiled, fried, baked or pan-seared, fresh, wild-caught scallops are an excellent stand-alone dish or will compliment a salad or pasta with their sweet flavor and delicate texture.

Sea scallops are widely known for their iconic, beautiful shape …. a fan-like shell with fluted grooves. Different varieties are found in oceans all over the world and come in many sizes. For commercial purposes they are labeled similar to shrimp. A number is used to designate how many scallops of a given size it would take to constitute a pound. The label 20/30 means it would take 20/30 scallops to make up a pound and labels like U10 means it would take less than (‘under’) 10 to make a pound.

Scallops are bivalve mollusks (meaning having 2 shells- usually united by a hinge) that have a reddish-pink, upper shell and white or cream colored, lower shell.

Brion & I love seafood so this meal definitely works for us.

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Parmesan Baked Scallops over Egg Noodles
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Instructions
Gouda Sauce
  1. In a saucepan, melt butter; whisk in flour & cook, stirring until frothy. Add milk, whisking until sauce comes to a boil & starts to thicken. Add cheese & spices & continue to cook a few more minutes, stirring constantly. Remove from heat; set aside.
Parmesan Scallops
  1. Preheat oven to 400 F.
  2. In a 9-inch square baking dish, melt butter & toss scallops in it. In a bowl, combine next 5 ingredients & sprinkle over scallops. Gently stir to spread them out in one layer. Bake about 15-20 minutes.
Egg Noodles
  1. In a pot of salted, boiling water cook egg noodles until al dente. Drain. Reheat sauce & combine with pasta. Divide between two serving plates & top each with baked scallops.

Banana Cheesecake Bites

Seriously!! I find it hard to believe we have reached September 1st already. Not that I don’t love the fall colors coming up but …..

What’s not to love about the traditional baked cheesecakes but the no-bake variety does have its own merits. Not only do you skip the long baking time, but you also get a smooth, creamy texture. Just a few ingredients and a little mixer time and you’re done. Chill and serve!

Cheesecake is always a crowd-pleaser, its even been called the perfect dessert by some. This recipe adds a nice bit of spice which stems from its gingersnap cookie crust and the creaminess definitely comes from the pudding/cream cheese filling combo.

Brion & I thought these ‘bites’ tasted the best when the cheesecakes came directly from the freezer then top them with the fresh bananas, caramel & whipped cream. Of course, that means they are available at any given time!!

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Banana Cheesecake Bites
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Gingersnap Crust
Caramel Sauce
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Ingredients
Gingersnap Crust
Caramel Sauce
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Instructions
Crust
  1. Preheat oven to 375 F. In a bowl, combine gingersnap crumbs & pecans. Drizzle in melted butter & mix well. Press crumb mixture into 24 cheesecake mini cup pans. Bake for 7 minutes or until light brown, cool completely. You can skip the baking step if you wish.
Filling
  1. In a large bowl, using a mixer, beat cream cheese until fluffy & no lumps remain. Add sugar & beat until combined. Add heavy cream & vanilla & beat until medium-stiff peaks form. Set aside.
  2. In another bowl, whisk together pudding mix & milk. Let pudding stand for 3 minutes in the fridge until thickened. Fold into cheesecake mixture until combined.
  3. Fill each of the 24 cups & smooth the tops. At this point you can either refrigerate until very firm (at least 6 hours) or freeze. Once they are firm, remove from pans to serving plates & add banana slices, caramel drizzle, whipped topping & a cherry. Or freeze, remove from pans & store in an airtight container in the freezer until ready to garnish & serve.
Caramel Sauce
  1. In a small saucepan, bring brown sugar, butter & milk to a gentle boil & cook until thickened, 5-7 minutes. Remove from heat; add rum extract.
Recipe Notes
  • The newspaper ad at the bottom of the blog was from the fifties when this idea for a pudding cheesecake was created.