Slow Cooker Desserts
I’m a fairly recent convert to the slow cooker bandwagon; I only purchased my first slow cooker a couple of years ago and started out by baking my way through all the desserts in Michele Scicolone’s excellent “The Mediterranean Slow Cooker,” which introduced me to the joys of making flan, cheesecake, and fruit compote in the slow cooker. Fast forward several years later and I was looking to expand my slow cooker desserts repertoire, so imagine my delight when I got an e-mail from Lisa Ekus that highlighted “Slow Cooker Desserts” by Roxanne Wyss and Kathy Moore! Roxanne and Kathy are cookbook authors, food consultants, cooking teachers and food bloggers who have written seven cookbooks and a popular blog, www.pluggedintocooking.com. As soon as my copy of “Slow Cooker Desserts” arrived, I couldn’t wait to dig in to the many inviting recipes covering not only cakes and cheesecakes, but also bread puddings, fruits, and candy and fondues. The book opens with a good compact guide to slow cookers, bakeware, and ingredients. The layout is uncluttered and straightforward, and each recipe is followed by helpful tips, making it perfect for novice bakers. The gorgeous photography by Jennifer Davick deserves a special mention as well. The first recipe I tried was the Praline-Pumpkin Cheesecake. I decided to substitute a gingersnap crust for the graham crackers, and it added the perfect touch of spice to complement the spices in the cheesecake filling. Note that you do need to blind bake the gingersnap crust prior to baking in the slow cooker, but this only adds a few minutes to the prep time. Also, perhaps it was the brand of gingersnaps I used, but I would recommend adding a little extra melted butter until the crust comes together – the recipe calls for 1 tablespoon melted butter for ½ cup crumbs. One thing I would suggest is to also liberally spray the sides of your springform pan as well – mine is supposedly nonstick, but I followed the recipe (which only specifies to spray the bottom of the pan) and a large portion of my cheesecake edges stuck and broke. I normally do spray the entire pan with Baker’s Joy, but I follow the recipes as written when I am testing for reviews. The finished cheesecake texture is very fluffy and a bit crumbly, so I did have difficulty cutting it neatly; I’m not sure if I may have beat TOO much air into my filling and will beat for less next time. The praline topping (made in the microwave in under three minutes) is destined to become my new secret weapon in the kitchen! This homemade caramel was delicious and deceptively easy and would also make a great addition to ice cream or cakes. All combined (gingersnap crust, spiced pumpkin filling, praline topping), this is a great fall dessert with minimal effort and also frees up your oven for other baking tasks. The second recipe I tried was the candied cranberry and crystallized ginger chutney; this one called my name because I am a certified fiend when it comes to candied ginger. I had a bag of organic cranberries in the freezer that I was looking to use up, so it worked out perfectly that I already had all the ingredients on hand in my pantry (even the ginger liqueur!). My bag of organic cranberries was slightly smaller than the 16-oz. bag called for in the recipe, so I scaled back on the sugar quite a bit as I was using candied ginger (I used ¾ cup sugar in place of the 1 ¼ in the recipe, and it was plenty sweet for me). It also had the bonus of making my kitchen smell amazing as it cooked! I cooked mine down for a little longer; the recipe says that it should be thin, but I like my chutney on the very thick side more like a compote. The recipe calls for between 5 to 7 hours on low and I ended up cooking mine for 3 hours on high due to time. This would be fantastic stirred into yogurt, as an accompaniment to Indian food, or even as a side dish in place of jellied cranberries or cranberry sauce at Thanksgiving. The third recipe was the chocolate cashew clusters. I’d seen slow cooker candy (including nut clusters) pop up in my Facebook feed, but I’d never tried making it before. The recipe uses salted cashews, semisweet and milk chocolate chips, a dark chocolate candy bar, and candy coating to create decadent nut clusters that look like they came from a candy shop. These take about 1 ½ hours on low plus cooling / set time (3 to 5 hours). Other recipes on my to-make list from “Slow Cooker Desserts” include the cinnamon-calvados applesauce, rice pudding with cherries, and many of the cheesecakes (brownie chunk, German chocolate, ginger-peach, coconut cream) and cakes (cider-glazed apple-walnut cake, Southern sweet potato cake, pineapple butter cake). There is enough variety and possible variations (I need to find a way to make a cookie butter cheesecake!) to keep you happily baking for months to come.