My 17th Birthday Cake (Cheat)

~5-layer midnight cake with cheesecake filling, covered with a generous layer of pink buttercream, glossy chocolate ganache, and topped with whipped cream and Oreos~

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Guess who’s 17 years old!

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I have a love-hate relationship with birthdays. I love everything about them, except the fact that I’m another year older. I prefer other people’s birthdays, with all the celebrations and games and cakes and gift-opening, but without me being consciously aware of my ageing.

It’s weird, isn’t it? The way that day by day, hour by hour, we age, but it’s only once a year for 24 hours that we actually acknowledge it. Then again, acknowledging our constant ageing would take some of the fun out of birthdays.

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I don’t understand why people want to get older. A pessimistic way of putting is is that every year, you’re a year closer to death. You become more likely to get sick. You have more responsibilities. Then again, an optimistic way of seeing is is that every year, you are faced with new opportunities. You’ll graduate and start a new chapter of your life. You might get a job. You might meet “the one”. You might get married. You might have kids. Who knows? In the end, the best way to predict your future is to live it the way you want. Sometime’s it’s just easier to be passive to all that happens around you, so that when things go wrong, you can blame the world and carry on, but wow, that must get boring. The happiest people are those who take control of their lives and steer it the way they want to go. When things go wrong, they acknowledge their mistakes and learn from them, and when things go right, they’re living Heaven on Earth. You pick (hint: I’d go with the second one).

I always seem to get really reflective on my birthday. Is it just me?

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But let’s focus on the real reason you’re here: CAKE!

Another reason why I always get excited about birthdays – cake. This year, I decided to bake myself a 5-layer midnight cake with cheesecake filling, covered with a generous layer of pink buttercream, glossy chocolate ganache, and topped with whipped cream and Oreos. Helll yes.

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To be honest, the cake is pretty much just a chocolate cake with black food colouring added. I used to not like chocolate cake. I thought that it was too rich. I’d always opt for vanilla or red velvet. Chocolate cake just wasn’t my thing, but alas, times have changed. Maybe I’d been deprived of chocolate cake for too long, but this chocolate cake was the bomb. Even before I baked the cake, the cake batter was waving chocolatey scents at me, trying to get me to give in and admit that chocolate cake is one of the best kinds of cake. While I was trimming the cakes, I nibbled on some of the cake crumbs and I was in awe, trying to understand how I had ever disliked chocolate cake. This chocolate cake is velvety. It’s suuper moist and it’s perfectly sweet. It has a wonderful cocoa flavour that isn’t overwhelming, and it pairs beautifully with all the other flavours going on in this cake.

Speaking of other flavours…THE CHEESECAKE FILLING. I don’t know how many times I’ve said it, but cream cheese frostings are magical. Maybe that’s a biased opinion because they’re my favourite, but tbh I’ve never met anyone who dislikes cream cheese frosting. The cheesecake filling tastes pretty much just like cream cheese frosting, but there isn’t as much butter. The butter’s replaced with whipped cream, which is just folded in at the end, so that you end up with filling that’s extra fluffy and light, but definitely is not missing any flavour.

I don’t want to be writing an essay here, so I’m just going to tell you that the buttercream, chocolate ganache, whipping cream, and Oreos are perfect. Simply, utterly, perfect.

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5-Layer Midnight Cake with Cheesecake Filling and Pink Buttercream

Adapted from various sources (linked below)

Ingredients

For the cake

  • 2 1/4 cups (285 g) all-purpose flour
  • 2 1/4 cups (450 g) superfine sugar
  • 1 cup (120 g) “black” unsweetened cocoa powder (or regular cocoa powder with 1 teaspoon black gel food colouring)
  • 1 tablespoon baking soda
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 1/2 cups (360 ml) buttermilk, room temperature
  • 1 cup (240 ml) hot coffee
  • 3/4 cup (180 ml) vegetable oil
  • 2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
  • 3 eggs, room temperature

For the cheesecake filling

  • 500g cream cheese, softened
  • 100g unsalted butter, softened
  • 200g freshly whipped cream
  • 200g icing sugar, sifted

For the pink buttercream

  • 1 cup (226g) unsalted butter
  • 4 cups (500g) powdered sugar
  • 1 tablespoons whipping cream
  • 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • 1/2 teaspoon pink food colouring

For the chocolate ganache

  • 5 ounces (150 g) best-quality dark chocolate, chopped (I used Lindt)
  • 3/4 cup (90 g) unsalted butter
  • 1 tablespoon light corn syrup or honey

For the whipping cream

  • 1/2 cup whipping cream
  • 1-2 tablespoons powdered sugar, to taste
  • Oreos, for topping

Method

I’ve included generic bad-quality, unedited photos that I took while I was assembling the cake for reference. Let me know if you have any questions!

  1. For the cake, preheat oven to 180 degrees Celsius or 350 degrees Fahrenheit
  2. In a large mixing bowl, sift flour, sugar, black cocoa powder, baking soda, baking powder, and salt
  3. In a medium bowl or measuring cup, combine the buttermilk, coffee, oil, and vanilla, and then mix in eggs
  4. Add liquid mixture to dry ingredients and whisk until smooth, about 1 minute. Divide batter equally among the three lined and greased 8-inch cake pans or weigh for accuracy. Each pan should weigh about 600 grams
  5. Bake the first two layers until a wooden pick inserted into the centre of the cake comes out clean, about 23 minutes. Allow the cakes to cool in pans on a wire rack for 10 minutes, and then turn onto rack to cool completely. Repeat with the final cake layer. When ready to assemble the cake, wrap the layers in plastic wrap and chill for about 30 minutes.
  6. For the cheesecake filling, use an electric mixer to whip cream cheese, butter, and icing sugar until pale and fluffy. Fold in whipped cream until combined
  7. For the pink buttercream, use an electric mixer to beat the butter until pale and fluffy. Add in the icing sugar, vanilla extract, food colouring, and 1 tablespoon of whipping cream and beat until combined
  8. To assemble the cake, trim the cake layers, and then halve them so that each cake becomes two layers.
  9. Place approximately 1/2 tablespoon of the cheesecake filling (or buttercream) on the center of a cake board, and place your bottom cake layer onto the cake board. Add about 1/2-3/4 cup of cheesecake filling onto the top of the cake, and using a small offset spatula, spread the filling so that it covers the top of the cake. It’s okay to let a little bit of filling go over the side. Add the next cake layer and repeat until you’ve reached your final cake layer
  10. Cover the cake with a thin layer of the cheesecake filling (or buttercream), also known as crumb coating it, and chill in fridge for at least 30 minutes
  11. Cover the cake in pink buttercream and chill in fridge for at least 15 minutes
  12. In the meantime, make the chocolate ganache. In a small bowl, melt the chocolate, butter, corn syrup and salt in the microwave, about 50 seconds, and stir until smooth. Let cool until it thickens slightly, about 15 minutes
  13. For the whipping cream, use a whisk or electric hand mixer to whip the cream until stiff peaks form. Whisk in the powdered sugar. Transfer the mixture into a piping bag fitted with a star tip
  14. (Assembling, continued) Remove the cake from the fridge and spoon the chocolate glaze to the edges of the cake, gently pushing some over the side and letting it dribble down. When you’ve finished putting chocolate glaze on the edges of the cake, spoon chocolate glaze into the centre until covered
  15. When the chocolate has set slightly, pipe the whipped cream around the edges of the cake and top each swirl with half an Oreo
  16. Serve!

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Pumpkin Banana Spiced Pancakes with Pumpkin Fro-Yo (Clean)

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This one day during September, my inbox began filling up with pumpkin recipes from all the blogs that I follow, and that’s when I realised that I should probably get started on these pumpkin recipes, so today I’m giving you not one, but two pumpkin recipes!

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Here in Beijing, the temperatures are still in the high 20s, so part of this recipe is a Summer-Fall hybrid. Pumpkin Fro-Yo. All the flavours of Fall, but still keeping the temperature cool for Summer. If you’re not really up for cold food, don’t worry! The pancakes are hot and full of cozy spices, and of course, you can (should) top the whole stack off with a warm chocolate drizzle. Chocolate is great. It’s available year-round and it makes everything better.

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Also – did I mention that the frozen yogurt is only 4 ingredients? Yaaay!

Pancakes are my go-to breakfast these days. I like to make a large batch of them over the weekend and keep them in my fridge or freezer. They’re a perfect grab-and-go breakfast, which is essential now that swim training has started. Having breakfast ready everyday is the ultimate time-saver to maximise my much-needed sleep.

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Pumpkin Banana Spiced Pancakes with Pumpkin Fro-Yo 

Ingredients

For the pancakes:

  • 1 1/4 cups white whole wheat flour
  • 2 tablespoons coconut sugar
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon pumpkin pie spice
  • 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1 cup soy milk
  • 1/2 teaspoon apple cider vinegar
  • 1 egg
  • 1/2 cup pumpkin puree
  • 1 ripe banana, mashed
  • 1 tablespoon melted coconut oil

For the frozen yogurt:

  • 1 cup vanilla greek yogurt
  • 1 cup pumpkin puree
  • 1 tablespoon maple syrup
  • 1 teaspoon pumpkin pie spice
  • Melted chocolate, optional but recommended
Method
  1. For the fro-yo, mix everything together in a large mixing bowl until completely combined
  2. *Churn the mixture in an ice cream maker until it is a smooth and has thickened. Store in freezer.
  3. For the pancakes, in a mixing bowl whisk together the flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda, salt, pumpkin pie spice, and cinnamon
  4. In another bowl, whisk together the soy milk, vinegar, egg, pumpkin puree, banana, and melted coconut oil
  5. Pour the wet mixture into the dry mixture and fold until just combined
  6. Heat a pan over medium-high heat and scoop on 1/4-1/3 cup of batter
  7. Cook until bubbles appear and the sides start to dry before flipping. Cook another minute or so
  8. Repeat with the remaining batter.
  9. To assemble, stack the pancakes and top with a scoop of the fro-yo and a generous drizzle of melted chocolate. Enjoy!

*If you don’t have an ice cream maker, place the bowl in the freezer and stir the mixture every half hour until it reaches desired consistency

Snowskin Mooncakes (Cheat)

Pros of living in China – holidays for the Mid-Autumn Festival (中秋节), which is on September 15 this year.

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I love the Mid-Autumn Festival, and not just because of the extra days off. My all-time favourite Chinese legends include the story behind the Mid-Autumn Festival, as well as the one behind the Dragon Boat Festival. I’m not going to explain the whole story, but basically there’s a lady with her bunny who are immortal and live on the moon. The bunny doesn’t really have much significance, but when the lady started flying up to the moon, she just decided to grab her bunny and bring her along…so that’s that (there are multiple versions of the story but that one’s my favourite).

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Another reason why I love the Mid-Autumn Festival – mooncakes! I love mooncakes – both traditional and snowskin ones. They’re just so unique and they taste amazing. When I was little, we made mooncakes at school, but all the doughs were made and you just had to mould the shapes. Ah, good times.

I haven’t yet made traditional mooncakes from scratch, because apparently you need alkaline water and I’m not sure where to get that? If anyone knows – please let me know!

But anyways, I decided to make snowskin mooncakes instead! Snowskin mooncakes look very similar to mooncakes, except their outside layer is very different. Also, traditional mooncakes often have a salted egg yolk in the centre, while snowskin mooncakes don’t. Both are delicious🙂

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I’ve also provided you with a few step-by-step photo guides for how to make the mooncakes. There’s more than one set, but here’s one to start off with:

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Yup. It’s really not too difficult.

In terms of fillings – there are endless flavours that you can use. In traditional mooncakes, lotus seed is the best, but with these, black sesame and red bean are both amazing as well!

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I got my red bean filling pre-made. In the photo above, that dark package with the red lettering on it is the red bean filling that I got. It’s already sweetened, so I didn’t have to do anything to it. To make the the black sesame filling…well, let’s just say I got creative.

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On the left, we have a Chinese sweet treat. They’re these crumbly black sesame squares and I practically had boxes of them. They’re mostly just made from black sesame powder and sugar, so I just added a tiny bit of water at a time until it resembled the dough/paste on the right. Of course, if you have black sesame paste, it would probably be best just to use that, but nevertheless – this works!

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Lastly, go crazy with colours! The wonderful thing about snowskin mooncakes is that they come in all sorts of colours. You can even use different coloured doughs to achieve a marble-y effect if you’d like. I stuck with some pretty simple colours. You can choose to use food colouring or natural colourings (beetroot powder, spirulina powder, chlorella powder, açai powder etc.).

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Snowskin Mooncakes

Ingredients

  • 100g cooked glutinous rice flour (Gao Fen)
  • 120g powdered sugar
  • 25g vegetable shortening
  • 80ml cold water
  • Fillings of choice (e.g. lotus seed, black sesame, red bean)
  • Food colouring (or natural food powders such as beetroot, spirulina, chlorella, açai)

Method

  1. In a mixing bowl, sift together the rice flour and powdered sugar
  2. Rub the shortening into the mixture until the mixture resembles coarse crumbs
  3. If using food colouring/coloured powders, combine a little with the cold water. If you want different coloured mooncakes, then separate your dough into however many colours you want and, to each dough, add a tablespoon of water at a time and knead until a soft dough forms (you may need more or less)
  4. Weigh out about 25g of dough and about 50g of your filling (there should be a 1:2 ratio for the dough and filling)
  5. (Next steps involve making the actual mooncake, and it’s easier to use pictures than to explain in words. In the following images, the pink/red ball is the dough and the black ball is the black sesame filling)

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Another set of photos (green is dough and black is filling)

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Chill the mooncakes 6 hours before serving and store in fridge. Enjoy!

Raspberry Chocolate Truffle Tart (Cheat)

This is probably the most photogenic thing I’ve ever baked.

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So yeah…lots of photos in this post. Enjoy.

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I went to a Simple Plan concert on Sunday! It’s the third SP concert that I’ve been to and it was incredible, just as it always was. The only downside is that 90 minutes speeds by when you’re singing at the top of your lungs and getting lost in the lyrics and music of the band that means the world to you.

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My whole weekend, in fact, was pretty great. On Saturday, I finished my Extended Essay draft in the morning and finished off decorating a layer cake for my brother and his friend’s birthday dinner. One of my favourite things to do is making layer cakes (alongside decorating cupcakes, of course).

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But anyways, these tarts were seriously one of the best things I’ve ever made. They have a perfect flavour balance and are wonderfully decadent. They start off with a classic biscuit base – and who doesn’t love a good biscuit base??

Then they’re filled with this gorgeously smooth chocolate filling and baked, giving them a texture like no other tart or cake or pie that you’ve ever had before. They’re truly quite unique.

And then, they’re topped off with a silky chocolate ganache and fresh, fruity raspberries.

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This, my friends, is what I call perfection.

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Raspberry Chocolate Truffle Tart

Ingredients:

Crust:

  • 1 1/2 cup digestive biscuit crumbs
  • 6 tablespoons butter, melted

Filling:

  • 350ml whipping cream
  • 250g dark chocolate (70%)
  • 5ml pure vanilla extract
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1 tablespoon powdered sugar

Ganache:

  • 100g dark chocolate
  • 1/4 cup whipping cream
  • Fresh raspberries
  • Shredded coconut (optional)

Method

  1. For the base, mix the biscuit crumbs and melted butter together until fully combined. Press into mini cake tins and/or a lined muffin tray
  2. Bake at 180 degrees Celsius or 355 degrees Fahrenheit for 10 minutes. Allow to cool before filling.
  3. For the filling, break the chocolate into pieces in a bowl.
  4. In a saucepan, bring the cream to a simmer and pour over the chocolate. Allow to sit for 5 minutes before stirring until the chocolate is completely melted.
  5. Add in the vanilla extract, icing sugar, and eggs until fully combined
  6. Pour the filling into the baked tarts and bake for 10 minutes, until the edges are set but the centre is still slightly wobbly
  7. Remove from the oven and allow to cool
  8. For the ganache, break the chocolate into pieces in a bowl
  9. In a saucepan, bring the cream to a simmer and pour over the chocolate. Allow to sit for 5 minutes before stirring until the chocolate is completely melted
  10. Spread the ganache over the cooled tarts and top with fresh raspberries and shredded coconut

Chocolate Chip Almond Ice Cream (Cheat)

Summer is coming to an end (nooo), but that doesn’t mean you have to stop eating ice cream. I have so much ice cream in my freezer, I’ll probably be eating it all the way to October.

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I’m back from South Africa, and it was seriously amazing. God, I love animals. The highlights of my summer vacation were volunteering for a sea turtle conservation project in Sri Lanka and going on game drives in South Africa. Both such unforgettable experiences. I didn’t go to summer camp or write my Extended Essay (because I accidentally lost all my data oops), but nevertheless, it was a summer well spent.

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I’m quite devastated that summer vacation’s coming to an end. School starts tomorrow and I’m not academically prepared to be hit with the workload sitting around the corner. I’m not physically ready either, and by that, I mean I literally had just one night to adjust to a 6-hour time difference. Waking up at 7am will be equivalent to waking up at 1am. Welp.

But of course – I’m incredibly excited to see my friends and teachers again. Hi Anna. Hi Rebecca. Hi Bill. Hi Mr. Lugt.

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Back to the ice cream, though. This chocolate and almond ice cream is amazing. Based on the opinions of others, this recipe, and a recipe for mint chocolate chip ice cream (yet to be posted), are the best ice creams ever. That being said, they haven’t tried all the ice creams I’ve made (sometimes I’ll finish it all before anyone else can get to it – oops), but still, I stand by their opinions. This ice cream is really damn good.

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The ice cream base is a simple one – creamy and perfectly sweet. Then as the ice cream churns, you add in your chopped, aromatic almonds and the best part – the chocolate.

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I used to love making nana ice cream and pouring melted chocolate over the top, watching it set. This is the same. As the ice cream churns, you pour in a thin stream of melted chocolate, which sets instantly when coming in contact with the cold ice cream. Thus, you end up with chocolate distributed throughout all the ice cream, with chocolate in every bite, pairing beautifully with the full crunch of the chopped almonds. It’s a perfect combination, really.

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Note: Feel free to double the recipe if you wish. I made a smaller batch because my ice cream machine is quite small and I’d have to make the ice cream in two batches otherwise.

Chocolate Almond Ice Cream

Adapted from Lovely Little Kitchen

Ingredients

  • 3/4 cups whole milk
  • 1/3 cups granulated sugar
  • 1 cup heavy cream
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1/4 teaspoon almond extract
  • 1/4 cup dark chocolate chips or chunks
  • 1/4 cup roasted, salted almonds, chopped

Method

  1. Freeze your ice cream maker ahead of time (according to manufacturers instructions)
  2. In a large mixing bowl or the bowl of a stand mixer, whisk the milk and sugar together until the sugar has dissolved
  3. Add in the heavy cream, vanilla extract, and almond extract, and whisk until combined
  4. Pour the mixture into the ice cream maker and churn according to manufacturers instructions
  5. While the ice cream is churning, melt the chocolate in the microwave at 10-second intervals, stirring in between, until the chocolate has completely melted
  6. When the ice cream has reached a soft consistency, pour 2/3 of the melted chocolate in a thin stream over the churning ice cream
  7. Add in 2/3 of the almonds to the churning ice cream
  8. When the ice cream has finished churning, transfer it into a storage container, and sprinkle on  the remaining almonds, and drizzle the last of the melted chocolate over it
  9. Freeze for at least 3 hours. Allow to thaw before serving.

Blueberry Bread (Cheat)

It’s blueberry season (I think)! Have some blueberry bread~

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I’m still in utter disbelief that school starts in half a month. It’s honestly so depressing to think about all that work ahead of me that I’ve been procrastinating – college apps, extended essay, IAs…

GAH ok I won’t think about that now. For now, I’m gonna focus on telling you about this blueberry bread, aight? Blueberry bread. Blueberry bread.

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This blueberry bread is everything you’d want in a loaf cake. It has just the right texture and flavor, not to mention that its full of delicious blueberries! Each slice is guaranteed a generous amount of blueberries.

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I’ve never really cared much about flouring blueberries before mixing them into the batter. It prevents the blueberries from bleeding, but look the gorgeous patterns they make when they bleed! It’s so pretty! Food is art, I tell you.

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Blueberry Bread

Recipe adapted from Something Swanky

Ingredients

  • 2 large eggs, room temperature
  • 1 cup granulated sugar
  • 1 cup whole milk
  • 3 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • 3 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 4 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1 cup fresh blueberries

Method

  1. Preheat oven to 175ºC or 350ºF
  2. In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, vanilla, salt, and baking powder
  3. In a large bowl, whisk together the eggs, sugar, milk, and oil
  4. Gently fold the dry ingredients into the wet until almost combined, with a few streaks of flour remaining
  5. Fold in the blueberries
  6. Transfer the mixture into a lined or greased 5×12 loaf pan and bake for 55-60 minutes, until a toothpick comes out clean. Allow to cool before slicing.

Fruity Rainbow Fro-Yo Popsicles (Clean)

Expect lots of ice cream recipes these days, ’cause my freezer it literally full of it right now.

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Also – I figured out a problem to that Photoshop problem. I had a bunch of recipes with unedited photos, but my laptop died and my brother’s laptop doesn’t have Photoshop. My solution – using a 7-day trial. Hell yes.

So instead of working on my college apps and my math IA, I’ll gladly spend these next 6 days editing all the photos I had procrastinated.

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These fruity popsicles are perfect for the killer heat this summer. I haven’t left my house for the past week until today, when I took my dog for a walk. I had only been outside for about 5 minutes before I started sweating and my dog was panting like crazy. Needless to say, it was a short walk. When I got home, the first thing I went to grab was one of these popsicles. I gave my dog her water, which she lapped up, but then she just stared at me longingly as I enjoyed my cold popsicle. Poor puppy.

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Feel free to sub in whatever fruit you want, depending on what you have on hand. Oh, and no – blueberries do not make a blue layer, but you could experiment around with spirulina powder to get a turqoise-colored layer.

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Fruity Rainbow Fro-Yo Popsicles

Ingredients

  • 3 cups greek yogurt
  • 1/2 cup cherries or raspberries
  • 1/2 cup pineapple chunks
  • 1/2 cup chopped kiwi
  • 1/2 cup blueberries
  • 1 tablespoon açai powder
  • Honey, to taste

Method

  1. Distribute the yogurt evenly among 5 bowls
  2. In a food processor, blend each fruit separately and set aside. Start off with the lightest colors and gradually use darker ones to avoid washing your food processor/blender every time (pineapple -> kiwi -> cherries/raspberries -> blueberries
  3. Stir the pineapple, kiwi, and cherry/raspberry fruit purees into the bowls of yogurt. For the two distinct layers of purple, stir about a tablespoon of blueberry puree in one, and the rest into the other. Add the açai powder to the yogurt with more blueberry.
  4. Stir in half a teaspoon or so of honey into each bowl, if desired.
  5. Layer the yogurt into popsicle moulds. If your yogurt is runny, it may be easier to freeze the yogurt in between layers
  6. Freeze for 4-6 hours