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Friends, I am so excited about today’s post! Not only do I get to share my recipe for Maple Apple Butter Polka Dot Cheesecake Bars, but I also get to tell you and OXO‘s new line of bakeware and, most importantly, I will be sharing with you the story of OXO’s involvement in raising money to fight pediatric cancers through Cookies for Kids’ Cancer and tell you some about how cancer has touched my life and why it’s so important to keep searching for new, effective, targeted treatments. And what polka dots have to do with it.
Introducing the New OXO Non-Stick Pro Bakeware
For this post, OXO sent me their 9″x 13″ cake pan from their new Non-Stick Pro Bakeware line. I am very impressed, which is unsurprising given OXO’s commitment to quality. Remember how much I loved (and still love) my sauce pan? On first glance, the USA-made pan is beautiful, but there is a lot of brawn hiding underneath the beauty. First of all, the pan is aluminized steel for a great balance of strength and heat conductivity. The non-stick surface is made doubly so by the keen texture on the bottom that not only looks cool but limits food-to-pan contact. This both allows air to circulate and helps to prevent sticking. There are many other specs, including the squared rolled edges you can see in my photos (for rigidity/warping-resistance), and you can read about them on the OXO site. Here’s the direct link to the Very Pan I have.
This guy is OXO’s Baker’s Dusting Wand. You twist the lower section of the base to open and close the “ball” to fill it. It works like a charm. It has a solid half and a perforated half, so you can set the solid side down on the counter without making a big fat mess. My only wish is that it held more so I didn’t have to reload it as frequently.
OXO Good Cookies
When cancer reached out and took the child of one of the OXO family, OXO stepped up and took action. Their pledge is to donate $100,000 this year, in part through donations made for blog posts like this one, and in part through sales. Look for this sticker on OXO products this month, and know that OXO will be donating a portion of each sale to The Childhood Cancer Foundation or Cookies for Kids’ Cancer.
OXO Is Serious About Their Fight Against Pediatric Cancer
- Cookies for Kids’ Cancer is a recognized 501c(3) public charity duly incorporated under the laws of the state of New Jersey. Your donations are tax deductible to the fullest extent allowable by law. 100% of proceeds raised by Cookies for Kids’ Cancer fund pediatric cancer research.
- In 2015, OXO will donate up to $100,000 to Cookies for Kids’ Cancer through product proceeds, bake sale matches and other fundraising efforts
Last year, I wrote about my friend Lizzie’s daughter Lily and her fight with leukemia. I am happy to report Lily continues to thrive, post cancer, and is getting great reports, doing well in school, active in Girl Scouts and still loves kittens.
This year my post is even more personal. I was diagnosed with cancer this year. Just a couple of months ago, in fact. I had a melanoma on my right forearm, and even though it was “in situ” (all in one place with no spreading) and it was taken care of with a wide margin excision surgery, I must be vigilant against recurrence for the rest of my life and take care to stay out of the sun or cover up well and use a ton of sunscreen. Melanoma is the rarest form of skin cancer, yet it claims the most lives. It took a dear friend of The Beloved’s and mine early in 2004 after it metastasized to his brain. While I refuse to live in fear, I will make some lifestyle changes and get checked four times a year. Doctors don’t ever call a person cured of melanoma. If it is not currently showing up, you are said to have “No Evidence of Disease,” or NED. Not cured, just no disease.
I realize I’m not a kid, but there is such a thing as pediatric melanoma, and it often presents quite differently from melanoma in adults, making it challenging to diagnose. And if you have been diagnosed with melanoma, your kids have a 50% higher chance of developing melanoma than kids’ whose parents never get melanoma. Here are just a couple of facts and statistics about pediatric melanoma:
- While melanoma is the rarest type of skin cancer in adults, almost all pediatric skin cancer is melanoma.1
- Diagnoses of pediatric melanoma in the US rises by about 2% per year, especially in the 15-19 year age group.1
- Of the seven most common cancers in the US, melanoma is the only one whose incidence is on the rise.2
- Melanoma is the most common cancer in young adults in their 20’s and is the leading cause of cancer death in women 25-30.3
- Sustaining five or more blistering sunburns as a child puts increases the liklihood you will be diagnosed with melanoma at some point in your life by 80%.4
That last one? Yeah, I’m positive that my crazy sunburns as a kid led to this diagnosis since I have steadfastly hidden from the sun for at least the last 25 years.
This guy is OXO’s brownie spatula. As you can see, the business end is clear. It’s made of a BPA-free plastic called Tritan. The brownie spatula is made for cutting and serving brownies, but since I made cheesecake bars, I cut with a hot knife. For serving, though, it worked really well. The front edge is beveled so you can easily push it under what you’re serving, and the plastic is flexible enough to make the job easy.
Why Polka Dots?
Once I was diagnosed and shared the diagnosis on facebook, many folks who I already knew told me that they’d had at least one melanoma removed two years ago, five years ago, ten years ago, and that they are doing just fine. One of my local blaggingfriends, Stacey of I Cook I Eat It’s Life, herself a 12-year melanoma survivor, introduced me to one of her friends who has had several surgeries and countless biopsies for melanoma over the past couple of years. Her kids call her Polka Dot Mama.
Much like the OXO folks, she is not one to just sit back and let cancer happen to her. After her third surgery, she embraced the name Polka Dot Mama, started a blog of the same name and then turned that into a foundation, The Polka Dot Mama Melanoma Foundation, complete with 501(c)(3) tax exempt status. May 1, 2016, PDMMF is holding a Chef’s Gala benefiting melanoma research called Taste for a Cure. Aside from all of that, which is plenty, she is also lovely and hilarious and, like me, Halloween is her favorite holiday. The first time I met her, we visited and laughed for over 2 hours, and the only reason we didn’t stay longer was because she had to pick her kids up from school.
Tracy has put her photography career on hold (she does amazing Anne Geddes-like newborn photography) to devote her full time and attention to her foundation and to her own health. With passionate people like Tracy around to raise awareness and money for melanoma research, the future looks bright for melanoma patients, even if we do have to sit in the shade.
Maple Apple Butter Polka Dot Cheesecake Bars
In honor of Tracy and PDMMF, I give you these Maple Cinnamon Apple Butter Polka Dot Cheesecake Bars. The dots are a lighthearted reminder of this dangerous skin cancer, and they are also delicious and full of fall goodness. Since cancers of all types thrive on sugar-rich diets (cancer is notoriously fond of glucose), I have kept the refined sugar in this recipe to a minimum. The only refined sugar is in the graham crackers. If you can find or make grahams with a less refined sugar, all the better. The cheesecake is sweetened and flavored with real maple syrup while the apple butter I made gets its sweetness from honey, apple cider, and the apples themselves. I’m not saying this is health food by any stretch of the imagination, but it is real food, and is very good.
For the Crust
- 22 "sheets" of graham crackers, (2 1/2 sleeves)
- pinch of salt
- 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
- 3.5 oz cold butter, (all but one tablespoon of a 4 oz stick. You can probably get away with just using 3 oz)
- (2-3 tablespoons granulated or brown sugar, optional. It can make the crust very difficult to cut through)
For the Cheesecake Mixture
- 4 8 oz packages full-fat cream cheese, , room temperature
- 1/4 teaspoon fine sea salt
- 1 cup * real maple syrup, , room temperature (Grade B, preferred. If you cannot find Grade B, add 1/2 teaspoon maple extract along with the maple syrup)
- 4 large eggs, , room temperature
- 1 cup buttermilk
- 1/2 cup all purpose flour
- 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
For the Apple Butter Polka Dots
- 3/4 cup apple butter, , divided (homemade or store bought)
- 1/2 cup cheesecake mixture
- (1/4 teaspoon maple extract, optional)
For the Stenciled Dots
- 3 tablespoons powdered sugar
- 1 teaspoon cinnamon plus a bit more for making some of the dots darker than others
- Pastry bag fitted with a 1/4" round tip, (you can also use a large zip top bag instead of a pastry bag, but you'll still need a coupler and tip)
- 1 sheet of parchment the same size as the top of your baked bars
- round objects of different sizes for tracing. I used the three smallest cutters from a set of graduated cutters
- Sharpie for tracing
- Baker's dusting wand or similar, , or a fine mesh strainer or tea ball
For the Crust
- Very coarsely break up the graham crackers and place them in the bowl of your food processor or high speed blender. Add the salt and cinnamon and process until you have lovely, fine crumbs.
- Cut the cold butter into cubes and pulse/process until the mixture begins to clump together a bit.
- Press evenly in the bottom of a 9"x13" baking pan (such as the new OXO Non-Stick Pro 9"x13" Cake Pan). I used my bench knife and it worked great to get into the corners. Another great idea from a friend is to take another 9"x13" pan (if you have one) and press that down hard onto the crumbs after sort of evening them out with your hand. Either way works, and both ways are fast. Nice!
- Bake the crust in a 350F oven for 10 minutes. Remove to cool. Turn oven temperature down to 325F.
For the Custard
- In the bowl of your stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream the cream cheese with the salt on low speed until very smooth, scraping the bowl as necessary.
- With the mixer still running on low, slowly stream in a bit of the maple syrup. Allow the mixer to fully incorporate the syrup into the softened cream cheese. Add the total amount of syrup in 4-5 additions, and scrape the bowl well between additions.
- Once the syrup is incorporated, add the eggs, one at a time, mixing in one before adding the next. Scrape the bowl as necessary.
- Stream in the buttermilk (this doesn't have to happen as slowly as the maple syrup) and then mix in the flour and cinnamon. Scrape the bowl and ensure that the mixture is completely smooth and uniform.
- Remove half a cup of the cheesecake mixture and set aside.
- Carefully pour the rest evenly on top of the crust and shake the pan a bit to level it. Cover and chill.
For the Polka Dots
- Mix about 1/2 of the apple butter into the reserved cheesecake mixture. Add the optional maple extract and mix well. Reserve the remaining apple butter, and if your apple butter is a bit thin, put it in the freezer as well to thicken up.
- Pour into your pastry bag or zip lock, making sure none leaks out of the piping tip, and freeze for an hour to an hour and a half until thickened.
- Once the polka dot mix is nice and thick, get the pan out of the fridge. Bury the pastry tip just below the surface of the custard and squeeze just a tiny amount into the mixture. If you use too much, you'll end up with polka dots with flat bottoms. This happened to me, so if you don't like the way my flat dots look in the photos, only squeeze a very tiny amount for each dot. Do this randomly all over the custard until you run out of apple butter mixture.
- "Reload" your pastry bag with the straight apple butter and make more dots randomly. This way you'll have 2 different colors of dots. You don't have to do this, but it looks kinda cool.
- Place the pan on the center rack and bake for 25 minutes at 325F. Turn off the oven and allow to sit for an additional 30 minutes. The cheesecake should only jiggle slightly in the center. The internal temperature should be about 155F, no higher. If you're there, you're good. If not. Remove the bars carefully from the oven, preheat again to 325 and then put the bars back in (this keeps them from being super heated on the bottoms during the preheat cycle). Bake an additional 3-5 minutes. Err on the side of slightly underbaked, and keep an eye on the temperature using your Thermapen or instant read thermometer.
- Remove the bars to a rack to cool, then cover and refrigerate until cold or overnight
For the Stenciled Polka Dots
- Use different sized round Items and trace around them on the piece of parchment so you have dots randomly all over. Don't go too crazy because you want the paper to be easy to remove, and it won't be if you have dots all on top of each other.
- Cut out the circles--try to stay outside the lines so a minimum of Sharpie remains on your parchment.
- Press the parchment down--Sharpie side up--to the surface of the cheesecake and smooth it out.
- Whisk together the powdered sugar and cinnamon and add some to your OXO Baker's Dusting Wand, fine mesh strainer or mesh tea ball.
- Sift a fairly thick layer of the cinnamon-sugar mixture all over the stencil, reloading your wand when you need to.
- Once you have a nice coverage, dump out any remaining cinnamon-sugar mixture and add a bit of straight cinnamon.
- Dust that on over random polka dots to make them darker.
- Carefully remove the stencil. You may have to get a friend or your kid to help you peel it off from all four corners slowly into the center. Then you can just lift it away with a minimum of extra powdered sugar and cinnamon falling onto your bars and messing up your design. I was able to remove mine alone with minimal horror.
- Slice with a hot knife, wiping the blade clean between cuts and then reheating. You can heat it under very hot water.
These bars are best cut with a hot knife. Run your blade under very hot water and wipe dry between cuts. As you can tell from some of my photos, I didn't follow my own directions in a few cases. Trust me, these guys will cut perfectly with a hot knife. See the stack of bars for Especially Attractive Specimens.
*Using one cup makes a not-too-sweet cheesecake. If you prefer, you may add an additional 2-3 Tablespoons maple syrup to make a slightly sweeter custard.
Shop This Recipe
Here are a few of the items you will need to make the Maple Apple Butter Polka Dot Cheesecake Bars. The OXO Non-Stick Pro Cake Pan is so new, it’s not even on Amazon yet. You can order directly through OXO here.
Thank you so much for taking the time to read today. Cancer is not something we like to talk about out in the pretty world of food blogging, but it’s out there, and it’s everywhere. In the case of melanoma and pediatric melanoma, please be sure to check yourself and get yourself checked if you see any freckles or moles that seem suspicious. If you’re not sure, use the ABCDE method. For kids, since the cancer presents so differently, they’ve come up with a newer and hopefully more accurate method for home checks, ABCD. As with anything, knowledge is power. Take control and use that sunblock, especially on your kids.
Please support OXO whenever and wherever you see their “green dot” stickers, enjoy the maple apple butter polka dot cheesecake bars, and be well.
Have a lovely day.