Food & Drink | June 2021

By Abby & Kevin Tankersley

Baked Treats from Ellie

The Instagram account @NoelleBakess (yes, there is an extra “s” on there) is filled with photos of scrumptious baked goods. There are some savory items there, like garden focaccia and meat and veggie egg rolls, but most everything else is on the sweet side. There are cakes and cobblers — blueberry-peanut butter! — and cookies and ice pops and macaroons. Many of the photos are staged in a kitchen, with a mixer or other supplies in the background. Themajority of them, however, have been shot outdoors, with greenery behind the baked goods.

They’re well-done photographs of lovingly crafted food that would make a professional baker proud, but it is all the work of Ellie Sheesley, a 15-year-old sophomore at Midway High School.

She has been baking for four or five years now, having been inspired by watching her mother, Rebecca Sheesley, who admits that her baking now is pretty much limited to bread.

“She definitely does dessert baking, and that’s not something I do,” said Rebecca, an associate professor of environmental science at Baylor University. “I find baking intimidating and cooking easier.”

It was Rebecca who introduced Ellie’s baked goods to Doug Nesmith, the lab coordinator in environmental science. She took cheesecake bites to a faculty meeting in the fall of 2018, “and they were really good,” Nesmith said. Each Friday, he cooks lunch for graduate students so they can talk about the next week’s lab sessions, and for dessert, he would just bring something like a bag of cookies. After sampling the cheesecake, however, he started buying desserts from Ellie, and they were a hit with his students.

“We had anything from coconut macaroons to red velvet cake to raspberry cakes to German chocolate cupcakes, banana puddings, some of those cheesecake bites again,” he said. “One year for Valentine’s, she did a cake shaped in a heart with strawberries and blueberries on it. In the fall, she did chocolate chip-pumpkin cupcakes, all kinds of things.”

Eventually on Fridays, students stopped asking for Dr. Sheesley and instead started saying, “Have you seen Ellie’s mom?”

Nesmith hosted a watch party for his students when the Baylor Lady Bears basketball team was playing for a national championship, and he ordered cookies from Ellie. When she delivered them, the students “all applauded her and gave her a card and thanked her for her hard work,” Nesmith said.

According to Nesmith, the students’ favorite dessert was Ellie’s German chocolate cupcakes, which, upon first bite, appeared to have collapsed a bit. That was not the case. Ellie said she took a thimble and removed a bit of the cupcake to have more room for the yummy frosting made with pecans and coconut.“I had seen that somewhere, maybe on Pinterest,” Ellie said. “I had some extra frosting, and the coconut frosting that goes on German chocolate [cake] doesn’t stand up very much, so I thought I’d take some cupcake out of the middle. That way, there would be a good amount of frosting.”

Ellie said she will sometimes bake with her twin sister, Sophie, but they usually make only chocolate chip cookies together. “The last time we tried to make a cake together, she actually accidently dumped it onto me,” Ellie said. “The plate was a little bit slippery. And she picked it up, and it just slipped out of her hands. It was just a vanilla cake with frosting. The most basic cake. We fixed it; it was kind of ugly.”

Ellie said she could see herself running her own bakery one day and that she might study business at Baylor, since her mother works there. (Her father, Ben, is a cartographer.) She envisions her bakery being in a big city, somewhere busy, she said.

Ellie finds recipes online and in cookbooks and then tweaks them to make them her own. She provided this month’s recipes for the cupcakes and cookies, and she made the cupcakes seen in the photo. The Chocolate-Zucchini Bread recipe is one that we have been making for years. The secret to the crispy exterior of the bread is to add sugar, instead of flour, to the pan after it has been greased.

The Recipes

Lemon-Blueberry Cupcakes

For the cupcakes:

  • 1 3/4 cups plus 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour, divided
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 cup full-fat sour cream
  • 1/2 cup whole milk
  • 3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice, divided
  • 3/4 cup fresh or frozen blueberries (if using frozen, do not thaw first)
  • 1 stick unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon lemon extract, optional (but will add flavor)
  • 1 large egg plus 1 egg yolk, at room temperature
  • 2 teaspoons finely grated lemon zest

For the frosting:

  • 1 stick unsalted butter, very soft
  • 8 ounces full-fat cream cheese, very soft
  • 4 cups powdered sugar
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
  • 1/4 teaspoon vanilla
  • 1/4 teaspoon lemon extract, optional
  • 1/2 teaspoon finely grated lemon zest

To make the cupcakes, heat oven to 350 F. Line a 12-cup muffin tin with liners and set aside.

In a medium bowl, combine 1 3/4 cups flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt; set aside.

In a separate bowl, combine the sour cream, milk and 2 tablespoons of lemon juice. Whisk well to combine and set aside.

Place the blueberries in a small bowl and add 1 tablespoon of lemon juice. Toss to coat. Add 2 tablespoons of flour and toss to coat. Set aside.

Using a stand mixer with the paddle attachment, beat the butter on medium speed until smooth and creamy, about 30 seconds. Add the sugar and lemon extract (if using) and beat until well combined. Add the egg and egg yolk and mix well. Reduce mixer speed to low and add half of the flour mixture. Mix until just combined. Add half of the sour cream mixture and mix until just combined. Repeat with the remaining flour and sour cream mixtures. Use a rubber spatula to fold in the blueberries and lemon zest.

Spoon the batter into the muffin cups, filling them about 3/4 full. Bake for 16 to 20 minutes, or until a tester inserted in the center of one of the cupcakes comes out clean. Allow the cupcakes to cool in the pan for 5 minutes, then turn them out on a wire rack to cool completely.

To make the frosting, in the bowl of a stand mixer with the paddle attachment, beat the butter and cream cheese on medium speed until smooth and creamy. Reduce speed to low and gradually add the powdered sugar and lemon juice, beating until light and fluffy, about 2 minutes. Add the vanilla, lemon extract (if using) and lemon zest. Beat until smooth. Frost the cupcakes and decorate with a fresh blueberry and additional lemon zest, if desired.

Makes about 15 cupcakes.

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Raspberry-Pistachio Cookies

For the cookies:

  • 1/2 cup unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • 2 tablespoons brown sugar
  • 1 large egg, separated
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 cup plus 1 tablespoon all-purpose flour
  • 1/8 tsp salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon water
  • 1/2 cup salted pistachios, finely chopped
  • 1/4 cup raspberry preserves or jam

For the icing:

  • 1/2 cup powdered sugar, sifted
  • 1/4 teaspoon almond or vanilla extract
  • 1-2 teaspoons milk

To make the cookies, heat oven to 350 F. Line a large baking sheet with parchment paper.

Using an electric mixer, cream together the butter, sugar and brown sugar until light and fluffy.

Add in the egg yolk and vanilla. Mix well. Then mix in the flour and salt. Refrigerate the dough for about 20 minutes.

In a small dish, whisk together the egg white and 1/2 teaspoon water.

Using a small scoop, scoop out the dough and roll between your palms to create a ball. Brush with egg white wash and roll it in the chopped pistachios.

Place the dough ball on the baking sheet and use the back of a small round spoon to flatten the dough and create a small indention for the raspberry preserves. Repeat with the remaining dough, placing the cookies about an inch apart.

Spoon about 1 teaspoon of raspberry preserves into the cookies. Lightly push the preserves to the edges of the indention. Bake for 14 to 16 minutes. The cookies won’t get very dark but will look dull when they are done. Let cookies cool on the baking sheet for 5 minutes, then transfer to a wire rack to cool completely.

To make the icing, mix together the powdered sugar, extract and milk. Add more milk if the icing is too thick. Either drizzle the icing over the cookies using a spoon or pour the icing into a piping bag fitted with a small tip and gently squeeze the icing over the cookies.

Makes about 18 cookies.

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Chocolate-Zucchini Bread

For the dough:

  • 2 cups plus 2 tablespoons sugar
  • 3 eggs
  • 1 cup oil
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla
  • 2 cups grated zucchini, with the juice
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 cup chopped nuts

Heat oven to 350 F.

Spray two loaf pans with nonstick spray and sprinkle in 2 tablespoons sugar. Swirl the sugar around until the pans are coated and pour out the excess.

In a large bowl, mix the eggs, oil, vanilla and 2 cups sugar. Add the zucchini, then add the dry ingredients and nuts. Mix well and pour into the loaf pans. Bake for 50 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.

Makes 2 loaves of about 8 servings each.
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