Sunflower Birthday Cake (Yellow Layer Cake with Vanilla Cream Cheese Frosting & Oreo Filling)

My baby celebrated her 13th birthday last week. I officially have two teenagers in my house!

She requested a yellow-themed celebration. Yellow is indeed her favorite color, but I think that it was also an excuse to have vanilla Oreos and goldfish crackers around to nibble on. 😉 Our decor included yellow mums, yellow balloons, yellow streamers, yellow tablecloths and place settings, and “yellowish” birthday cake popcorn. We also had a yellow cake with yellow (sunflower-themed) cream cheese frosting and pale yellow number cookies, our family birthday tradition. It was a solid theme!

The recipe for the yellow layer cake was adapted from The New Best Recipe: All-New Edition from the Editors of Cook’s Illustrated. I used the vanilla cream cheese frosting with Oreo filling from her 12th birthday cake. There was enough frosting for the layer cake and 12 cupcakes- perfect.

Yield: One 9-inch layer cake, generously frosted

For the Cake:

  • 7 oz (1 3/4 cups) plain cake flour, sifted, plus more for dusting pans
  • 4 large eggs, at room temperature
  • 1/2 cup whole milk, at room temperature
  • 2 tsp vanilla extract
  • 10 1/2 oz (1 1/2 cups) granulated sugar
  • 2 tsp baking powder
  • 3/4 tsp fine sea salt
  • 16 T (2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened but still cool, cut into 16 pieces
  • vanilla cream cheese frosting, recipe below
  1. Adjust an oven rack to the lower-middle position and heat the oven to 350 degrees, preferably on convection.
  2. Generously grease two 9-inch round cake pans and cover the pan bottoms with rounds of parchment paper. Grease the parchment rounds and dust the cake pans with flour, tapping out the excess.
  3. Beat the eggs, milk, and vanilla with a fork in a 2-cup measuring cup with a spout. Measure out 1 cup of this mixture and set aside.
  4. Combine the flour, sugar, baking powder, and salt in the bowl of a standing mixer. Beat at the lowest speed to blend, about 30 seconds.
  5. With the mixture still running at the lowest speed, add the butter, one piece at a time; mix until the butter and flour begin to clump together and look sandy and pebbly, with pieces about the size of peas, about 30 to 40 seconds after all the butter is added.
  6. Add the reserved 1 cup egg mixture and mix at the lowest speed until incorporated, about 5 to 10 seconds.
  7. Increase the speed to medium-high and beat until light and fluffy, about 1 minute.
  8. Add the remaining egg mixture (about 1/2 cup) in a slow, steady stream, taking about 30 seconds. Stop and scrape the sides and bottom of the bowl as needed with a rubber spatula.
  9. Beat at medium-high speed until thoroughly combined and the batter looks slightly curdled, about 15 seconds.
  10. Divide the batter equally between the prepared cake pans. (about 1 lb plus 2.5 oz per pan) Spread to the sides of the pans and smooth with an offset or rubber spatula.
  11. Bake until the cake tops are light gold and a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean, 20 to 27 minutes. The cakes will mound slightly but will level when cooled.
  12. Cool on a wire rack for 10 minutes.
  13. Run a knife around the pan perimeter to loosen. Invert one cake onto a large plate and reinvert onto another wire rack. Repeat for the other layer. Cool completely before frosting.

For the Vanilla Cream Cheese Frosting and Oreo Filling & Sunflower Design:

  • 16 ounces cream cheese, room temperature
  • 1 cup (2 sticks) butter, room temperature
  • 6 cups confectioner’s sugar, sifted
  • 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • 15 mini-Oreos, crushed in a food processor, plus more for the center of the cake sunflower
  • yellow and green gel food coloring
  1. Place cream cheese and butter in the bowl of a stand mixer.
  2. Beat until light and fluffy, about 2 minutes.
  3. Add sugar and vanilla. Beat, on low-speed to combine.
  4. If too soft, chill until slightly stiff, about 10 minutes, before using.
  5. Reserve 1/4 cup icing for the green leaves, set aside.
  6. Tint the remaining icing pale yellow with food coloring, mixing well.
  7. Remove 1 1/4 cup of icing for the Oreo filling and place in separate bowl.
  8. Incorporate the crushed Oreos in the reserved 1 1/4 cups of filling icing. Spread on one of the layers.
  9. Place the second layer on top.
  10. Cover cake with a crumb coat and chill briefly, if necessary before continuing.
  11. Using an offset spatula, ice the sides of the cake with the pale yellow icing.
  12. Tint the remaining icing deeper “sunflower yellow.” Place in a pastry bag fitted with a leaf tip.
  13. Tint the leaf icing deep green. Place in a pastry bag fitted with a leaf tip and pipe onto 3 areas of the outside of the cake, or as desired.
  14. Then, starting at the outer edge of the cake, begin piping the dark yellow flower petals. Work in circles moving toward the center of the cake.
  15. When about 3 rows are complete, place a dollop of the dark yellow icing in the center and form the center of the flower with mini-Oreos. (It seemed easier to start by placing the first Oreo in the center.)
  16. Fill the gap between the last piped row of petals and the center by piping an additional row of petals.
  17. Chill prior to serving and store any leftover cake in the refrigerator.

BTW- If you thought that was enough… we had another celebration that required another dessert- this time yellow cupcakes with yellow (also sunflower) frosting. We do love our celebrations and yellow cake over here!

Yellow Cupcakes with Creamy Vanilla Cream Cheese Frosting

Happy Halloween! Halloween is my daughter’s favorite holiday. It’s just fun to dress up… and candy is involved. 🙂

She had two friends over for a Halloween themed “dinner party” a couple of weeks ago. I made these moist and delicious cupcakes for dessert. I was very pleased when she announced that they were the best cupcakes she’s ever had! ❀

This recipe was adapted from Bon AppĂ©tit, contributed by Claire Saffitz. It is part of a list named BA’s Best, a collection of essential recipes. I halved the cupcake recipe and doubled the frosting ratio.

We decorated them with candy eyes and sprinkles to make them festive for the occasion. They decorated caramel apples in the same fashion. Fun and tasty.

Yield: 12 frosted cupcakes

For the Cupcakes:

  • 1 1/2 cups plus 2 1/2 T cake flour, sifted
  • 1 cup granulated sugar
  • 1/2 T baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp kosher salt
  • 1/4 tsp baking soda
  • 1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, at room temperature, cut into 1/2 T pieces
  • 1/2 cup buttermilk, at room temperature
  • 1 T vegetable oil
  • 3 large egg yolks
  • 1 large egg
  • 1/2 T vanilla extract
  1. Arrange rack in the center of the oven; preheat to 400°, preferably on convection. (If doubling the recipe, arrange the racks in the upper and lower third of the oven.)
  2. Line a standard 12-cup muffin tin with cupcake liners.
  3. Whisk flour, sugar, baking powder, salt, and baking soda in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment.
  4. Add butter, buttermilk, and oil and beat on medium speed, scraping down sides of bowl, until smooth.
  5. Whisk egg yolks, egg, and vanilla in a medium bowl until smooth.
  6. Add egg mixture to flour mixture in 2 additions, beating well between additions.
  7. Continue to beat on medium speed until mixture is homogenous and very thick, about 2 minutes.
  8. Using a scoop, divide batter evenly among muffin cups, filling two-thirds full (a level ⅓ cup batter per cupcake).
  9. Bake 5 minutes in the preheated 400° oven, then reduce oven temperature to 350°.
  10. Continue baking, rotating pans halfway through, until cupcakes have domed and spring back when touched in the center, 14 (on convection for 12 cupcakes) or up to 20-25 minutes in a standard oven.
  11. Transfer to a wire rack and let cool.

Note: If doubling the cupcake recipe, use 7 egg yolks plus 1 large egg.

Do Ahead: Cupcakes can be made 1 day ahead. Store airtight at room temperature (unfrosted) or in the refrigerator (frosted).

For the Creamy Vanilla Cream Cheese Frosting:

  • 8 ounces cream cheese, at room temperature
  • 6 tablespoons unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 1 pinch of kosher salt
  • 2 cups powdered sugar
  • 1 T vanilla extract
  1. Using an electric mixer on medium-low speed, beat cream cheese, butter, and salt in a large bowl until smooth.
  2. Add powdered sugar and beat on low speed until incorporated, then increase speed to medium and beat until light and fluffy, about 2 minutes.
  3. Scrape down sides of bowl, then beat in vanilla.
  4. Pipe the frosting on cupcakes.
Note: The frosting recipe can be halved if it’s going to be spread instead of piped onto the cupcakes.

Seared Scallops & Cauliflower Grits

With the sunshine and warmer weather, an Easter weekend tradition in our house is to celebrate our love (and the food!) of the beautiful South Carolina Low Country. I usually serve a version of the classic Low Country dish, Shrimp and Grits, but, this year tried this scallop and cauliflower grits adaptation. We absolutely loved it!

This recipe was adapted from Joel Gamoran, Sur La Table National Chef, via Sur la Table.com. I puréed the vegetables instead of juicing them for the sauce, used riced cauliflower, and doubled the garlic. Amazing.

Yield: Makes 4 Servings

For the Cauliflower Grits:

  • sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 2 pounds riced cauliflower
  • 1 to 2 oz cream cheese, softened
  • 1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese (I used Parmigiano-Reggiano)
  • 4 cloves garlic, minced

For the Scallops:

  • 2 medium whole tomatoes, seeded and chopped
  • 1 red bell pepper, seeded and chopped
  • 1 large carrot, peeled and chopped
  • 2 tablespoons canola or grape seed oil
  • 16 sea scallops, patted dry
  • 1 large shallot, minced
  • 4 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 teaspoon Spanish smoked paprika
  • 2 scallions, thinly sliced, for garnish
  • freshly ground black pepper, to taste
  1. Prepare the Cauliflower Grits: In the microwave, steam the riced cauliflower for 4 minutes, or until very tender.
  2. Combine the steamed cauliflower with Parmesan, garlic, and enough cream cheese to achieve desired consistency.
  3. Season with salt and pepper. Keep warm.
  4. Prepare the Scallops: Combine the tomatoes, pepper and carrot in a Vitamix, food processor, or blender. Puree.
  5. Heat 1 tablespoon oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat.
  6. Season scallops with salt and pepper and add to pan in one layer. Sear the scallops for 2 to 3 minutes on each side until golden. Remove scallops to a platter.
  7. Reduce heat to medium-low and add remaining oil to skillet.
  8. Add shallot and sauté until translucent, about 3 minutes.
  9. Add garlic and smoked paprika and cook, stirring constantly, for about 1 minute.
  10. Slowly whisk in puréed vegetables and bring to a boil.
  11. Reduce heat to a simmer and cook until thickened, about 4 minutes. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
  12. To serve: Serve scallops on top of cauliflower grits with sauce spooned on top. Garnish with scallions and extra black pepper, as desired.

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Rainbow Sprinkle Cake & a Festive “Candy Shop” Themed Birthday Party

The lollipop candles on this birthday cake inspired the theme for my daughter’s 10th birthday party. As soon as she saw them, about ten months before her birthday, she started planning a “Candy Shop” themed party.

Knowing we would have the guests watch the most classic candy movie, Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, we invited her guests by hand delivering a “Golden Ticket” wrapped with a giant rainbow swirl lollipop. (The biggest ones we could find, of course.) 🙂

She imagined an abundant display of colorful candy and rainbow balloons. We had bowls of Skittles, M&M’s, mini-Starbursts, jelly beans, gummy bears, mini-marshmallows, mini-Twix (her favorite candy), and varieties of sprinkles. The centerpiece was a DumDum lollipop “topiary.”

The girls ate a lot of candy :/ , but they also used it to decorate chocolate covered marshmallows and chocolate-caramel apple slices. We also had pretzels for toppings- so yummy with chocolate. We tried to coat Oreos with chocolate as well, but had technical difficulties.

We had other candy-themed activities at the party including making candy necklaces on kitchen twine. They used Fruit Loops, gummy pendants, and gummy lifesavers as “beads.” They also played a game with Jelly Belly jelly beans- identifying the flavors by taste alone. Even though is wasn’t a candy-themed activity, the kids probably had the most fun having an iMovie competition.

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We had our traditional celebratory Number Cookies too. 🙂

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Having a cake covered in a mound of sprinkles seemed to work with our theme! The Rainbow Sprinkle Birthday Cake is a homemade take on a “Funfetti” cake mix cake. It was so colorful and fun, but also really REALLY delicious- super moist with fabulous vanilla flavor. The recipe was adapted from The New York Times, contributed by Julia Moskin. I weighed the ingredients, increased the amount of frosting, and modified the decorating techniques.

Rainbow Sprinkle Cake

Yield: 8-12 Servings (1 layer cake or 12 cupcakes)

For the Cake:

  • Âœ cup/110 grams unsalted butter (1 stick), slightly softened, more for pans
  • 1 Âœ cups/190 grams all-purpose flour, more for pans
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • ÂŒ teaspoon baking soda
  • ÂŒ teaspoon fine salt
  • ⅔ cup/158 ml whole milk
  • 1 Âœ teaspoons pure vanilla extract
  • 1 cup/200 grams sugar
  • 1 whole egg plus 2 egg whites
  • ⅓ cup rainbow sprinkles (not pastel, or naturally colored)


For the Cream Cheese Frosting:

  • 12 ounces cream cheese, slightly softened
  • 3/4 cup/165 grams unsalted butter (1 1/2 sticks), slightly softened
  • scant 1/4 teaspoon fine sea salt, more to taste
  • 4 1/2 cups/450 grams confectioners’ sugar, sifted, more to taste
  • 3/4 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • 1/2 cup rainbow sprinkles (not pastel, or naturally colored), or more, as desired

Note: Frosting Proportions for a 3-layer Version: 16 oz cream cheese, 220 g butter, 600 g confectioners’ sugar, 1 tsp vanilla, 1/4 tsp fine sea salt.

  1. img_7880Make the cake: Heat oven to 325 degrees, preferably on convection, and place a rack in the center.
  2. Butter and line the bottoms of two 8-inch round cake pans with parchment paper. Butter the parchment. Flour the pans, coating the bottom and sides, then tap out any excess flour.
  3. In a medium bowl, whisk together flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt.
  4. In a small bowl, stir together milk and vanilla.
  5. In a mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat butter and sugar at medium-high speed until light and fluffy, 2 to 3 minutes.
  6. Reduce speed to low and, with mixer running, slowly add egg and whites and beat until smooth and creamy, 1 to 2 minutes. Scrape down bowl.
  7. Add half the flour mixture, then the milk mixture, then the remaining flour mixture, beating to blend after each addition.
  8. Scrape down bowl and blend once more.
  9. Remove bowl and use a spatula or spoon to fold in sprinkles by hand.
  10. Divide batter evenly between the pans (approximately 400 g per pan), and bake until the tops are just dry to the touch and a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean, 20 to 25 minutes. Rotate the pans halfway through baking.
  11. Transfer pans to a wire rack and let cool completely, at least 2 to 4 hours, before turning out.
  12. Make the frosting: In a mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat cream cheese, butter and salt together at medium speed until light and fluffy, 2 minutes.
  13. Reduce speed to low and, with mixer running, slowly add sugar and beat until smooth.
  14. Beat in vanilla just until incorporated.
  15. Taste frosting; you should be able to taste the cream cheese and a little bit of saltiness, as well as the sweetness. If desired, add more salt or sugar. Keep refrigerated.
  16. Turn cooled cakes out of pans.
  17. Using a bread knife, cut off any domed or uneven parts of each cake to make flat surfaces.
  18. Place one of the cakes on a platter or a cake stand, cut side up.
  19. Using an offset spatula, frost the top.
  20. Stack the other layer on top, cut side down.
  21. Place remaining frosting on top of the cake and, working from the center outward, frost the top and sides of the cake, as desired. I piped a border around the perimeter of the top of the cake to keep the thick coating of sprinkles on top in place.
  22. Sprinkle the top with a thick layer of sprinkles. Coat the sides with sprinkles as well, if desired.
  23. Refrigerate cake 30 minutes or longer to set. Serve cool.

Note: This recipe would also work well for cupcakes. Fill batter in 12 cupcake liners and bake 17-20 minutes, on convection.

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It was so tasty, I’ve already made it again! 🙂 I think it might need THREE layers next time. We all absolutely love it.

Cheesy Corn Casserole

Simple and rich. This side dish is so quick to throw together it’s absolutely perfect for after Thanksgiving or another holiday meal when less side dishes and more turkey (or main protein) is leftover. I suppose it would also be a terrific side for the big day! We enjoyed it with our leftover turkey this year. 🙂

This recipe was adapted from Bon Appetit, contributed by Sarah McLellan. She described this dish as “an easy, unadulterated combo of creamy, salty, and cheesy.” Spot on.

  • 1 jalapeño, seeded and chopped
  • 2-4 cloves garlic, chopped
  • 2 cans of whole kernel corn (not creamed corn)
  • 8 oz block of cream cheese
  • 2 T unsalted butter
  • 1/4 to 1/2 cup grated sharp white cheddar cheese, to taste
  • 3/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese, divided
  • coarse salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 1/2 cup panko or other breadcrumbs
  • 1/4 cup chopped fresh herbs such as thyme, sage, and/or parsley, more to taste

  1. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees, preferably on convection.
  2. Combine the jalapeño and garlic in a medium saucepan. Sauté until fragrant and just starting to soften.
  3. Add the corn, cream cheese, butter, 1/4 cup of cheddar cheese, and 1/4 cup Parmesan cheese; stir through until melted.
  4. Season with salt and black pepper, as desired. Add more cheddar cheese, if desired, to taste.
  5. Pour it into a baking dish, sprinkle with the breadcrumbs, the remaining Parmesan, and the chopped herbs.
  6. Bake until the cheese is melted and bubbling, about 15 minutes. Serve right away.

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Fried Chicken Thighs & Cheesy Grits

My husband’s dream Valentine’s Day dinner has to involve fried chicken. ❀ Weeks earlier, I had seen this recipe in Bon Appetit and thought it would be perfect for our celebration… The problem was that I didn’t remember where I had seen my perfect recipe. :/ I had to search far and wide to finally track it down. Thankfully, that happened in time!

This recipe was adapted from Bon Appetit, contributed by Alison Roman. I used coarse yellow grits and added additional water and milk until the desired consistency was achieved. I also used a combination of baby kale, chard and spinach for the sautĂ©ed greens. My husband didn’t want hot pepper jelly (can you believe it?) so I didn’t add it to the greens while they were cooking. I added it to my plate at the end! (Tons of it!)

We ate this dish for dinner but it would be wonderful for any meal of the day- brunch too. 🙂 Absolutely Delicious!!

AND… I almost forgot… We had my homemade version of the best-selling Momofuku Milk Bar Crack Pie as our grand finale. What a meal. 🙂

Yield: Serves 4

For the Chicken:

  • 1Âœ cups buttermilk
  • 1 teaspoon cayenne pepper
  • 1 teaspoon garlic powder
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1 teaspoon smoked paprika
  • 1 pound skinless, boneless chicken thighs

For the Grits:

  • coarse salt
  • 1Âœ cups white or yellow grits (not instant)
  • 4 ounces cream cheese
  • 2 ounces finely grated Parmesan
  • freshly ground black pepper
  • milk, as needed, to achieve the desired consistency

For Frying And Assembly:

  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 tsp cayenne pepper
  • 1 tsp garlic powder
  • 1 tsp smoked paprika
  • 2 tsp kosher salt, plus more
  • 2 cups vegetable oil
  • 2 T unsalted butter or olive oil
  • 1 1/2 pounds baby kale, chard and spinach or 2 bunches kale, or Swiss chard, ribs and stems removed, leaves torn into 2-inch pieces
  • freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 T distilled white vinegar
  • 1 T hot pepper jelly, plus more for serving (I used Trader Joe’s)

Marinade the Chicken:

  1. Combine buttermilk, cayenne, garlic powder, salt, and paprika in a large bowl or large resealable plastic bag. Add chicken thighs, cover bowl or seal bag, and toss to coat. Chill at least 2 hours and up to 12 hours. (I did 12 hours.)

Make the Grits:

  1. Bring 4 cups salted water to a boil and gradually add grits, whisking constantly. Cook, whisking occasionally, until grits are very tender and creamy, 25–30 minutes. Add cream cheese and Parmesan; whisk until melted and incorporated; season with salt and pepper. Cover and keep warm until ready to serve. Add more water or milk to adjust the consistency as needed.

For Frying And Assembly:

  1. Whisk flour, cayenne, garlic powder, paprika, and 2 tsp. salt in a medium bowl.
  2. Remove chicken thighs from brine, letting excess drip off.
  3. Working in batches, dredge chicken in flour mixture, occasionally dipping your fingers in brine as you pack on flour to help create moistened, shaggy bits (the makings of a super-crisp crust); transfer to a rimmed baking sheet.
  4. Fit a large cast-iron skillet with thermometer and heat oil until thermometer registers 350°.
  5. Working in batches and returning oil to 350° between batches, fry chicken thighs, turning occasionally, until chicken is cooked through and coating is deep golden brown and crisp, 6–8 minutes. Transfer to a wire rack set inside a baking sheet and let sit while you cook the greens.
  6. Heat butter or olive oil in a large skillet over medium-high. Add greens in large handfuls, letting it cook down slightly before adding more and tossing to coat. Season with salt and pepper and cook, tossing occasionally, until wilted and bright green, about 2 minutes. Add vinegar and 1 Tbsp. pepper jelly and toss to coat, if desired.
  7. Divide grits evenly among bowls and top with greens, fried chicken, and more pepper jelly.

Two Years Ago:

Three Years Ago:

Quick Zucchini Lasagna

More zucchini and cheese!! This quick lasagna showcases summer zucchini. The zucchini is so thinly sliced using a food processor, it doesn’t have to be pre-cooked before baking. Layering the zucchini with cheese and no-boil lasagna noodles completes the simple preparation.

This recipe was adapted from Everyday Food. I increased the garlic, used whole milk ricotta, and added onions as well as shallots to the zucchini mixture. I was a little apprehensive to use cream cheese, but I think that it helped hold the finished dish together. Easy and tasty. 🙂

Yield: Serves 4 to 6

  • 1 T olive oil, for the onions
  • cooking oil spray, for the baking dish
  • 8 ounces reduced-fat cream cheese, room temperature
  • 1 container (15 ounces) part-skim or whole milk ricotta cheese
  • coarse salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 2 medium zucchini (about 8 ounces each), halved lengthwise, then sliced thinly crosswise (I used a food processor 2 mm blade)
  • 2-3 large garlic cloves, minced
  • 1/2 cup minced shallots, about 2 large
  • 1/2 of a medium yellow onion, diced
  • 2 teaspoons dried oregano
  • 6 no-boil lasagna noodles
  • 2 ounces shredded (1/2 cup) part-skim mozzarella cheese

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  1. Preheat oven to 425 degrees on convection. Lightly oil an 8-inch square baking dish with cooking oil spray; set aside.
  2. Sauté the shallots and onion in olive oil until softened and lightly browned. Season with salt and pepper.
  3. In a medium bowl, stir together cream cheese and ricotta; season with salt and pepper.
  4. In another medium bowl, combine zucchini, garlic, sautéed onions, and oregano; season with salt and pepper, and toss to combine.
  5. Spread 1/3 zucchini mixture in prepared baking dish; top with two lasagna noodles, then 1/3 ricotta mixture. Repeat twice with remaining zucchini mixture, noodles, and ricotta mixture, finishing with the ricotta mixture.
  6. Sprinkle with mozzarella.
  7. Cover baking dish with aluminum foil; bake until bubbly and noodles are tender, 25 minutes on convection or up to 35 minutes in a standard oven.
  8. Remove foil; bake until golden brown, 15 to 20 minutes more. Let stand 10 minutes before serving.

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