Monday, April 27, 2009

Daring Bakers - Cheesecake Centerpiece (April 2009)

So this month's installment of the Daring Bakers had me excited, yet a bit nervous as well.

The April 2009 challenge is hosted by Jenny from Jenny Bakes. She has chosen Abbey's Infamous Cheesecake as the challenge.

I have only tried to make cheesecake once before and it was edible, but not wonderful....and the top cracked, which is a cheesecake no-no. I read the directions which were "to take this basic recipe and play with it. Make it unique. Make a showstopper of a dessert. Add flavor, sauces, decorations – dress it up and show it off." Yikes....mess with a recipe that required baking....and be creative (oh too many possibilities!)

Since I've had a "tub" of dulce de leche in my pantry awaiting experimentation, I thought I'd go that route. Not quite as creative as some of the other Daring Bakers, but I was worried about adding a gel-type substance to the mix and having it still set properly. Not to mention that I really didn't want it to crack or have a soggy crust.

SO...I decided that I'd give it a whirl and make it for a party I was having on a Sunday. This dessert we were warned had to made the day before in order for it to chill overnight before serving....perfect!

The recipe came together beautifully. So easy...until you get to the part of messing with it! I was anxious about messing up the whole thing! I added a 1/2 cup of the dulce de leche to the batter...mixed well. Tasted....yum, but not strong enough. So I added another 1/2 cup for 1 cup total. Tasted again....yum, yum, yum. maybe this isn't so hard to be creative. Of course, I was still worried about the setting/crust/cracking issues.

Graham Cracker Crust
I wrapped my pan in three layers of foil, not allowing the edges to go over the top of the pan. My thinking was that it may get through the first two layers because the foil was short, but the third layer would protect the crust. I had minimal water seepage, so I think this method worked pretty well, though one more layer would probably have been best.
Unbaked Cheesecake in Water Bath
Into the oven it went to bake. Then the hour wait....I was praying it wouldn't crack! And, God must have decided to smile upon me because it didn't! Yeah! So now I just was worried about it completely setting properly and the final taste.
Baked and Cooling
After letting the cheesecake cool on the counter for several hours, I popped it into the refridgerator. No cracks! It also seemed to be set up quite well, so now the only question still unanswered was about taste.
It was at this point that I panicked! This is the point that you got the Almond Brownie Cheesecakes (see post from 4/18/09). I thought, "What if the cheesecake is horrible?! What will I serve for my party!?!"
The next morning...I anxiously got ready for the party and decided to take the glamour shot before they arrived, also allowing me to try it.

It tasted SOOOOO yummy. Sweet and caramelly (is that a word!?), yet creamy and rich. I was so excited that my experiment worked! The gals at the party enjoyed it, made "ohhh" and "ahhh" sounds, the co-workers that I took leftovers too enjoyed it as well. This is a great basic recipe that can be made into so many wonderful variations. Jenny sent us several, but I was glad that I'd tried my own experiment. Maybe next time I'll make one of her variations (included below).
Set up for the Party

(I entered this post into the {I Heart Faces!} challenge!

The Recipe
Abbey's Infamous Cheesecake
2 cups / 180 g graham cracker crumbs
1 stick / 4 oz butter, melted
2 tbsp. / 24 g sugar1 tsp. vanilla extract

3 sticks of cream cheese, 8 oz each (total of 24 oz) room temperature
1 cup / 210 g sugar
3 large eggs1 cup / 8 oz heavy cream
1 tbsp. lemon juice
1 tbsp. vanilla extract (or the innards of a vanilla bean)
1 tbsp liqueur, optional, but choose what will work well with your cheesecake

DIRECTIONS:1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Begin to boil a large pot of water for the water bath.

2. Mix together the crust ingredients and press into your preferred pan. You can press the crust just into the bottom, or up the sides of the pan too - baker's choice. Set crust aside.

3. Combine cream cheese and sugar in the bowl of a stand-mixer (or in a large bowl if using a hand-mixer) and cream together until smooth. Add eggs, one at a time, fully incorporating each before adding the next. Make sure to scrape down the bowl in between each egg. Add heavy cream, vanilla, lemon juice, and alcohol and blend until smooth and creamy.

4. Pour batter into prepared crust and tap the pan on the counter a few times to bring all air bubbles to the surface. Place pan into a larger pan and pour boiling water into the larger pan until halfway up the side of the cheesecake pan. If cheesecake pan is not airtight, cover bottom securely with foil before adding water.

5. Bake 45 to 55 minutes, until it is almost done - this can be hard to judge, but you're looking for the cake to hold together, but still have a lot of jiggle to it in the center. You don't want it to be completely firm at this stage. Close the oven door, turn the heat off, and let rest in the cooling oven for one hour. This lets the cake finish cooking and cool down gently enough so that it won't crack on the top. After one hour, remove cheesecake from oven and lift carefully out of water bath. Let it finish cooling on the counter, and then cover and put in the fridge to chill. Once fully chilled, it is ready to serve.

Pan note: The creator of this recipe used to use a springform pan, but no matter how well she wrapped the thing in tin foil, water would always seep in and make the crust soggy. Now she uses one of those 1-use foil "casserole" shaped pans from the grocery store. They're 8 or 9 inches wide and really deep, and best of all, water-tight. When it comes time to serve, just cut the foil away.

Prep notes: While the actual making of this cheesecake is a minimal time commitment, it does need to bake for almost an hour, cool in the oven for an hour, and chill overnight before it is served. Please plan accordingly!

My Dulce de Leche Variation:
Omit liqueur. Add 1 cup dulce de leche last. Mix well.

Some variations from the recipe creator:** Lavender-scented cheesecake w/ blueberries - heat the cup of heavy cream in the microwave or a saucepan until hot but not boiling. Add 2 tbsp of lavender flowers and stir. Let lavender steep in the cream for about 10-15 minutes, then strain the flowers out. Add strained cream to cheesecake batter as normal. Top with fresh blueberries, or make a quick stovetop blueberry sauce (splash of orange juice, blueberries, a little bit of sugar, and a dash of cinnamon - cook until berries burst, then cool)

** Cafe au lait cheesecake with caramel - take 1/4 cup of the heavy cream and heat it in the microwave for a short amount of time until very hot. Add 1-2 tbsp. instant espresso or instant coffee; stir to dissolve. Add this to the remainder of cream and use as normal. Top cheesecake with homemade caramel sauce.

** Tropical – add about a half cup of chopped macadamias to the crust, then top the cake with a mango-raspberry-mandarin orange puree.

** Mexican Turtle - add a bar of melted dark chocolate (between 3 and 5 oz., to taste) to the batter, along with a teaspoon of cinnamon and a dash of cayenne pepper (about 1/8 tsp.). Top it with pecan halves and a homemade caramel sauce.

** Honey-cinnamon with port-pomegranate poached pears – replace 1/2 cup of the sugar with 1/2 cup of honey, add about a teaspoon or more (to taste) of cinnamon. Take 2 pears (any variety you like or whatever is in season), peeled and cored, and poach them in a boiling poaching liquid of port wine, pomegranate juice/seeds, a couple of "coins" of fresh ginger, a cinnamon stick, and about a 1/4 cup of sugar. Poach them until tender, then let cool. Strain the poaching liquid and simmer until reduced to a syrupy-glaze consistency, then cool. Thinly slice the cooled pears and fan them out atop the cooled cheesecake. Pour the cooled poaching syrup over the pears, then sprinkle the top with chopped walnuts and fresh pomegranate seeds.

Some variations from Jenny (from JennyBakes):**Key lime - add zest from one lime to sugar before mixing with cream cheese. Substitute lemon juice, alcohol, and vanilla with key lime juice.

**Cheesecakelets - put in muffin tins, ramekins, or custard cups. Try baking 20-35 minutes, or until still a little jiggly, and cool as before.
Enjoy with Love,

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Almond Brownie Cheesecakes

This recipe will likely not inspire greatness...but it was quick and easy and I had everything in the house to make it. Here's why... I'm having a party tomorrow. I made another dessert (to be blogged about later) that I've never made before, and had to be creative with. So, even though it looks like it turned out great, I hit the panic button. What if it tastes terrible.... off to the kitchen I went to see what else would be fairly foolproof.

I had bought this cheesecake brownie mix a few weeks ago because it was on sale. Bad reason I know, but now I’m glad I did. Instead of making the recipe like normal, I thought I’d try the variation suggested.

It came together quickly, as box brownies do. I tried not to over-mix either element (brownie and cheesecake filling).
Ready to Assemble

I filled the cups and actually did a decent job of allocating enough in so that I didn’t run out or have too much left over. Then I assembled as directed with the chocolate chips and almonds.
Into the oven they went

They turned out great!
Straight from the Oven
*PHEW* At least one dessert will be a hit… Crossing my fingers on the other one.
(Sorry for the blurry glamour shot...I may try to get a better one when the lighting is better.)

Almond Brownie Cheesecakes
Makes 12 individual cheesecakes

1 box of Cheesecake Swirl Brownie Mix (Pillsbury)
¼ cup almonds, chopped
¼ cup chocolate chips

Additional Ingredients Needed:
1/3 cup oil
5 tablespoons water, divided
2 eggs

Heat oven to 350 degrees. Line 12 muffin cups with paper baking cups.
Prepare Pillsbury Cheesecake Swirl Brownie Mix batter and cheesecake filling as directed on package, using oil, water and eggs. Fill each cup 2/3 full with brownie batter. Spoon about 2 teaspoons cheesecake mixture on top of batter in each cup.
Sprinkle almonds and chocolate chips evenly over cheesecake mixture. Bake 26-28 minutes or until brownie is firm. Cool completely. Store loosely covered in refrigerator.

Enjoy with love,

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Cheese Souffle

Do you ever feel daring in the kitchen? Ever want to try something you've heard is difficult and see how you handle it? Well, that was me last week (ok, most weeks, but bear with me). So, I scoured my cookbooks (I have way too many, but I can't stop buying them....Cookbooks Anonymous...sign me up!). I found this cheese souffle recipe in my Weight Watchers New Complete Cookbook.

Of course, I didn't feel like running to the store for the reduced-fat cheese (besides, ick...) so I used "real, regular fat" cheese. This came together really easy. Also, the folding of egg whites always makes me nervous, but I figure the more I do it the better I'll become at it (the little egg-white folder that could!).

Folding Egg-Whites In

Though I didn't have a 3-quart dish either, the 2.5 quart one had to do, I think I did ok. While it was baking in the oven I was standing was fluffing beautifully! "Who said souffles were hard!?" I thought as I pulled it out of the oven.

Straight from the Oven

After snapping the beautiful picture above, the souffle instantly started to sink....and sink....and, well you get the idea. I was left with a souffle that was about an inch tall. Certainly not the proud success I had hoped for. BUT! the good news is that it tasted really good! I love cheese...and if eggs were the delivery method, I was game. SO, give it a try...if all else fails (like with mine!) you'll still have a yummy meal.

The Recipe:
Cheese Souffle
Makes 4 servings (or more if you have other stuff to serve with it)

1 cup low-fat (1%) milk
3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1 1/2 cups shredded reduced-fat cheddar cheese
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper
2 eggs, separated
2 egg whites

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

In a medium heavy-bottomed saucepan over low heat, whisk the milk and flour; cook, stirring, until thickened and no longer floury, about 5 minutes. Remove from the heat; stir in the cheese, 1/4 teaspoon of the salt and the cayenne pepper.

In a small bowl, stir a small amount of the cheese mixture into the egg yolks, then stir the egg yolk mixture into the cheese mixture.

In a large bowl, beat all 4 egg whites until foamy; add the remaining 1/4 teaspoon salt and beat until stiff but not dry. Stir one-fourth of the egg whites into the cheese mixture; with a rubber spatula, fold in the remaining egg whites. Scrape into a 3-quart ungreased souffle dish. Bake until puffed and cooked through, 35 minutes. Serve at once.

Enjoy with Love,

Saturday, April 4, 2009

Homemade Franchise-Style Doughnuts

Doughnuts are one of those foods that I remember being a treat. Dad used to go out on Saturday mornings to get everyone their favorite doughnut. Of course, at the time, my favorite was the maple bar...or a sprinkled doughnut....or...well, let's just say I don't think I've met a doughnut I didn't like.

My sister and I used to make doughnuts from biscuits. Pop the can, use a bottle top to make the hole, fry and then cover in sugar. Super yummy and easy for kids...but they were really just sugar-covered, fried biscuits.

I recently purchased A Passion for Baking by Marcy Goldman. It is a beautiful book with a ton of great recipes and photos. As I flipped through this book when I first got it I was immediately drawn to these doughnuts. They sounded fairly easy, if you can get past the yeast proofing, and looked divine. So, I decided that I would attempt to make them. I'm so glad I did.

The dough came together easily...rose beautifully. I guess yeast isn't as scary as I thought. :-)
Dough, ready to be rolled

The dough rolled out easily and was easy to cut into doughnuts. I used a round cookie cutter and a flower shaped cookie cutter for the hole...improvised. It worked, but I probably should have used a smaller cutter. The doughnuts ended up being a bit large. They had to rest and rise again under plastic...which they did.

Resting and Re-Rising

Now they were ready to fry. From my biscuit doughnut days, I felt very prepared for this part. Of course, the doughnut holes were a bit more difficult to fry than the doughnuts, but nothing I couldn't handle....they all were easily cooked. Made me wish for a larger fryer, since it took a long time doing them one at a time.

Frying the Doughnuts
Once done, I let them cool a bit on the rack and then started glazing them. I found that the glaze stayed on better if they were cooler, but looked a lot better if the doughnuts were a bit warm and glazed multiple times.

Glazed and Setting

Either way was tasty. I didn't make any chocolate glaze, though I wish I would have. Maybe next time...because yes, there will be a next time with these doughnuts!

Finished Doughnuts

These went quickly when I took them to work...lots of "nom nom nom" and amazement that they were homemade. Success!

The Recipe:
Homemade Franchise-Style Doughnuts
Makes 36 medium doughnuts

1/4 cup warm water (100-110 degrees F)
2 tablespoons rapid-rise yeast
1 1/2 cups warm milk
2/3 cup sugar
1 1/4 teaspoon salt
2 large eggs
1/3 cup shortening
5 cups, approximately, all-purpose flour

Vegetable oil or shortening, for frying

In a mixer bowl, hand-whisk warm water and yeast together and let stand for 2-3 minutes to dissolve yeast. Briskly whisk in milk, sugar, salt and eggs and blend. Add shortening and most of the flour and blend. Then knead with a dough hook on low speed only until smooth (it is not necssary to knead this dough a long time).

Remove dough hook and spray dough lightly wtih nonstick cooking spray. Cover entire mixer and bowl with a large clear plastic bag (I just used plastic wrap). Let dough rise 50-60 minutes or until almost doubled.

Turn out dough onto a lightly floured work surface and gently deflate. Roll to 1/2-inch thickness and, using a doughnut cutter, cut into doughnuts. (Each doughnut should weigh just under 2 ounces of raw dough.) Cover doughnuts loosely with plastic wrap and let rise 20-40 minutes.

Heat vegetable oil or shortening in a fryer (or wok) to 350 degrees. Slide in doughnuts, a few at a time, and fry about 1 minute per side. Remove from oil onto a wire rack set over parchment paper.

Creamy Butter Glaze
1/2 cup unsalted butter
2 cups confectioners' sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
4 - 6 tablespoons hot water
1 ounce semisweet chocolate, optional

Melt butter and then whisk it in a medium bowl with confectioners' sugar, vanilla, and hot water. Smear doughnuts in glaze. Let set and smear again.

For chocolate glaze, if desired, add 1 ounce melted chocolate to one entire recipe of Creamy Butter Glaze. Smear doughnuts in Chocolate Glaze.

Enjoy with Love,