Monday, April 27, 2009

Daring Bakers Challenge April 2009 - Cheesecake Centerpiece

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

Oh wait, that's me. That's right! For the past month, I have been willing hostess to the bunch of bakers known as The Daring Bakers, consisting of over 1,000 bakers all over the world who unite once a month to make the same recipe. I know we all made Cheesecake Pops last April, but I wanted to pick a recipe that people could take and really make their own, letting the creativity flow. And wow, have they ever. If you want to see for yourself, head over to The Daring Kitchen and click on the blog roll. I've seen everything from people making their own cream cheese to vegemite cheesecake. And what did the vegans do? You need to check it out.

The recipe I pick comes from my friend Abbey T. who loves to bake. I called it "Abbey's Infamous Cheesecake," and the grammar police think it should be "Abbey's Famous Cheesecake," or "Infamous Abbey's Cheesecake." Whatever you want to call it, the basic recipe alone is to die for - I have never had a creamier cheesecake! But the instructions to the group were to do whatever they wanted with it, as long as the basic recipe was followed. And if they felt secure in their cheesecake making, to focus on really making their dessert look beautiful, like a centerpiece.

Of course, by needing to taste the recipe ahead of time, I've been making cheesecake for two months. Some were more successful than others, and my co-workers don't seem sick of cheesecake yet, but I'm ready to move onto something else for a while. Ha!

Key Lime Cheesecakelet
Here is the recipe. I would say that it can be made without a water bath, but if you take the trouble, it is even creamier, and completely worth the effort.

Abbey's Infamous Cheesecake:

2 cups / 180 g graham cracker crumbs
1 stick / 4 oz butter, melted
2 tbsp. / 24 g sugar
1 tsp. vanilla extract

3 sticks of cream cheese, 8 oz each (total of 24 oz) room temperature
1 cup / 210 g sugar
3 large eggs
1 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

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F (Gas Mark 4 = 180C = Moderate heat). 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!

Some variations from the recipe creator ("Infamous" Abbey):

** 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 (I usually find one on the food network website - just make sure it has heavy cream in it. You can use store-bought in a pinch, but the flavor is just not the same since its usually just sugar and corn syrup with no dairy).

** 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.

Cheesecake baked
During my two months of cheesecake baking, my favorite version was the coffee cheesecake with caramel sauce (the first one in this post). A close second were the key lime cheesecakelets baked in ramekins (so creamy!). The Mexican chocolate cheesecake that I made just wasn't chocolatey enough for me, and then I had two moments of cheesecake fail. The first happened when I replaced the graham cracker crumbs with Oreos (which have a lot more fat in them) and it spewed all over the bottom of my oven and smoked up my house. The second was this idea that was brilliant in conception but not so great in practice - the Smores Spectacular Cheesecake. I actually ended up throwing it away. But I'm definitely going to file away what worked well for everyone else and pull this recipe out the next time I need something to bring to a party!

A huge thanks to Abbey T., and a heartfelt applause to the many Daring Bakers out there, whether this was your first cheesecake or one thousandth. You all made hosting this challenge a blast!

ETA: P.S. For those of you who tweet, I added a second Twitter account just for my baking. Now I can tweet about my thoughts on recipes or ideas, and not just blog once a week!

Categories: Caramel, Cheesecake, Chocolate, Coffee, Daring Bakers, Lime, Raspberry

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Strawberry Rhubarb Crisp

Strawberry Rhubarb Crisp
Originally uploaded by watchjennybake.
On our way back from Asheville yesterday, I was shocked to see local strawberries already for sale. Where I grew up, strawberry season was early to mid June, and the long growing season here in South Carolina leaves a smile on my face. (Can you see it? I'm still grinning).

These particular strawberries didn't travel as far as the ones I buy in the grocery store - they were from Strawberry Hill U.S.A., where I've been just to buy strawberries in the past. We buy a lot of local produce from a place north of Travelers Rest called the Cider House. It is open year round, seven days a week, offering local produce, other food (canned goods and cider line the walls, and the fridge is full of Happy Cow products!), and boiled peanuts. It is easy to buy local when you have such great options! These are the "Sweet Charlie" variety.

I was going to make a strawberry rhubarb pie. Boring, perhaps, or at least typical, but I've never made that particular type. But I was looking for something where we could enjoy the deliciousness at breakfast instead. A fruit crisp has breakfast-like elements to it - fresh fruit, oats, nuts, even orange juice! So I was happily able to justify serving it for the first meal of our day.

The recipe comes from the March 2005 issue of Bon Appetit Magazine, and can be accessed on It is nicely accented with spices - cardamom and nutmeg - making it atypical and delicious.

My ramekins appear a little shrunken, but I didn't want them boiling over, and they were pretty full when they went into the oven. It seems like you could easily vary the ratio of rhubarb to strawberry, but I liked the way the recipe had it.

Categories: Crisp, Rhubarb, Strawberry

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Signs of Spring - Rhubarb Pecan Muffins

Rhubarb Pecan Muffin
Originally uploaded by watchjennybake.
Seeing the first rhubarb of the season always makes me a bit giddy - spring! It is here! Soon to follow are the strawberries and peaches and apples, oh my.

The question always is, what can I do with rhubarb that I haven't already done? I was scouring through my tourist cookbook collection the other day (some people buy magnets, some buy shot glasses, I buy cookbooks!) for an oven-baked french toast recipe, and found that all the cookbooks from Black Hills, South Dakota, had multiple recipes for rhubarb muffins. I picked this one because it didn't have buttermilk like all the rest.

Rhubarb Pecan Muffins
from Black Hills Rosemalers Recipes, recipe credited to Jo Hoar and Engie Overweg

2 cups all purpose flour
3/4 cup sugar
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1 tsp salt
3/4 cup chopped pecans
1 egg
1/4 cup vegetable oil
2 tsp grated orange peel
1 1/4 cups finely chopped rhubarb
3/4 cup orange juice

In a large mixing bowl, combine flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda, salt, and nuts. In another bowl, combine egg, oil, orange peel, and orange juice. Add to dry ingredients all at once and stir just until moistened. Stir in rhubarb. Fill 12 lightly greased muffin cups almost to the top. Bake at 375 F. for 25-30 minutes.

The only change I made was to substitute brown sugar for the white, since I was out. They were delicious!

Welcome spring!

Categories: Muffins, Pecans, Rhubarb

Tuesday, April 07, 2009

Cranky Cake

Orange-Glazed Almond Cake
Originally uploaded by watchjennybake.
Sometimes, you just have to bake, to get it all out. I know I'm not the only one! I was having a bad morning, so I spent my lunch hour making this cake - the Orange-Glazed Almond Cake from the July 2006 issue of Vegetarian Times. I've had it sitting around begging to be made for almost two weeks now.

It is amazing what baking can do for your spirits, not even eating anything, just being able to pour energy into creation of something... anything. I used to deal with stress by playing the piano but until I get one of my own, baking is a great alternative.

I have come across several recipes lately depending on ground almonds, orange, and olive oil instead of butter. I want to make several different recipes to find which one I like best. This is a nice cake to have at the end of a heavier meal - it is light but full of flavor. The crunch of the ground almonds is throughout the cake, and the light spice of cinnamon blends nicely with the orange scent of the zest and orange syrup that gets poured over the cake after baking. It called for yogurt, so this time I used a Greek yogurt.

The recipe can be found here. It uses a lot of bowls and appliances, but is still really quick to make. This seems like a perfect summery cake, simple and flavorful.

Categories: Almond, Cake, Orange