Friday, October 29, 2010

The Caramel Swirl Cheesecake

It was my brother's birthday yesterday, and I decided to make a cheesecake.  The original plan was to make a caramel swirl cheesecake and cover it with the chocolate ganache that was leftover in my fridge.  When it was done though, it was so pretty that I couldn't bring myself to cover it.

This was the second cheesecake I've ever made and I have to say, it was delicious.  Even with the de-fattening steps I took.  
In case you didn't know, I have some major fat-content psychological issues.  Therefore, when a friend sent me his mom's famous cheesecake recipe that called for 5 tubs of cream cheese and 6 eggs, I had a little bit of a nervous breakdown.  I found a recipe on Cooks Illustrated for a Rich and Creamy cheesecake and decided to go with that instead.  Actually, on CI, there were three recipes: rich and creamy, light and fluffy, and dense and firm.  They all called for the same ingredients, but did different things with the eggs and oven temperature.  

The recipe called for four 8 oz packages of cream cheese, four eggs, heavy cream and sour cream.  I used two packages of regular cream cheese and two of 1/3 less fat cream cheese, three eggs and one egg beater and low fat sour cream.  Next time, I'll do the whole thing with the less fat cream cheese.  This cake was so rich and good that I don't think it needs the extra goodness.  

I also bought a jar of caramel sauce (mine never comes out as well as the store-bought stuff), and swirled it into the cake right before baking.  I wasn't sure how it would effect the chemistry and baking, but it worked out perfectly.  

Pics below, recipe's at the bottom.  Sorry the pictures are so dark, I used the big flash, but I guess it didn't work.

Serves 12-16.   Published September 1, 1995.  


1 tablespoon unsalted butter , melted
3 tablespoons graham cracker crumbs
2 pounds cream cheese
1 1/4 cups granulated sugar
4 large eggs
1 teaspoon lemon zest from 1 small lemon, minced
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1/4 cup heavy cream
1/4 cup sour cream


  1. 1. Adjust oven rack to middle position and heat oven to 325 degrees. Line bottom of 9-inch springform pan with foil, tuck foil underneath pan bottom, assemble pan, then pull foil around side of pan, (see illustrations 1 and 2, below). Brush bottom and sides with butter. Sprinkle crumbs over bottom. Tilt pan in all directions to coat evenly with crumbs. Cover pan underneath and along sides with sheet of heavy-duty foil (see illustration 1 of "Preparing For a Bath") and set in large roasting pan. Bring kettle of water to boil for water bath.
  2. 2. Meanwhile, beat cream cheese in bowl of electric mixer until smooth. Gradually add sugar and beat on medium speed until sugar dissolves, about 3 minutes. Add eggs, one at a time, beating until just incorporated and scraping down after each addition. (If you don't scrape down the bowl after each egg, cream cheese that sticks to the bowl will ultimately show up as lumps in the batter.) Add zest and vanilla and beat until just incorporated. Remove bowl from mixer; stir in cream and sour cream.
  3. 3. Pour batter into prepared pan. Set roasting pan on oven rack and pour enough boiling water to come about halfway up side of springform pan (illustration 2, below). Bake until perimeter of cake is set, but center jiggles like Jell-O when pan is tapped, 55 to 60 minutes. Turn off heat and leave oven door ajar, using a long-handled kitchen fork or spoon to hold it open for 1 hour longer. Remove springform pan from water bath and set on wire rack; cool to room temperature. Cover and refrigerate until chilled, at least 4 hours. (Can be refrigerated up to 4 days.)

Sunday, October 24, 2010

The Peanut Butter Whoopie Pies

My friend Jen's birthday is Sept. 6th, which pretty much always falls in the busiest time of year for any school teacher.  Because of this, she got shafted out of a peanut butter chocolate cake of her own this year.  To make amends, I made a peanut butter whoopie pies for her housewarming last night.

I know it seems ironic, but I'm actually not much of a cake person when it comes to eating cake.  Whoopie pies do absolutely nothing for me from the ingesting point of view, but they were surprisingly easy and fun to make.

I followed the Martha Stewart recipe for mini pumpkin whoopie pies to get the cookie/cake part.  Then I used my regular peanut butter buttercream recipe for filling.  Some of them were then rolled in crushed Reese's Pieces.  Those thing, by the way, are as good as I remember them.
Cakes baked and matched.  Ready to be filled.
Set up for filling and rolling.
The final product.
Since this was a housewarming gift, I wanted to give something lasting as well.  I bought a ceramic pie dish and put the whoopie pies in them.  Then I spruced it up with cellophane wrapping and a big silver bow.
This one was just for fun.  Peanut butter buttercream and fluff for the ultimate fluffernutter.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

The "why did I pick a peck of apples?" aftermath

You know when you go apple picking and they show you the two bags, the peck and the half bushel, and the peck looks SO small, but you remind yourself that the bag holds more apples than you think, and really, how many apples does one person need, and so you behave yourself and buy the peck bag?  Well, it turns out that that small peck bag holds a WHOLE LOT OF APPLES.

I have been, peeling, slicing, baking, and cooking for the past three days and I am exhausted and kind of never want to see another apple again.  Which is really too bad, because I didn't use them all up.

My main issue is that I'm not much of a sweets person.  The first recipe I made (strudel muffins) was delicious, but crazy sugary.  It was difficult to find savory apple recipes that weren't salads that could be made in advance. 

I did some hunting, though, and here's what I came up with:

Autumn Tree Apple Pie
Before Baking

After Baking
This pie was based on a picture from the Canadian Food Network (who knew there was such a thing - I love Canada, and food!), and a Betty Crocker Apple Pie Recipe.  Since the CFN didn't give a recipe, I had to kind of make it up as I went along.  And the Apple Tree idea didn't work (mine looked like a Christmas tree with holly leaves and berries), so I went with an Autumn tree and falling leaves.

The pie dough recipe came from Cooks Illustrated and it was the best dough I've ever used.  Easy to make and easy to work with.  And it contained vodka.  I don't know why, but I guess it makes a difference.  (this recipe is at the bottom of the post)

Apple Swirl Bread
Swirl Loaf
Both Loaves
Swirl Loaf cut
It has been my constant goal to create a yeast bread swirled with apples and cinnamon that is of bakery quality.  I haven't gotten there yet, but my experimenting has been tasty.  These breads were made with my father's Challah bread recipe, which he was kind enough to make in the bread machine for me.  I then cooked down some apples and spices and added them to the bread.  The "swirl loaf" was made by rolling apples in the middle of two bread tubes, twisting them together and letting them rise and then bake in a loaf pan.  For the other loaf, I spread the cooked apples on the flattened dough and then rolled it up.  It kind of made the kidney shape on its own. 

Chicken Apple Dumplings
Dumplings ready to be fried
Boiled Dumplings
Pan-fried Dumplings
I have been on a crazy dumpling kick recently, so when I saw this recipe for chicken-apple dumplings, I got very excited.  I had never made dumplings before and although they weren't too difficult to put together, they were certainly time consuming.  My filling wasn't as flavorful as I'd hoped, but since I know I'll be doing this again often, I will experiment until I get it right.  The recipe made 60 dumplings and I could have kept going if I hadn't run out of wonton wrappers.  I boiled some, pan-fried some, and froze some.  Yum.

Apple Sauce
Pretty basic apple sauce.  I peeled and cooked down a bunch of apples (maybe 10?).  Once they were soft, I used the emersion blender to break the down (though left some chunks, cause I love chunks), added some cinnamon and cloves and was done.

Apple and Squash Orzo Salad

This was my own creation.  I saw a squash risotto recipe that looked good and thought I could transfer it into something far less time-consuming.  I like salads like this for lunch because they're filling, but not heavy.  All I did was roast some acorn squash (which, by the way, has no flavor whatsoever), boil some orzo, chop some apples and mint, and fry up some shallots and garlic and mix it all together with some olive oil.  Then I broke down and added about a half a cup of shredded Fontinella cheese, that brought it together nicely.  Next time, butternut squash for sure. 

There were also Apple Strudel Muffins, but I put them in the freezer before I took the picture.  They were very tasty, but as mentioned above, super sweet.

Foolproof Pie Dough

For one 9-inch Double-Crust Pie.   Published September 1, 2010.   From Cook's Illustrated.
Vodka is essential to the texture of the crust and imparts no flavor—do not substitute. This dough will be moister and more supple than most standard pie doughs and will require more flour to roll out (up to 1/4 cup).

2 1/2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour (12 1/2 ounces)
1 teaspoon table salt
2 tablespoons sugar
12 tablespoons cold unsalted butter (1 1/2 sticks), cut into 1/4-inch slices
1/2 cup chilled solid vegetable shortening , cut into 4 pieces
1/4 cup vodka , cold
1/4 cup cold water


  1. 1. Process 1 1/2 cups flour, salt, and sugar in food processor until combined, about 2 one-second pulses. Add butter and shortening and process until homogenous dough just starts to collect in uneven clumps, about 15 seconds (dough will resemble cottage cheese curds and there should be no uncoated flour). Scrape bowl with rubber spatula and redistribute dough evenly around processor blade. Add remaining cup flour and pulse until mixture is evenly distributed around bowl and mass of dough has been broken up, 4 to 6 quick pulses. Empty mixture into medium bowl.
  2. 2. Sprinkle vodka and water over mixture. With rubber spatula, use folding motion to mix, pressing down on dough until dough is slightly tacky and sticks together. Divide dough into two even balls and flatten each into 4-inch disk. Wrap each in plastic wrap and refrigerate at least 45 minutes or up to 2 days.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

The Congratulations Cake

Jonathan, a guy I work with, is getting married this Sunday.  Typically, we do fun celebrations for the women at work when they get married, but I came to the realization yesterday that nobody had planned anything for him.  So, I decided to bake a cake. 

Having been reprimanded by Jonathan on numerous occasions for making cookies that didn't contain chocolate, I took chocolate as my guide for the theme of this cake.  And yes, it was awfully nice of me to make a cake for a guy who gives me crap about the cookies I make and bring into work, wasn't it?

I made a three layer chocolate cake, filled with spiced chocolate mousse, iced with chocolate ganache and decorated with powdered sugar and cocoa powder.  I think I got the chocolate in there this time.

The whole thing came out wonderfully, though I am a little wary about the cake (we haven't eaten it yet).  I followed the Mayonnaise Cake recipe again, but the layers didn't get very high and seemed kind of doughy when I sliced off the top.  It could be that there might have been a reason that in the recipe where it says not to use low-fat mayonnaise.  I used olive oil mayo.

I've never made chocolate mousse before.  I found it to be pretty easy and now that I really know what's in there, something I'll never be able to order in a restaurant ever again.  That is depressing.  It's SO good.  This recipe added cinnamon and nutmeg to the mousse to give it a little flavor, it's got a "Mexican chocolate" feel to it.

Cake out of the oven.

I thought it would be clever to do the decorating with cocoa powder.  While the cakes cooked and cooled, I cut the letters in CONGRATULATIONS out of cardstock-like paper (thank goodness that wedding invitation from July was still on the fridge).  

I arranged the letters in a circle around the outside of the cake.  Then I dusted the top of the cake with a mixture of cocoa powder and powdered sugar using a mesh strainer.  This worked fine.  Of course, then I couldn't find the letters because they were stuck under a layer of powder.  It took some odd maneuvering, but I got them out.  If I had thought of the circle idea in the beginning, I would have made the letters bigger.  I like it though, it has a kind of minimalist-retro feel to it.


Spiced chocolate mousse
adapted from here
thanks for Technicolor Kitchen for the recipe

180g dark chocolate (70% cocoa solids), coarsely chopped (about 6oz)
3 eggs, at room temperature, separated
3 tablespoons caster sugar (US=superfine sugar)
¼ teaspoon ground cinnamon
¼ teaspoon freshly ground nutmeg
225ml heavy cream, whipped until soft peaks form (about 1 cup)

Melt chocolate in a heatproof bowl over a saucepan of gently simmering water, turn off heat and cool, add yolks and stir to combine – mixture will thicken; add spices. 
Add cream and fold through to combine.

In a separate large bowl, using an electric mixer, beat egg whites until soft peaks form. Add sugar and mix to combine. Add whites to chocolate mixture and fold to combine. The mousse should be smooth and even in color.
Spoon into six ½ cup (120ml) capacity moulds and refrigerate for 3 hours or until set.

Serves 6 

Chocolate Ganache 
I made it up as I went along, but this is a pretty standard recipe.  

9 oz bittersweet chocolate, chopped
1 cup heavy cream
1 teaspoon vanilla extract or rum (or vanilla vodka)

  • Place chopped chocolate in a medium metal bowl.
  • Heat cream in a small sauce pan over medium heat until bubbles form around the edges.  Watch it carefully because you don't want it to get to a full boil.
  • Pour cream over chocolate and leave it for three minutes.
  • After three minutes, whisk until blended and smooth.
  • Add extract and blend completely.
  • Let cool until thick enough to spread without running off.  The longer it cools, the thicker it will become.
This made enough to cover a 9" 3-layer cake with about half a cup left over.

Friday, October 8, 2010

The Beer and Cheese Class

The Adult Ed community has finally caught on to my generation, or at least me in my generation.  They've forgone the classiness of the wine-drinking crowd and embraced beer.  

I am a beer-drinker.  Recently, the hoppier the better.  So when I saw that Brookline Adult & Community Education was offering a Beer and Cheese class where they would pair IPA's (India Pale Ale) and Blue Cheeses, I hopped on board.  It was worth it!
We sampled five domestic micro-brew IPA's and three blue cheeses (two domestic, one Italian).  Our teachers were Matt Webster, a guy who has made a career out of knowing about, and encouraging people to drink beer, and a guy whose name I cannot remember for the life of me who works for the The Meat House.  He is a beer/cheese/wine specialist for them.  He also is trying to become some sort of world cheese competition judge, and I have to say that now knowing that that career exists, I am seriously reconsidering my choice of occupation.  

The class met at my high school, which was disconcerting and kind of satisfying at the same time.  We sampled five beers and were told to become familiar with each beer and each cheese before trying them together.
We started with the Great Divide Titan IPA (ABV: 7.1%, IBU:65) and then the Avery IPA (ABV 6.3%, IBU 69)

Next was the Port Brewing Company Wipe Out IPA (ABV 7%, IBU 78)

 Fourth was the Stone IPA (ABV 6.9%, IBU 77).

The last beer we tasted was the Dogfish Head 90 Minute.

In the meantime, there were three AMAZING blue cheeses.  They were Bayley Haze Blue by Jasper Hill Farm, a Gorgonzala from Lombardy, Italy, and Crater Lake Blue by Rogue Creamery.

The three cheeses were very different, but all incredible.

(I don't remember which is which)

It was interesting how much the beers differed and how much different beers went better with one cheese versus another.  For example, the Titan and the Avery both went well with the Crater Lake, whicke the Wipe Out was much better with the Bayley Haze. 

The beers in my order of preference: Titan, Wipe Out, Avery, Stone, 90 Minute.  This was also pretty close to the order they came in, so my preferences might have something to do with my blood alcohol level as well.  I would have preferred the beers come in a sampler so we could have compared them to each other and to the cheeses all together.

As you can see, we enoyed outselves!