Monday, April 27, 2009

April Daring Baker's Challenge: Cheesecake

Yay! My first challenge!! Done! This was fun. The April 2009 challenge is hosted by Jenny from Jenny Bakes. She has chosen Abbey's Infamous Cheesecake as the challenge. We were encouraged to add a little flair to the basic recipe. I chose to do a chocolate turtle variety. Chocolate cheesecake, covered with caramel and pecans. Yum!! My younger sister offered to host Easter dinner at her apartment this year, so I brought this for dessert. I ran into a few speed bumps along the way though, and the cake didn't look too pretty. But dang, it tasted really good. I cooked this the night before Easter at my in-laws house in New Hampshire. I blame the new cooking environment for my accidents ;)

I think the main problem was that I skipped the water bath when I was cooking the cake. I was not able to find an aluminum pan that seemed the right size, so I stuck with a springform pan. I was so afraid of getting a soggy crust that I just skipped the water bath. I would have braved it, but I didn't want to mess up Easter dinner with a soggy cheesecake! When I took the cheesecake out of the oven, it was puffy and VERY cracked. And, well- it just didn't look like cheesecake. However, once I poured the caramel sauce and pecans over the top you couldn't tell. And, the deep cracks actually allowed for the caramel to seep deep into the cake! YUM!!

I think one other problem, that perhaps led to the puffiness, was that I mis-read the instructions and added the heavy cream in with the cream cheese and sugar at the beginning, so it took a little too much beating. The batter seemed a little too fluffy to me.

I also ran into some issues with the caramel sauce. This was due to the fact that I didn't pay very good attention to the stove. Too many distractions:) I over-boiled the sugar/water combo the first time (burned the sugar), accidentally let the heavy cream boil over the once, and burned the cream another time. But, I finally pulled it together and the caramel came out quite well. Unfortunately Dan and I then had to run to 6 stores to find more heavy cream to replace the extra carton of my mother-in-laws that I had to use. That is not an easy task at 8:30pm when you are in the middle of nowhere, NH, and it is the night before a big holiday.

One more note... I think I would add more chocolate next time. I had two 4oz bars of bittersweet chocolate, but I burned one of them while melting it in the microwave. So I just used one, and the chocolate flavor was not very strong. But all in all, this was a delicious recipe! I would absolutely make it again.

Ingredients ready to go, can you tell it's not my usual kitchen?

YUM, graham cracker crust!! Did you know that they sell graham cracker crumbs at the supermarket? I was dreading having to use a food processor (they are SUCH a pain to clean), so I was psyched to see that I wouldn't have to!

Before adding the chocolate
Chocolate and cinnamon are added, mmmm tasty! Definitely looks too fluffy. I think cheesecake batter should be denser.

Note to self, scrape mixing bowl a few times next time.

That doesn't really look like cheesecake to me.

Caramel topping and nuts are added, at least they cover the cracks! This went in the fridge overnight.

Easter Sunday, ready to be cut!

Ok, it doesn't totally look like a cheesecake, but it was so, so, so tasty.

Caramel-y goodness :)
The April 2009 challenge is hosted by Jenny from Jenny Bakes
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 room temperature
1 cup / 210 g sugar
3 large eggs
1 cup / 8 oz heavy cream
1 tbsp. lemon juice
1 tbsp. vanilla extract
1 tbsp liqueur, optional (I didm't use any)
**For the chocolate turtle variety, I added 4oz of bittersweet chocolate, melted and 1 tsp of cinnamon

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. **This is when I added the melted chocolate and cinnamon.

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.

Topping: Classic Caramel Sauce from Cooks Illustrated
2 cups of sugar
2 Tbsp butter, unsalted
pinch of table salt
1 cup heavy whipping cream

1. Pour 1 cup water into 2-quart heavy-bottomed saucepan; add sugar to center of pot to keep granules from adhering to sides of pot. Bring to boil over high heat, covered. Uncover pot, insert candy thermometer, and continue to boil until syrup is thick and straw-colored, registering 300 degrees on candy thermometer, about 15 minutes. Reduce heat to medium; continue to cook until sugar is deep amber, begins to smoke, and registers 350 degrees on candy thermometer, about 5 minutes longer. Meanwhile, when temperature of syrup reaches 300 degrees, bring cream and salt to simmer in small, heavy-bottomed saucepan over high heat. (If cream reaches simmer before syrup reaches 350 degrees, remove cream from heat and set aside.)

2. Remove sugar syrup from heat. Pour about one quarter of hot cream into sugar syrup; let bubbling subside. Add remaining cream; let bubbling subside. Whisk gently until smooth; whisk in butter. Let cool until warm; serve. (Can be covered and refrigerated up to 1 month; reheat in microwave or small saucepan over low heat.)

Pour caramel over cooled cheesecake (before you put it in the fridge for the night). Sprinkle top with chopped pecans.

Friday, April 24, 2009

Not-so-perfect baby shower cake.

Pathetic. Frustrating. Wasteful. Those are the best words that can sum up my attempt to make a cute baby shower cake for Grace and Tony. I had planned something like this, with only 2 layers (minus the creepy baby faces, bottles, and booties):

I had done tons of research and planning on decorating cakes with fondant. I had a great book that I borrowed from my sister. I made the cakes a few days ahead of time (basic chocolate cake), and put them in the freezer.

On saturday morning I trimmed the cakes and primed them with vanilla buttercream frosting. I had everything lined up and ready to go.

But when the time rolled around to make the fondant, things started to fall apart. The recipe called for gelatin. I was supposed to sprinkle it over water and let it firm up. Well, there just didn't seem to be enough water. And, I couldn't get it to smooth out. It was all lumpy. I added corn syrup and glycerin as called for. Those ingredients never seemed to blend with the gelatine mixture. I ended up with a lumpy, gooey, separated mess. I tried adding it to the confectioners sugar anyway and crossed my fingers. I spent about a half hour trying to knead this mess into something useable. There was not enough moisture to soak up all the sugar. The sugar was poufing all over my kitchen, and it was sucking all of the moisture out of my hands (and arms... and elbows...). I eventually ended up with a crusty, lumpy, partially discolored mess (the gelatin lumps were yellowish).

Clearly, homemade fondant was not going to happen today. I ran out to the local craft store to get that store-bought fondant crap. And crap it was. Who knows how long it had been sitting on the shelf, but it was rock-hard and took forever to roll out. I really wanted the cake to be decorated in blue, but this stuff was way too hard to knead food coloring into. Once I finally was able to roll it into a big enough circle, I draped it over the cake. Things seemed to be okay, I trimmed it and pressed the fondant into the buttercreamed cake. Then, I decided to spray the cake with blue spray food coloring. Bad idea!! I ended up with a patchy, ugly, partially blue blob of a cake. And, I taste tested the fondant scraps. Disgusting! It didn't taste good... can't serve that.

Disappointed, I threw it in the trash. I realized that buttercream frosting was going to have to do for this cake. Luckily, I had a box of cake mix in the cupboard (marble), so I threw that together to replace the layer I had just thrown away. Meanwhile, I made pounds of buttercream frosting and got to work on the bottom layer. I did a simple pipe job all over the cake. I was running out of time with the second layer, so I had to slap that together while it was still partially warm. In my haste I wasn't as careful with the trimming (plus trimming a warmish cake is really tricky), so the whole cake ended up looking a little lopsided. I threw the second layer on and finished the piping (with a green basket weave on top)
Top layer removed for cutting/serving:I am really disappointed with how the whole thing turned out, but hey- at least it tasted good. I am determined to try again, however I will be using another recipe. I found marshmallow fondant recipe that looks interesting...

Here is the buttercream recipe, it is SO good. Another one from Cook's Illustrated.

If you prefer to skip the vanilla bean, increase the extract to 1 1/2 teaspoons. The buttercream can be made ahead and refrigerated; if refrigerated, however, they must stand at room temperature to soften before use. If using a hand-held mixer, increase mixing times significantly (at least 50 percent). This recipe can be doubled to make enough for a two-layer cake.

10 tablespoons unsalted butter , softened
1/2 vanilla bean , halved lengthwise
1 1/4 cups confectioners' sugar (5 ounces)
Pinch table salt
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1tablespoon heavy cream

In standing mixer fitted with whisk attachment, beat butter at medium-high speed until smooth, about 20 seconds. Using paring knife, scrape seeds from vanilla bean into butter and beat mixture at medium-high speed to combine, about 15 seconds. Add confectioners' sugar and salt; beat at medium-low speed until most of the sugar is moistened, about 45 seconds. Scrape down bowl and beat at medium speed until mixture is fully combined, about 15 seconds; scrape bowl, add vanilla and heavy cream, and beat at medium speed until incorporated, about 10 seconds, then increase speed to medium-high and beat until light and fluffy, about 4 minutes, scraping down bowl once or twice.

Perfect Lemon Bars

These lemon bars are perfect. Hence the name! They come from Cooks Illustrated, always a safe bet. The recipe is very straightforward. Just be sure to add the lemon filling to the crust while it is still warm out of the oven. I made these for Grace & Tony's baby shower last weekend, they were a hit!

Pulsing up the crust. It always looks too dry to me, but if you just pinch it you'll see that it actually sticks together very well.

The crust mixture is pressed into the pan (definitely line it with parchment paper! it makes the cutting process SO much easier)
The crust goes in the fridge for 30 minutes and then the oven for 20, meanwhile mix up the lemon filling. I stick the bowl in the fridge until the crust is done cooking- and just stir it well before pouring it over the (warm!!) crust.Make sure to let the bars cook until the center is firm. Trust me- these bars get really messy if they are undercooked. I served them up in blue muffin wrappers for easy eating :)

The Crust
1 3/4 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
2/3 cup confectioners' sugar , plus extra to decorate finished bars
1/4 cup cornstarch
3/4 teaspoon table salt
12 tablespoons unsalted butter (1 1/2 sticks), at very cool room temperature, cut into 1-inch pieces

Lemon Filling
4 large eggs , beaten lightly
1 1/3 cups granulated sugar
3 tablespoons unbleached all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons grated lemon zest from 2 large lemons
2/3 cup lemon juice from 3 to 4 large lemons, strained
1/3 cup whole milk
1/8 teaspoon table salt


1. For the crust: Adjust oven rack to middle position and heat oven to 350 degrees. Lightly butter a 13-by-9-inch baking dish and line with one sheet parchment or wax paper. Dot paper with butter, then lay second sheet crosswise over it (see illustration 1, below).

2. Pulse flour, confectioners’ sugar, cornstarch, and salt in food processor workbowl fitted with steel blade. Add butter and process to blend, 8 to 10 seconds, then pulse until mixture is pale yellow and resembles coarse meal, about three 1-second bursts. (To do this by hand, mix flour, confectioners’ sugar, cornstarch, and salt in medium bowl. Freeze butter and grate it on large holes of box grater into flour mixture. Toss butter pieces to coat. Rub pieces between your fingers for a minute, until flour turns pale yellow and coarse.) Sprinkle mixture into lined pan and, following illustration 2, press firmly with fingers into even, 1/4-inch layer over entire pan bottom and about 1/2-inch up sides. Refrigerate for 30 minutes, then bake until golden brown, about 20 minutes.

3. For the filling: Meanwhile, whisk eggs, sugar, and flour in medium bowl, then stir in lemon zest, juice, milk, and salt to blend well.

4. To finish the bars: Reduce oven temperature to 325 degrees. Stir filling mixture to reblend; pour into warm crust. Bake until filling feels firm when touched lightly, about 20 minutes. Transfer pan to wire rack; cool to near room temperature, at least 30 minutes. Following illustrations 3 and 4, below, transfer to cutting board, fold paper down, and cut into serving-size bars, wiping knife or pizza cutter clean between cuts, as necessary. Sieve confectioners’ sugar over bars, if desired.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Fun Peanut Butter Cookies

I was seriously craving cookies a few weeks ago. Luckily, I was going to be on my way to my mom and stepdad's house the next day to drop off tax stuff (my stepdad is a CPA and is nice enough to do our taxes every year!!). A batch of thank-you cookies was in order... of course I snagged a few for Dan and I to enjoy before I boxed them up. I browsed through a bunch of blogs looking for something yummy and gooey but couldn't find much that matched the ingredients that I had on-hand. I was in the mood for peanut butter deliciousness (as always), so I decided just to make my usual Peanut Butter Kiss Cookies, but skip the kiss on top since I didn't have any Hershey's kisses. But I DID have chocolate chips, and a few Reese's peanut butter cups!!! I chopped up the PB cups and tossed in a bunch of the chips as well. Yummmm! They were delectable. I love this peanut butter cookie recipe, it is to die for! Betcha can't have just one!

Basic Peanut Butter Cookie batter

Throw in some chopped up Reese's PB cupsDon't forget the chocolate chips!

Ready to go in the oven
Oops... ate one already
These seriously hit the spot

Here is the original PB Kiss Cookie recipe, with my modifications for this batch in parenthesis:

2 2/3 cups flour
2 teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
1 cup butter
2/3 cup creamy peanut butter
1 cup sugar
1 cup brown sugar, firmly packed
2 eggs
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
Additional sugar
5 dozen kisses, unwrapped (instead of this, I used about 6 roughly chopped reese's peanut butter cups and a cup of chocolate chips and threw them in the batter)

Preheat oven to 375 degrees F.

In a large bowl, mix flour, salt, and baking soda. Add butter and peanut butter and mix until smooth. Add sugars and beat until light and fluffy. Add eggs and vanilla and mix until smooth. (I threw the PB cups and choco chips in at this point.)

Make balls out of level tablespoons of dough - add flour if needed. Roll in sugar. (I skipped the rolling in sugar)

Bake 2 inches apart on ungreased cookie sheet for 8 minutes. (I start checking at 5-6 minutes, I like them really gooey!)

Remove from oven and add 1 kiss to the center of each cookie. Return to the oven and bake for 2 more minutes. (I skipped this step since I didn't top with kisses. In fact, even when I do put kisses on these cookies I never put them back in the oven. They get plenty soft just from the heat of the cookies)

Drunken Sausage

I found this recipe on The Crepes of Wrath. It was perfect timing as I had some Chestnut Hill Farms sausage to eat. I served the sausage with Hodgson Mill pasta, a whole-wheat/high protein pasta that is approved on the core diet if I have it after a workout. Tastes just as good as regular pasta to me!

These sausages contained just pork, a little cheese, garlic, and seasoning.

Sauteing the onion, garlic, and sausages
After the seasonings and beer were added.
Done! Pasta was too dry... need more sauce next time to drizzle over it!Drunken Sausage and Pasta

3 tablespoons olive oil
1 package hot turkey sausage (I used my 3 pork sausages from Chestnut Hill Farms)
3 cloves of garlic, chopped
1 jumbo onion, thinly sliced
salt and pepper, to taste
pinch red pepper flakes
1 box (16 oz.) whole wheat spaghetti
1 12 oz. bottle of beer (I used Blue Moon, will not use this next time)

1. Pour your olive oil into a pan and heat it over medium. Saute your onion, garlic, and sausages over the medium heat for 8 minutes. Make sure to turn over your sausages halfway through.
2. Add the salt, pepper, and red pepper flakes to taste. I did a pinch of each and worked my way up.
3. Add your beer, cover everything, and reduce the liquid down to little less than half on high heat for 8 minutes. Make sure to flip your sausages halfway through. Boil the pasta while you do this.
4. Serve yours sausages and onions over the pasta. Make sure you get juices over everything, too. Serves 4.

Light Strawberry Cobbler

I got this recipe from 'The Best Light Recipe', from the editors of Cooks Illustrated. I would never have gotten around to publishing this post if I had to copy the recipe out of the book, so I searched for it on their website. If you are not a member, I highly recommend it. It's around $15 per year, and you get access to all of their recipes, cooking tips, how-tos, equipment reviews, etc. I've gotten many of my favorite recipes from there. I have made a blueberry cobbler from them before- the non-light version. Honestly, the I don't remember the biscut topping being any better in that recipe. This was a delicious recipe and didn't feel heavy. Recipe below...

Strawberries- rinsed, hulled, and tossed in sugar, vanilla, and cornstarch. I cannot, for the life of me, figure out why this picture got turned on it's side. Anyone know how to fix that?

The strawberries go in the oven for a bit. In the meantime, I prepared the topping. You have to keep the wet and dry ingredients separ
When the strawberries have gotten a little bubbly around the edges, it's time to take them out and put on the biscuits. You fold the wet and dry ingredients together and pinch off the dough in equal sections over the strawberries. Sprinkle the tops of the biscuits with cinnamon sugar and put them back in the oven.

15 minutes later... voila! The cobbler is done. Cool for a few minutes and serve!

1 quart fresh strawberries , rinsed and hulled
10 ounces rhubarb , cut into 1/2-inch chunks
1/3 cup sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 tablespoon cornstarch

Biscuit Topping
1 cup unbleached all-purpose flour (5 ounces)
3 tablespoons yellow cornmeal
1/4 cup sugar plus 2 teaspoons
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon table salt
1/3 cup buttermilk
3 tablespoons unsalted butter , melted
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/8 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1. Adjust an oven rack to the middle position and heat the oven to 400 degrees. Toss the fruit filling ingredients together in a 9-inch deep-dish pie plate. Place the pie plate on a rimmed baking sheet and bake until the fruit releases its liquid and is hot and bubbling around the edges, 20 to 30 minutes.

2. Meanwhile, whisk the flour, cornmeal, 1/4 cup of the sugar, the baking powder, baking soda, and salt together in a large bowl; set aside. In a separate bowl, whisk the buttermilk, butter, and vanilla together; set aside. In a third small bowl, mix the remaining 2 teaspoons sugar with the cinnamon; set aside.

3. When the filling is ready, stir the buttermilk mixture into the flour mixture with a rubber spatula until just combined and no pockets of flour remain. Remove the cobbler filling from the oven and stir. Pinch off 8 equal pieces of the biscuit dough and arrange them on top of the hot filling, spaced 1/2 inch apart. Sprinkle the tops of the biscuits with the cinnamon sugar.

4. Continue to bake the cobbler until the biscuits are golden brown on top and cooked through and the filling is again hot and bubbling, 15 to 20 minutes. Cool the cobbler on a wire rack for 15 minutes before serving.