Friday, July 25, 2008

Sweet Celebrations

I'm always up for a challenge and I tend to be a perfectionist. So I guess it comes to no surprise that I have a collection of recipes that I want to try over and over again, tweaking and revising, until I reach the exact flavor, color, texture, etc. I want. What falls under that category you ask? Hmmmm let's see, chocolate chip cookies (anybody read the now famous New York Times recipe?), scones (a sad fact that my mom begs me to bring her scones from work instead of asking me to bake her homemade ones), omelets (I can never get the top to flip without breaking, very irritating), are just some on the list. The more I cook and bake, the more the list grows. But nothing beats the challenge of one thing, the thing that I've been toying with for years: cheesecake.

Oh my gosh, the methods are endless! From all cheese, to adding milk, sour cream, whipping cream, flour, cornstarch, and even *gasp* water. I mean water? And I cannot even tell you how many accounts I've read of what people have gone through to prevent their cheesecakes from cracking (the true sign of a good cheesecake). Some people preheat their oven, turn it off, and then just leave it in their oven for seven hours. SEVEN hours. There's also the waterbath, or I guess correctly said bain marie, which is the perfect solution and does the trick beautifully but it's kind of a hassle. Needless to say, cheesecake has captured my attention and any chance I get to try it again with a whole new set of ingredients and variations, I'm down. So....two girls at my work were turning twenty one, and at the request and my delight, one of them (Kasey) asked for a cheesecake. It was all I could do to stop myself from dancing. I know, I know, I'm a nerd.

But more exciting than that was I finally got it, my eureka! moment. After mentally scanning through the list in my head of all my options, I got fed up, went straight into my kitchen and starting baking. And it turned out perfect, just the way I've been looking for all this time. Tall and thick but with a wonderfully creamy inside, sweet but not overly with the tang of sour cream and lemon to contrast. So good! The recipe I'm giving you is for a plain cheesecake but as you can see from the pictures, I ended up making it strawberry. Cheesecake is one of those things where besides the variations of making it, there are also endless flavors. Fortunately it's easy to mess with a basic recipe to get what you want. Like substitute the graham cracker crust with chocolate wafers or add pumpkin puree to the batter for a thanksgiving treat. I also love melting down chocolate, or getting jams and adding it in to the already poured batter in a swirl like motion to get beautiful color contrast. So have fun and play with it. Just remember three things when making a cheesecake 1) all ingredients should be at room temperature, 2) never over mix, learn the art of folding, and 3) you need to keep the oven humid to prevent cracking but instead of a water bath, I put a pan full of water at the bottom of my oven and place my cheesecake on the rack above it. Oh wait, I forgot, maybe four things, give it plenty of time to cool off or else the rapid change in temperature will cause cracking as well. Okay I'm done, promise. So I guess it's official, the oldest member of my list can finally be crossed out, it's almost sad. Almost.

Perfectly Plain Cheesecake
By Julia Canavera

1 ½ cups crushed graham crackers
2-3 Tbsp. Sugar
1 tsp. cinnamon
½ tsp. ground ginger
6-8 Tbsp. melted butter

2 lb. cream cheese
1 ½ cups sugar
1 cup sour cream
3 Tbsp. flour
1 Tbsp. vanilla extract
Zest of one lemon
Juice of one lemon
2 eggs
2 egg yolks

*Make sure everything is at room temperature

Preheat oven to 350°F.

Combine graham crackers, sugar, cinnamon, and ginger in a bowl. Slowly pour in the melted butter until crackers combine and hold their shape when pressed together. Press into a 8”-9” spring form pan and bake in the oven for 10-15 minutes. Take out and let cool. Lower oven to 300°F and put a pan filled with water in the bottom of the oven. (This will help to prevent the cheesecake from cracking without having to go through the trouble of doing a water bath.)

Next combine cream cheese, sugar, sour cream, and flour, beating until light and fluffy. Stir in extracts and lemon zest and juice. In another bowl beat the eggs and egg yolks until thoroughly combined and slightly lighter in color. Slowly pour into the cream cheese mixture and fold. Try to be careful and not over stir as this will also create cracks. Take cool spring form pan and butter the sides where graham cracker crust stops. Pour in cheesecake mixture and put in oven. Let bake for one hour. After an hour, turn the oven off and let the cheesecake sit for another 45 minutes to another hour. Make sure the center is still jingly, that means the cheesecake isn’t over baked and will set up once cool. Take out of oven and let sit on the counter too cool to room temperature (about 2 hours). Then put in refrigerator to chill and set up completely for at least 4 hours. (I just let mine sit overnight).

To make the strawberry variation, I bought good quality preserves and heated it up until it was liquidly (if you need to, add a little bit of water). Then pour half of the batter into the baked crust, spoon strawberry jam over the top and use a knife to make swirls. Add the other half of batter and if you wish, spoon more jam over the top and swirl for presentation. I cut up fresh strawberries and glazed the top with my leftover preserves.


Kasey said...

Thanks again for the cheesecake, it was so good! And this recipe looks great; you make it sound so simple that I want to try it! I'm sure the folding might give me some trouble and mine will probably crack, but maybe I'll eventually be able to make one as good as yours was! I took the last slice with me to bowling that night and all six of the people who came got at least two bites; they said it was delicious! I think you have definitely succeeded in getting the recipe just perfect, I almost feel like I'm cheating by using your recipe and skipping all the trial and error you went through to get it just right. Thanks for sharing this with us Julia!

Andrew The Austin said...

My password has been giving me trouble so here is my name changing solution! I, in all of my collective moments spent in random pondering, would never have thought of the complexities associated with cheescake.
You certainly took the purity of love and the science of culinary creation and brought a delicious hybrid to life...well not life...because we ate it and that would have killed it...but you know what i mean.
It was amazing; the only unfortunate side effect i experienced afterwards is the jading of my pallet. all else tastes bland in comparison.