Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Daring Bakers Cheesecake Centerpiece

It's Daring Bakers time again! I missed the boat last month - too much going on to participate. But this month I was ahead of the deadline when I made the challenge recipe (even though I'm a day behind in actually posting it to my blog!).

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

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 / 383 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.

Since we were given free rein with flavorings and variations of this recipe, I made what was on hand. I created a Berry Swirl Cheesecake with a Gingersnap crust.

I substituted the graham crackers with gingersnap cookies, and only used 1/2 stick of butter in the crust.

For the filling, I made it as written above, then separated half of the filling and mixed it with about 1/2 - 3/4 cup of coarsly pureed mixed berries (blackberries, raspberries, and strawberries), then tried to pour the cheesecake in layers. It didn't stay layered, so I improvised and made it a pretty swirl instead!

I decorated it with lightly sweetened whipped cream and fresh cut berries.

I thought it was soooo good. It was the best cheesecake I've ever made (my previous attempts were a long time ago so don't hold them against me!). I didn't have any cracks in the top, the crust wasn't soggy from the water bath, and it was creamy, tangy, and berry-licious! (I'm nerdy, I know!)

Please check out the Daring Bakers Blogroll to see all the other creative variations of cheesecakes from our talented bakers.

Thanks Jenny for a great challenge this month! I'll be making some more cheesecakes next week for a Teacher Appreciation Dinner at my daughter's preschool.

Sunday, March 1, 2009

Daring Bakers - Flourless Chocolate Cake and Homemade Vanilla Ice Cream

It's Daring Baker time again! Actually, it's a day past Daring Baker time - Feb 28 slipped past me yesterday without me doing my post. Oops! But I made the recipe earlier in the month - over Valentine's weekend with my parents visiting.
February's recipes were chosen by Wendy of WMPE's Blog and Dharm of Dad~Baker and Chef.
Part of this month's challenge was a flourless chocolate cake - called a Chocolate Valentino. It was inspired by Malaysia's most flamboyant chef, Chef Wan, and can be found in Sweet Treats by Chef Wan. The second part of the challenge was a homemade vanilla ice cream. This recipe comes from the Ice Cream Book by Joanna Farrow and Sara Lewis.
I made the Chocolate Valentino using some delicious chocolate bought at the Whole Foods in Raleigh. I knew the chocolate cake would taste exactly like the chocolate used, so I splurged and bought some Callebaut bittersweet and milk chocolate. I used half of each kind in the recipe.

Chocolate Valentino
Preparation Time: 20 minutes
16 ounces (1 pound) (454 grams) of semisweet chocolate, roughly chopped
½ cup (1 stick) plus 2 tablespoons (146 grams total) of unsalted butter
5 large eggs separated

1. Put chocolate and butter in a heatproof bowl and set over a pan of simmering water (the bottom of the bowl should not touch the water) and melt, stirring often.

2. While your chocolate butter mixture is cooling. Butter your pan and line with a parchment circle then butter the parchment.
3. Separate the egg yolks from the egg whites and put into two medium/large bowls.
4. Whip the egg whites in a medium/large grease free bowl until stiff peaks are formed (do not over-whip or the cake will be dry).

5. With the same beater beat the egg yolks together.
6. Add the egg yolks to the cooled chocolate.
7. Fold in 1/3 of the egg whites into the chocolate mixture and follow with remaining 2/3rds. Fold until no white remains without deflating the batter.

8. Pour batter into prepared pan, the batter should fill the pan 3/4 of the way full, and bake at 375F/190C
9. Bake for 25 minutes or until an instant read thermometer reads 140F/60C.
Note – If you do not have an instant read thermometer, the top of the cake will look similar to a brownie and a cake tester will appear wet.

10. Cool cake on a rack for 10 minutes then unmold.

Classic Vanilla Ice Cream
Preparation Time: 30 minutes

Recipe comes from the Ice Cream Book by Joanna Farrow and Sara Lewis (tested modifications and notes in parentheses by Dharm)

1 Vanilla Pod (or substitute with vanilla extract)
300ml / ½ pint / 1 ¼ cups Semi Skimmed Milk – in the U.S. this is 2% fat (or use fresh full fat milk that is pasteurised and homogenised {as opposed to canned or powdered}). Dharm used whole milk.
4 large egg yolks
75g / 3oz / 6 tbsp caster sugar {superfine sugar can be achieved in a food processor or use regular granulated sugar}
5ml / 1 tsp corn flour {cornstarch}
300ml / ½ pint / 1 ¼ cups Double Cream (48% butter fat) {in the U.S. heavy cream is 37% fat}
(you can easily increase your cream's fat content by heating 1/4 cup of heavy cream with 3 Tbs of butter until melted - cool to room temperature and add to the heavy cream as soon as whisk marks appear in the cream, in a slow steady stream, with the mixer on low speed. Raise speed and continue whipping the cream) or use heavy cream the difference will be in the creaminess of the ice cream.

1. Using a small knife slit the vanilla pod lengthways. Pour the milk into a heavy based saucepan, add the vanilla pod and bring to the boil. Remove from heat and leave for 15 minutes to allow the flavours to infuse
Lift the vanilla pod up. Holding it over the pan, scrape the black seeds out of the pod with a small knife so that they fall back into the milk. SET the vanilla pod aside and bring the milk back to the boil.
2. Whisk the egg yolks, sugar and corn-flour in a bowl until the mixture is thick and foamy.
3. Gradually pour in the hot milk, whisking constantly. Return the mixture to the pan and cook over a gentle hear, stirring all the time

4. When the custard thickens and is smooth, pour it back into the bowl. Cool it then chill.
5. By Hand: Whip the cream until it has thickened but still falls from a spoon. Fold it into the custard and pour into a plastic tub or similar freeze-proof container. Freeze for 6 hours or until firm enough to scoop, beating it twice (during the freezing process – to get smoother ice cream or else the ice cream will be icy and coarse)
By Using and Ice Cream Maker: Stir the cream into the custard and churn the mixture until thick (follow instructions on your ice cream maker)

I loved this month's challenge! The cake was dense yet not heavy, and I loved the taste! The ice cream was easier than I thought it would be - I don't have an icecream maker - and tasted rich and creamy. I'll be using these recipes again!
Thanks Wendy and Dharm for a great month's challenge! Please check out their blogs, and all the wonderful Daring Bakers who create yummy baked treats and take wonderful photos of them.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Daring Baker Challenge - Tuiles

It's Daring Baker time again! This month's challenge is Tuiles and was chosen by Karen aka Baking Soda of Bake My Day and Zorra aka Kochtopf of 1x umruehren bitte. They chose the Tuile recipe from The Chocolate Book by Angelique Schmeink and Nougatine and Chocolate Tuiles from Finest Desserts by Michel Roux. (This month's challenge feels so European! I feel more sophisticated just typing these names!) I liked the idea of this month's challenge - something light, served with something fruity - a nice break from all the buttery sugary sweetness from holiday baking. We were given a choice of batter recipe, our own creative idea for shapes, and we had to pair it with something light.
I made this recipe today, at the last minute as usual. They didn't turn out the way they are supposed to, but I think with some more practice, I'll get the results I should. My tuiles tasted good, but they weren't crispy. They ended up more rubbery - like a crepe. I think that maybe I mixed the batter too long - it was taking a long time to homogonize in my mixer. But the recipe was so easy to make, I'm sure to try it again.
I chose the Tuile recipe, so I will only post that one. The other recipes looked great too, and I'm sure you can find them on Karen or Zorra's blogs.
I made stencils from a cereal box, and I paired my tuiles with custard (made from a mix) and fresh strawberries and blackberries.

Tuiles from "The Chocolate Book" by Angelique Schmeinck

Yields: 20 small butterflies/6 large (butterflies are just an example)
Preparation time
batter 10 minutes, waiting time 30 minutes, baking time: 5-10 minutes per batch
65 grams / ¼ cup / 2.3 ounces softened butter (not melted but soft)
60 grams / ½ cup / 2.1 ounces sifted confectioner’s sugar
1 sachet vanilla sugar (7 grams or substitute with a dash of vanilla extract)
2 large egg whites (slightly whisked with a fork)
65 grams / ¼ cup / 2.3 ounces sifted all purpose flour
1 table spoon cocoa powder/or food coloring of choice
Butter/spray to grease baking sheet
Oven: 180C / 350F
Using a hand whisk or a stand mixer fitted with the paddle (low speed) and cream butter, sugar and vanilla to a paste. Keep stirring while you gradually add the egg whites. Continue to add the flour in small batches and stir to achieve a homogeneous and smooth batter/paste. Be careful to not overmix.
Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and chill in the fridge for at least 30 minutes to firm up. (This batter will keep in the fridge for up to a week, take it out 30 minutes before you plan to use it).
Line a baking sheet with parchment paper or grease with either butter/spray and chill in the fridge for at least 15 minutes. This will help spread the batter more easily if using a stencil/cardboard template such as the butterfly. Press the stencil on the bakingsheet and use an off sided spatula to spread batter. Leave some room in between your shapes. Mix a small part of the batter with the cocoa and a few drops of warm water until evenly colored. Use this colored batter in a paper piping bag and proceed to pipe decorations on the wings and body of the butterfly.
Bake butterflies in a preheated oven (180C/350F) for about 5-10 minutes or until the edges turn golden brown. Immediately release from bakingsheet and proceed to shape/bend the cookies in the desired shape. These cookies have to be shaped when still warm, you might want to bake a small amount at a time or maybe put them in the oven to warm them up again. (Haven’t tried that). Or: place a bakingsheet toward the front of the warm oven, leaving the door half open. The warmth will keep the cookies malleable.
If you don’t want to do stencil shapes, you might want to transfer the batter into a piping bag fitted with a small plain tip. Pipe the desired shapes and bake. Shape immediately after baking using for instance a rolling pin, a broom handle, cups, cones….
Alternative Baking:Either un-glutenize the batter given substituting the flour for any nut meal or oat flour, or as an alternative use one of other batters given by Karen and Zorra.
And as usual, please check out all the other amazing bakers on the Daring Baker Blogroll. They inspire me everyday with their creativity and talent!

My older taste tester didn't like the tuiles, but the younger one devoured her's with lots of "yum yum" sounds!

Overall, I enjoyed this challenge. I'll try them again soon - and I'll update this post when I do!