Thursday, October 30, 2008

Creme Brulee Cheesecake - yes, it's as good as it sounds

First, an apology. I don't have very many photos and the ones I do have are pretty crappy. The picture above is one someone else took of the entire table as we were still getting everything ready and I just cropped it - don't you just love that big box of crackers right behind the cake?! And it really was much prettier when you looked at it closer - the caramelized sugar was nice and twinkly.

I made this cheesecake a couple of weeks ago when I threw a surprise party for one of my very best friends. I was so preoccupied with keeping the whole shebang a secret and getting everything else ready, I forgot to snap pictures both as I made it and after it was all done. She's one of those people for whom it's practically impossible to either a) find a day that will work because she's so busy and/or b) genuinely surprise - miraculously, I was able to do both. This is her piece (after I finally remembered to take a picture):

I've only ever had Creme Brulee Cheesecake one time, but from that first forkful, I was smitten. It was a frozen one from Sam's Club, but I thought that someday I must try to duplicate it. After making Creme Brulee for the first time a few weeks ago, I knew that the time to try was at hand. So, thanks to some inspiration from Dorie, here's the recipe (should be prepared the day before you're going to serve it):

Creme Brulee Cheesecake

For the crust:
About 2/3 of a 16 ounce package shortbread cookies
3 Tablespoons melted butter

For the filling:

4 8 ounce packages low-fat cream cheese, room temperature
1 tablespoon flour
1 1/2 cups sugar, divided
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
3 large eggs, room temperature
3 large egg yolks, room temperature
1 cup heavy cream
granulated sugar for topping (I used about 1/3 cup - you don't want too thick a layer of sugar 'cause it would be a real pain to cut through and really mangle the slices)

Preheat oven to 350 °. Wrap the outside of a 10-inch diameter springform pan (you could use a 9 inch pan, just cook it for a while longer, maybe 15-20 minutes) with at least 2 layers of aluminum foil. Make sure this is the large heavy duty foil so that the width of the foil exceeds the diameter and height of your pan - this will help prevent water from leaking into your cheesecake (trust my experience here, watery cheesecake = nasty mess). When you fold the foil over the sides of your pan, try to make sure you press the foil up and not to the sides of the pan.

Prepare the crust. Finely grind shortbread cookies in a food processor. Add melted butter and process until crumbs are moistened. Press into bottom of the prepared pan. Bake crust until golden, about 15 minutes. Cool crust completely on rack. Reduce oven temperature to 325 °.

Prepare the custard. In a medium heat proof bowl, whisk the egg yolks together. Mix together cream and 1/2 cup sugar and heat over low heat until just about to boil. Add about half the cream mixture to the egg yolks, whisking constantly, to temper them. Add the egg mixture back to the pan with the remaining cream and heat on low, continuing to whisk until just starting to thicken (don't overdo this because you'll get scrambled eggs); immediately remove from heat again and stir in the vanilla. Let the mixture cool slightly. (You can strain this mixture if you think any eggs curdled in the process)

Prepare the filling. Using electric mixer, beat cream cheese until very smooth. Add flour and beat until smooth. Gradually add the remaining 1 cup sugar and beat until smooth. Add whole eggs one at a time, beating just until blended. Slowly blend in the custard mixture until smooth.

Pour filling over crust in pan. Place the springform pan in a large roasting pan. Pour enough hot water into the roasting pan to come about halfway up the sides of the springform pan. Bake cheesecake until cake is almost set (the center will still move slightly when pan is gently shaken), about 1 hour and 15 minutes. Cool cake on rack for 1 hour. Refrigerate uncovered overnight.

About 30 minutes prior to serving, remove the cake from fridge and unmold. Sprinkle the top with sugar and use a blow torch to caramelize.

Just a few side notes:

  • A lot of folks are turned off by the whole water-bath thing and skip it. Please don't. I've made it both ways and when in the bath, they have never cracked (without it, the cakes always cracked)

  • Getting the cheesecake out of the water-bath can be tricky. I finally got some of those silicone oven mitts and those work great because they're water and heat proof!

  • To get nice clean cheesecake slices, have a large, tall pitcher full of very hot water and heat a large knife in it for a few minutes before serving. After each slice, wipe the knife clean with a paper towel and reheat in the hot water; wipe dry and make your next cut.
All the party-goers raved over this cheesecake and I thought it was pretty darn tasty, too (if I do say so myself ;-). Next time I make this I may skip the extra steps involved in making the custard and just dump all the ingredients into the mixing bowl and see how it turns out. I hope you get a chance to make this cheesecake and if you do, I'd love to hear what you thought, so please come back and comment or send me an email!

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

One of the wonderful things about blogging...

is the recognition from your peers that comes out of nowhere, just when you need it most! I have been so busy in my non-blog life that I really was wondering if I should be spending as much time as I have on my new hobby. Then, I received this award on Monday from Nancy at The Dogs Eat the Crumbs and it renewed my commitment to the blogging world.

Now, her blog is truly fantastic and she writes and cooks so well, it's a real honor to be thought of by her. So a heartfelt thank you, Nancy! Now I get to pay it forward to these great blogs (I think they've all have already gotten this award before, but I wanted them to know how much I enjoy them!):

Catilin of Engineer Baker

Honey B. of The Life and Loves of Grumpy's HoneyBunch

Jaime of My Baking Addiction

Clara of I Heart Cuppycakes

Lady Baker of Lisa is a Baker

*Here's the scoop on the award, and its rules:

  1. "This award was created in Uruguay by a fellow blogger who makes dolls exclusively from recycled materials. Her blog can be reached by clicking here. The rules for this award include the following: Pick 5 blogs that you consider deserve this award, creativity, design, interesting material, and also contributes to the blogger community, no matter of language.
  2. Advertise name of the author and also a link to his or her blog to be visited by everyone
    Each award-winner, has to show the award and put the name and link to the blog that has given her or him the award itself.
  3. Award-winner and the one who has given the prize has to show the link of “Arte y pico” blog, so everyone will know the origin of this award.
  4. Share these rules."

I certainly don't mind if you pass this on or not, like I said I just wanted to let you know how much I love reading your blogs! Have a great day :-)

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

TWD: Chocolate-Chocolate Cupcakes

I wish I didn't wait till the last minute to make all these blog-group recipes - it always seems like I'm making them the day before I've got to post. Unfortunately, I'm pretty short on time these days and I just can't seem to plan much past tomorrow, let alone a week from tomorrow. I would have loved to make a double batch of these cupcakes and bring them with me to a meeting scheduled for tonight (sorry Ladies, next time I'll try to plan ahead a little!).

As you can see, I got in touch with my inner Martha and went with the Halloween theme. I used some crushed oreos for the dirt (my three year old had lots of fun helping me dispose of all that leftover oreo middle stuff) and milano cookies for the gravestones. It would have been awfully fun to make a full-fledged graveyard had I made this a double batch!

I liked these cupcakes but I was expecting them to be really chocolaty. They're not. In fact, they've got a pretty light texture and are quite tender. I guess I thought that with a double "chocolate" in the title I was expecting them to be fudgier - I generally like a slightly denser cake like pound cake. (If that's what you like in a cupcake, I highly recommend Martha's One-Bowl Chocolate cake recipe - I've made it many times and it's wonderful and definitely on the "devil's food" side of chocolate cake.) Dorie gives a chocolate ganache "glaze" to frost her cupcakes with and works very nicely with the light chocolate flavor of the cupcakes. By the way - I wouldn't use that ganache with Martha's cupcake recipe, because oh my, would that be over-the-top (never mind that glass of milk, just chug straight from the gallon, you'd need it!)

I wish I had remembered to take pictures of the batter because my only note to you all would be not to worry about how thick it is. It's definitely more similar to muffin batter than cake batter. I had to stop and look over the recipe again just to make sure I had put in the right amount of buttermilk. Don't fret though, these cupcakes come out really nice and light.

Thanks Clara of I Heart Food4Thought for selecting this week's frightfully good recipe! Check out all the other wonderful TWD bakers here. These folks are so incredibly talented - it'll be fun to see how creative they got with the whole Halloween theme!

Next week: Rugelach - which I've never made but always wanted to try, so lucky me! I'm going to try really hard to stick all of these in the freezer and save them for Christmas - one less batch of cookies to squeeze in!
I haven't forgotten about posting that Creme Brulee Cheesecake either, just been busy, busy, busy. I'm hoping to post it Thursday (but don't hold me to that :-)

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Barefoot Thursday - Vegetable Pot Pie

This is the kind of recipe that makes me so glad I'm a part of Barefoot Bloggers. My family and I loved this dinner and I probably never would have made it without having had someone else choose it for me. It is a little on the time intensive side and uses a lot of bowls and pots - and I really wasn't sure how well the kids would like the fennel. In the end, it was one of those oh-so-worth-the-effort meals. This was simply delicious and so much a comfort-type food - nice and warm for our tummies on a chilly fall evening.

I ended up just making one large pot pie (in a 9x13 inch pan) and really didn't stray much from the recipe, except for the stuff I completely forgot to add: no cute little onions and no flat leaf parsley. Oh yes, and no saffron - it was nowhere to be found in my neck of the woods when I went shopping last week. I guess I'll have to order it from somewhere on the internet (and if any of you have a good site to do that from, please let me know!) or get some family member who lives in a bigger city (hellllooo Atlanta folks :-) to buy it for me. I didn't miss any of those things, however, as this pie tasted fantastic without them. The only thing I think I will try when I make this again is to cut down on the fat content a little by reducing the butter and omitting the heavy cream (eh, it was only three tablespoons - maybe I'll keep it in there...)

Vegetable Pot Pie from Barefoot Contessa Parties

12 tablespoons unsalted butter (1 1/2 sticks)
2 cups sliced yellow onions (2 onions)
1 fennel bulb, top and core removed, thinly sliced crosswise
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
2 1/2 cups good chicken stock
1 tablespoon Pernod (oops, forgot to mention I didn't use this either - I subbed 1/4 tsp anise extract)
Pinch saffron threads
1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
3 tablespoons heavy cream
1 1/2 cups large-diced potatoes (1/2 pound)
1 1/2 cups asparagus tips
1 1/2 cups peeled, 3/4-inch-diced carrots (4 carrots)
1 1/2 cups peeled, 3/4-inch-diced butternut squash
1 1/2 cups frozen small whole onions (1/2 pound)
1/2 cup minced flat-leaf parsley
For the pastry:
3 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 cup vegetable shortening
1/4 pound cold unsalted butter, diced
1/2 to 2/3 cup ice water
1 egg beaten with 1 tablespoon water, for egg wash
Flaked sea salt and cracked black pepper

  • Melt the butter in a large pot over medium heat. Add the onions and fennel and saute until translucent, 10 to 15 minutes. Add the flour, reduce the heat to low, and cook for 3 more minutes, stirring occasionally. Slowly add the stock, Pernod, saffron, salt, and pepper, and bring to a boil. Simmer for 5 more minutes, stirring occasionally. Add the heavy cream and season to taste. The sauce should be highly seasoned.

  • Cook the potatoes in boiling salted water for 10 minutes. Lift out with a sieve. Add the asparagus, carrots, and squash to the pot and cook in the boiling water for 5 minutes. Drain well. Add the potatoes, mixed vegetables, onions, and parsley to the sauce and mix well.

  • For the pastry, mix the flour, salt, and baking powder in the bowl of a food processor fitted with a metal blade. Add the shortening and butter and mix quickly with your fingers until each piece is coated with flour. Pulse 10 times, or until the fat is the size of peas. With the motor running, add the ice water; process only enough to moisten the dough and have it just come together. Dump the dough out onto a floured board and knead quickly into a ball. Wrap the dough in plastic and allow it to rest in the refrigerator for 30 minutes.

  • Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F.

  • Divide the filling equally among 4 ovenproof bowls. Divide the dough into quarters and roll each piece into an 8-inch circle. Brush the outside edges of each bowl with the egg wash, then place the dough on top. Trim the circle to 1/2-inch larger than the top of the bowl. Crimp the dough to fold over the sides, pressing it to make it stick. Brush the dough with egg wash and make 3 slits in the top. Sprinkle with sea salt and cracked pepper. Place on a baking sheet and bake for 1 hour, or until the top is golden brown and the filling is bubbling hot.

I really don't see how you would make 4 servings out of this - those would have to be some pretty large bowls. Like I said, I made this in a 9x13 pan and we had half of it left over (this after 2 grownups and 4 kids had their fill!). Yum - plenty for lunch for tomorrow!

Big thanks to Deb of Kahakai Kitchen for selecting this delectable dish. Be sure to check out how the other Barefoot Bloggers Vegetable Pot Pies turned out here.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

TWD: Pumpkin Muffins

Boy, did that week fly by! And am I ever glad it did - the floors are beautiful, but it sure was a big job. My husband and his brother worked 14 hour days for 6 days to install and were such troopers, they even fought through colds to finish! Of course, the house was in complete and total chaos during that time, but I finally have my kitchen back and got a chance to make these wonderful muffins yesterday.
I decided to up the healthy-factor on these and so here are my substitutions:
  • Used 1 cup whole wheat and 1 cup AP flour
  • Added 1/2 cup whole oats
  • Decreased butter from 8 tablespoons to 4
  • Added the entire can of pumpkin (as opposed to 3/4 cup called for in the recipe) to increase the moisture content due to less butter and the addition of the oatmeal. I also did this because I hate to have that small amount of pumpkin left over in the can - I never want to throw it away, but never seem to use it up either.
  • Used regular raisins and omitted the nuts
  • Added an oatmeal crumb topping rather than the sunflower seeds (forgot to buy them!)

Crumb Topping

1/2 cup AP flour

1/2 cup whole oats

1/2 cup brown sugar

4 tablespoons melted butter

Mix together until large clumps form and crumble on top of the muffins.

One more change I made was to decrease the oven temperature to 350 ° (the recipe calls for 400 °). I'd like to tell you how long they were in there for, but I forgot to notice the time and so I just checked for doneness with a toothpick - but I would guess they were in there for 20 to 25 minutes.

These lightened muffins came out wonderfully moist and tasty. Even after they'd been sitting out for a while, the kids thoroughly enjoyed a pumpkin muffin after-school snack! This is definitely a keeper recipe. You can find it listed on Sounding My Barbaric Gulp - thanks for choosing such a fab recipe Kelly! Check out all the other Tuesday's with Dorie blogs here.

Next week: Chocolate, Chocolate Cupcakes!

Monday, October 13, 2008

Sorry gang, no TWD this week

Weeeelllll, my week hasn't gone exactly as planned and I'm pretty far behind. I'll have to take a pass on the Lenox Almond Biscotti and make it another time. Such a shame, as I really love homemade biscotti. Sigh. Be sure to check out my fellow Tuesdays with Dorie bloggers here and you can find the recipe at Canela & Comino (thanks for the pick Gretchen, and I'll be sure to make it sometime soon!)

It has been a great week, but filled with lots of time-consuming activities and little time to bake. I had a surprise party for one of my dearest friends on Friday night and made a Creme Brulee Cheesecake (inspired by Dorie, of course) which I must say, came out pretty darn good. I'll hopefully be able to post that later this week or early the next depending on how things go with the new floor. Yes, that's the primary item on this week's agenda and is taking precedence over just about everything else. My husband and his brother are installing hardwood throughout our first floor this week and while I am ecstatic to see my yucky, dated peach tile now sitting at the bottom of the dumpster, replacing it means that I won't have much access to the kitchen till next Sunday.

So no real food-blogging this week. Be sure to check back for the cheesecake though, it's definitely a keeper. Have a great week everyone!

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Barefoot Bloggers - Risotto

Well fellow Barefoot Bloggers, I owe you all an apology. I really did want to make this by following the recipe exactly as written because a. I love risotto and b. thought the butternut squash version would be fantastic. Things however, don't always work out as they ought.

It has been an absolutely crazy last two weeks for me and in hindsight, I wish I had waited to join BB until November when my commitments would ease off some and I could devote the proper amount of time and energy to the group. Not that I'm trying to make excuses or anything...but in addition, my whole family has been sick over the last week and while I fervently hoped I wouldn't come down with it, by Tuesday afternoon it had gotten to me too (okay, I guess I am making excuses).

Anyway, I did join Barefoot Bloggers, and this being only the second time to post with you all, I figured I needed to do something. I fully intended on making the risotto with butternut squash but I apparently had a total brain freeze when I went to the grocery store this past Tuesday and completely forgot to buy the ingredients for this recipe (I had a copy of it in my purse) - somehow I managed to buy $150 worth of other stuff, but squash, no Arborio rice, no shallots, no pancetta, no saffron, no fancy Parmesan. Sigh.

So, yesterday morning I decided I would make risotto anyway (in some shape or form) and post whatever I ended up with, figuring that making risotto from stuff you've already got in your pantry might provide someone out there in internet-land with the inspiration to try making it. So I had regular white rice, chicken broth, onions, white wine, grated parmesan cheese (yes, in the plastic container...sigh), and canned pumpkin. ::cringe:: Oh, I hope Ina never reads this.....

Before I ruined my batch of risotto with the canned pumpkin, I mixed a small amount on the side and taste-tested first.

In spite of everything, it actually came out alright and the two littlest ones and I had it for lunch. I know how vastly superior this would have tasted had I used the correct ingredients (especially roasted butternut squash and freshly grated Parmesano Reggiano cheese!) and I will try it again soon. The original, perfectly fantastic Ina Garten recipe is on - but here's my mangled version (I only made half of this):

Butternut Squash Pumpkin Risotto

1 butternut squash (2 pounds) 1 15 oz. can pumpkin
2 tablespoons olive oil
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
6 cups chicken stock, preferably homemade chicken broth
6 tablespoons (3/4 stick) unsalted butter
2 ounces pancetta, diced
1/2 cup minced shallots (2 large) minced onion
1 1/2 cups Arborio rice (10 ounces) white rice
1/2 cup dry white wine
1 teaspoon saffron threads
1 cup freshly grated Parmesan (Kraft parmesan works)

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F.
Peel the butternut squash, remove the seeds, and cut it into 3/4-inch cubes. You should have about 6 cups. Place the squash on a sheet pan and toss it with the olive oil, 1 teaspoon salt, and 1/2 teaspoon pepper. Roast for 25 to 30 minutes, tossing once, until very tender. Set aside.

Meanwhile, heat the chicken stock broth in a small covered saucepan. Leave it on low heat to simmer.

In a heavy-bottomed pot or Dutch oven, melt the butter and saute the pancetta and shallots onions on medium-low heat for 10 minutes, until the onions are translucent but not browned. Add the rice and stir to coat the grains with butter. Add the wine and cook for 2 minutes. Add 2 full ladles of stock to the rice plus the saffron, 1 teaspoon salt (if your broth is salty, you might want to omit this, I did), and 1/2 teaspoon pepper. Stir, and simmer until the stock is absorbed, 5 to 10 minutes. Continue to add the stock, 2 ladles at a time, stirring every few minutes. Each time, cook until the mixture seems a little dry, then add more stock. Continue until the rice is cooked through, but still al dente, about 30 minutes total. Off the heat, add the roasted squash cubes canned pumpkin and Parmesan. Mix well and serve.

Check out the Barefoot Bloggers blogroll here to see how this recipe is done right and to see some truly fantastic photos. And I hereby solemnly promise to do better on the next recipe - Vegetable Pot Pie!
Update: My apologies to Rachel of Rachel Likes to Cook for not giving her the credit for selecting this fantastic recipe! I will do it justice someday Rachel, I promise!

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

TWD: Caramel-Peanut Topped Brownie Cake

In the book, this cake looks absolutely mouth-watering. I was expecting it to taste a lot like a peanut butter parfait from DQ (especially because I planned on serving it with ice cream) which is my very favorite treat from that place. It didn't, but was still very good. I don't mean to sound like this wasn't delicious, because it was, but I guess Creme Brulee is an extremely tough act to follow.

Overall, the consensus at my house was that the brownie cake was great but the caramel was too chewy.

I think if it had been more saucy rather than chewy, it would have been really outstanding. I recommend adding more cream and butter - maybe 1/2 of cream and another tablespoon or two of butter to the caramel. Also, my cake really sank in the middle and created quite the crater.

Dorie warns against this in her book and says that it's okay, but I still think mine sank more than was supposed to and I'm not sure why. Maybe the dark pan caused the outside edges to cook faster? Anyway, all my caramel and peanuts sat well inside the crater and just didn't look quite as nice.

Speaking of caramel, it's not that difficult to make, especially Dorie's recipe which calls for corn syrup (for some technical chemistry-type reason, the corn syrup helps to prevent the sugar from re-crystallizing after you start to heat it up - I think this is true for almost any time you're cooking sugar to make candy). I would add a couple of notes to this recipe:

  • Make sure to wash down the sides of your pan with water (using a pastry brush) before you start cooking the sugar - this also helps to prevent re-crystallization)

  • Really keep a close eye on your caramel as soon as it turns amber in color - it'll get dark on you fast and scorch easily (this means do not leave the stove for any reason other than danger to life and limb of one your children - trust me, I've burned a lot of sugar).

So, when I make this again, I'll be making a saucier caramel and I'll probably try roasting some pecans in place of the peanuts. Thanks to Tammy of Wee Treats by Tammy for choosing this week's recipe (which should be posted on her site) and of course, you can check out all the other fabulous Tuesdays with Dorie bakers here.
On deck for next week: Lenox Almond Biscotti!

Thursday, October 2, 2008

Mocha-Chip Meringues

For those of you out there who made Creme Brulee for Tuesdays with Dorie, here's a great way to use up some of those egg whites (and for those who didn't you should try it - it was so surprisingly easy!). I made these yesterday and already almost half of them are gone (kids got home from school and somehow they just miraculously started to disappear...hmmmmm). I'm trying to tell myself that these are actually "healthy" cookies because they're made from egg whites (protein!) and cocoa (no-fat!) ... I just skim over the whole sugar thing.

They are very easy to make and, like most cookies I've come across, the only difficult thing about these is to have to wait 'til they're done baking. These were a little harder in that respect as they bake for 40 minutes (an eternity in the cookie-baking realm, I know!). But they're so worth the wait. I love the crisp outer shell and the chewy insides - just yummy!

Mocha-Chip Meringues
from Everyday Food Jan/Feb 2008 issue

  • 3/4 cup sugar

  • 1 Tbsp. cornstarch

  • 3 large egg whites, room temperature

  • 1/4 tsp salt

  • 1 tsp instant espresso powder (I didn't have any, so I substituted instant coffee and I can still taste a hint of coffee in the cookies)

  • 3 Tbsp. unsweetened cocoa powder

  • 1/2 cup chocolate chips (okay, so there is a little smidgen of fat in each cookie from these)

Preheat oven to 300°. Line two large baking sheets with parchment paper; set aside. In a small bowl, whisk together sugar and cornstarch; set aside.

In a large bowl, using and electric mixer, beat egg whites and salt on medium speed until frothy. Beating constantly, add sugar mixture 1 tablespoon at a time; beat until stiff, glossy peaks form, 6 to 8 minutes total (scrape down the bowl halfway through). Add espresso powder and cocoa; beat until well blended. With a rubber spatula, fold in chocolate chips.

Drop batter by level tablespoons onto prepared baking sheets, about 1 inch apart. Bake until crisp, about 40 minutes, rotating sheets halfway through. Cool completely on sheets, about 20 minutes. Makes 48 (must have made mine on the large side, because I only got 40).

My cookies don't look quite as perfect as those pictured in the magazine (what else should I expect?!). I think they must have used a pastry bag and piped them using a large, open tip because they're pretty uniformly round. I think I'm going to make these again at Christmas time, only substituting Andes mint chips for the semi-sweet and I think I'll try piping them too. I always make a traditional Italian orange-anise cookie that my Great-Grandmother brought over from the old country and it calls for a dozen egg yolks (yes, you read that right, 12). I'm always looking for recipes to use up all those whites and now I can make another cookie to boot!