April 27, 2009

Daring Bakers: Four Cheesecakes

The April 2009 challenge is hosted by Jenny from Jenny Bakes. She has chosen Abbey's Infamous Cheesecake as the challenge. I recently joined the group Daring Bakers. It is an online community of bakers who come together once a month and bake the same recipe. As you can see from my title, this month's challenge was Cheesecake. Jenny chose this recipe and asked the bakers to be creative and alter the recipe however they wish by adding ingredients, changing the crust, or making an interesting topping. I decided this was the best challenge to break in my new 4" mini spring form pans. Since we were supposed to get creative, and I had four pans to get creative with, I decided to make four versions of the Cheesecake: Pistachio Crust with Basic Cheesecake filling + lemon zest Pretzel Crust with Margerita Cheesecake filling Graham Cracker Crust with Lemon Cheesecake filling + Blueberry Compote Graham Cracker Crust with Vanilla Bean filling I have had a recipe in my box for Pistachio Lime Tart for a while now and since I haven't made it yet, I thought it was time to steal the idea for a Pistachio crust. Though the recipe is more like a pie dough for the tart, I made mine more like a typical cheesecake crust using about 2/3 pistachios and 1/3 graham crackers. It turned out really well with the basic cheesecake filling and lemon zest. My other ideas for the cheesecakes were somewhat random. I liked the idea of lemon cheesecake and wanted to use up some lemons from my CSA box and decided to try a Blueberry Compote based on a recipe from a blog I follow. The lemon cheesecake could be a lot more lemony, but it was hard to tell how much to add to a 4" pan. I think the addition of blueberries was not necessary, but interesting and varying from the regular lemon + raspberry combination. With a little tweaking this recipe will be successful. I have also had a little vile of vanilla beans in my spice cabinet for too long and decided to break them open for the cheesecake. They are so expensive I kind of think of them as sacred - but am glad I took them off of their pedestal for this recipe. The addition of vanilla bean was delicious and not too overpowering and the left over pod will make a great addition to sugar. The fourth cake - the Margarita - was inspired by my friend Joey. The fact that I have a huge weakness for Margaritas did not help my quest to make this recipe work. I used pretzels for the crust for the salty addition and added lime juice and zest and triple sec. Interesting is a good description. I think with a little makeover it would be lovely and very different. Here is the recipe and below my variations. Abbey's Infamous Cheesecake:

crust: 2 cups / 180 g graham cracker crumbs 1 stick / 4 oz butter, melted 2 tbsp. / 24 g sugar 1 tsp. vanilla extract

cheesecake: 3 sticks of cream cheese, 8 oz each (total of 24 oz) room temperature 1 cup / 210 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

DIRECTIONS: 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.

Variations (for full 9" cheesecake): Lemon Cheesecake Crust: Graham Cracker Crust Filling: Add zest of 3 lemons 3 T lemon juice (no liquor) Pistachio Cheesecake Crust: 1C finely ground pistachios 1/3 C graham cracker crumbs 1 T sugar (more if you like sweeter crust) Filling: zest of 1 lemon Vanilla Bean Cheesecake Crust: Graham Cracker Crust Filling: Add contents of 1 vanilla bean to filling no liquour Margarita Cheesecake (changes for next time) Crust: Graham Cracker Crust 1T sugar 1tsp salt no vanilla Filling: zest of 3 limes 1/3 C lime juice Substitute Orange Extract for Vanilla 1T Tequila Coarse Salt with zest for garnish

April 14, 2009

Pumpkin Bread

So, I must have been on some kind of bread kick after last week's Banana Bread because I decided to make some Pumpkin bread Monday night. As I mentioned before, this is my second favorite quick bread. Pumpkin in general is not appreciated as is should be. I think my recipe box contains the most pumpkin related recipes than any other letter in the alphabet (even C-cookies). I must have a few different versions of pumpkin pie and cookies and yule logs etc. But for some reason, people only seem to bake with pumpkin around the holidays (which may make it seem more special) but it is so silly to wait! Canned pumpkin is one of the healthiest canned vegetables available - so there is no need to wait until winter to cook with fresh pumpkin. I admit I haven't used it as much recently as in years past.... but hopefully this bread will stir up my pumpkin craving once again. It really is a quick bread - takes about 5 minutes to whip together and the remainder of an hour to bake. I used a recipe I have had a while and continue to edit depending on my mood. Since this bread was intended for breakfast, I wanted to make it a little healthier than the original recipe and it helped that I was almost out of canola oil. I didn't add any fat and subbed it with applesauce and cut down the amount of sugar. The original recipe yields three 3x7 loaves but I like to reduce it by half and use a 5x9 loaf pan. The result is a nice dense bread, and I will say a teensy bit spongy since I cut the oil. I'm pretty sure this is the link to the original recipe - and I will include my version below. Happy Bread Making (Again!)
Pumpkin Bread
8 oz Pumpkin puree (about 1/2 of a can) 2 eggs 1/2 C Applesauce 2 T water 1 1/4 C sugar 1 3/4 C flour 1 tsp baking soda 3/4 tsp salt 3/4 tsp cinnamon 1/2 tsp nutmeg 1/4 tsp cloves 1/4 tsp ginger Preheat oven to 350*. In a large bowl mix pumpkin, eggs, applesauce, water and sugar. In a small bowl whisk together the dry ingredients and add to the pumpkin mix. Stir until combined. Pour into greased pan and bake about 50 minutes or until a tester comes out clean. After 50 minutes be sure to check the bread every 8 minutes or so for done-ness so you do not overcook the bread. Let cool in pan for 15 minutes and invert onto a cooling rack to cool completely. I agree with the original recipe - it gets better over time.

April 7, 2009

Banana Bread : Scrum-diddly-umptious

Banana Bread is probably my favorite breakfast bread (pumpkin is a close runner up) and it is so easy to make I don't know why we don't have it more often. Actually, I do know... it's because my husband and I love bananas so much we can't leave them in the fruit bowl long enough to get spotty and perfect for bread. Only when I buy bananas on sale (already really ripe) do I set them aside for bread. It just so happens I found a good deal at Whole Foods on nice organic bananas, and decided to buy enough to eat and keep for bread making.
I have been making banana bread for a long time now. It is one of the first quick breads I learned to make and one of the few I have developed over time to call my own. In high school, students and parents submitted recipes to make a cookbook, and my mom encouraged my sister and I to add something. Rather than adding a family recipe, I wanted something I invented, oh the little aspiring chef I was. So, I did my best to alter a recipe from the ancient Better Homes and Gardens cookbook my mom had to something I liked and could basically call my own. The recipe has changed a little since then, hopefully for the better. It has a great soft texture and is not as dense as some. It is flaky and moist and beautifully golden with a nice crack across the top. I think it is best with a layer of chopped walnuts on top (or mixed in depending on my mood).
I do enjoy making it and could probably do it from memory if in dire need! I hope you enjoy it as much as I do (and Michael too).
Banana Bread
2C flour
1 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 C butter
1/4 C shortening
1/2 C sugar 2 eggs 4 medium overripe mashed bananas dash vanilla 1 T milk
1/2 C chopped walnuts
Preheat oven to 350* and spray a 9x5" loaf pan. Set pan on an insulated baking sheet or two stacked together to prevent the bottom of the bread from browning too much. Mix the dry ingredients and set aside. Cream butter and shortening together for two minutes until fluffy. Add in the sugar and continue beating, scraping sides of bowl occasionally. Add in eggs one at a time allowing a minute between. Add half the dry ingredients, half bananas, mix until moist, then add the rest of the flour followed by the bananas. Pour in a little vanilla and the milk. Batter will be sticky. If you want add in your nuts do so now (chocolate chips are also good) and pour into the prepared pan. Bake for 45 mins at 350*. If the loaf has reached golden brown at this point add a foil tent to the top and vent. Continue baking about 10 more minutes or until a cake tester or toothpick comes out fairly clean (it is ok if it has a little residue but not globs because it will continue to cook while cooling). Let it sit in the pan for about 15 minutes, invert and let cool on rack right side up. Slice and serve!

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