Tuesday, April 28, 2009

April cheesecake challenge

It's time for the monthly Daring Bakers challenge. It's a cheesecake, and the "challenge" is to change it up and customize a basic recipe (below).

It also gave me an opportunity to use the new camera that Jake got me for my birthday! I have a complicated relationship with it: I've been complaining incessantly about my crappy camera, and Jake got me a really nice one--which is great. But it is big, and has all these lenses and is more complicated than I know how to deal with. I hate having a new thing to learn, but have to admit it takes pictures mine never could. Like this one of the cake cooking in a water bath in the oven. And here's the finished cake. As you will note, I have some work to do with the camera.

I like that it looks sort of like a fried egg, which is fitting, because it has a hell of a lot of eggs in it.
There is chocolate and caramel drizzled on top, which is overkill but delicious. I have taken many, many pictures of cheesecake tonight in an effort to figure out how to use the f-ing camera without picking up the giant manual.

My stab at customizing was a banana sour cream cheesecake with a Nilla Wafer crust. I was kind of thinking about the banana pudding recipe on the Nilla Wafers box. I had bananas and a bunch of home-raised eggs in the fridge from Jake's cousin's best friend. Renee was Rocky's first vet when we moved out here and she has 30 chickens, an emu and a horse. And a dog. Her eggs have blue shells and very yellow yolks.

So I consulted with the Cake Bible and went from there. I swapped out the heavy cream for the banana, and added 8 oz sour cream for as much cream cheese. I used six egg yolks instead of three whole eggs. And the crust is just crushed Nilla Wafers and melted butter, without any added sugar, pressed in the pan and pre-baked for 10 minutes before adding the cake batter. The water bath is a pain in the ass in a springform because you have to use all this tinfoil and water seeps in anyway. But I also made some mini-muffins and loaf pan sized cakes using silicone pans which turned out great without sticking at all. Here's a mini, as I was eating it and experimenting with and without the flash, and trying this manual focus business. Turns out flash can be bad and focusing is hard.

I did the crust on Sunday, baked the cakes on Monday, and then decorated the big one tonight while watching The Biggest Loser. So while the announcer was talking about how these folks lost 600 pounds this season, I was melting chocolate with heavy cream and drizzling it on a ridiculously rich custard cheesecake. But it's good! Really creamy and actually kind of light (tasting, at least). Unfortunately, Jake is in DC until tomorrow and I'm not going to work tomorrow and I have no socializing planned for the next couple of days--so I have cheesecake for 10 in my fridge and no takers at the moment.

I needed a baking project, though. I'm feeling overwhelmed by all the stuff that needs to get done in the next month before we go to NYC for the summer. My job wants me to do some pretty involved projects while I am gone and to take on more work and hours when I get back. I am resisting. But I'm finding myself back in that uncomfortable, if familiar, territory of being overextended and placing the dissertation work on the back burner. I am thisclose to really getting the thing done -- one paper just needs to be written, and the data is rolling in for the second. Not that there isn't lots of work to be done, of course there is (and I was just reminded by my advisor that I never handed in the final revisions on my proposal) but I'm starting to be able to see the end. And am actually close to where I should be based on when I started.

The up side is that all the work on my plate is good stuff and on point with my research. The Housing Authority wants recommendations for how to change some fundamental aspects of the program. But it's a big ask and I feel like I'd be starting from scratch, with little support. So first things first, and this summer needs to be all about the dissertation and the wedding. And I need to figure out how to turn that into a short mantra so that I can repeat it to myself on the treadmill or in yoga or whenever I start to entertain ideas of taking on more projects.

Recipe below:
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 / 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

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.

Prep notes: While the actual making of this cheesecake is a minimal time commitment, it does need to bake for almost an hour, cool in the oven for an hour, and chill overnight before it is served. Please plan accordingly!

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Broken phone!

I forgot to mention: my phone, which has been on it's last legs for about three or four months now, has also taken a turn for the worse ... I can receive calls but the screen is now blank, so I can't read or send text messages, see saved phone numbers, or tell when I have missed a call. I do know when I receive a text message, though, I just can't tell who it's from or what they want to be telling me. Functioning phone this week, hopefully. So the home phone and email are a better bet that the cell for now.

Poor Rocky!

Poor Rocky is having pretty nasty eye problems this week and weekend -- maybe an ulcer in his right eye that isn't clearing up yet. I took him to the Vet on Wed., who gave me eye drops and told me to take him in ASAP if it got worse. It did, so I took him to the vet ER last night. This picture is us leaving. They gave him a second set of eye drops, saying the first set could be making it worse (great.) but this morning he looks pretty miserable. He hates the lampshade thing, and is completely confused by it. He basically just sits and whines, or bumps into things with it if he tries to move around. But if I take it off he starts pawing at the bum eye. Walking him was pretty comical, if also sad -- he can't sniff stuff to then pee on it, so he sort of bumps it with the lampshade and then looks at me quizzically. I finally took it off so he could take care of business.

So about $400 down so far, and no closer to his eye looking better or knowing what's up with it. And no luck getting work done this weekend. I'm trying distract myself from the pug for a couple of hours until I can decide if it is getting worse and if I should drag him to the vet again. I'm not sure what else they can do until it gets so bad that they'd have to do something involving incisions (poor pug!). Jake's cousin is coming over for a bit, and I have some articles to read to revise one of my dissertation committee member's papers. And I have something I'm supposed to bake for the Daring Bakers monthly challenge thing ... so plenty to do between bouts of staring into Rocky's yucky right eye.

Saturday, April 18, 2009


I can't believe it's been nearly three weeks since I've posted anything. This have been busy: there was a wedding in Houston; Jake's sister Bree came to visit, and then my niece Olivia visited (which was great). It was my birthday. Then there was work -- I found out I got a grant I applied for, which I am excited about. More on that soon. Playing catch-up at work took over this past week.

Olivia and Bree will hopefully send some pictures from their visit soon -- including some that they snuck while I was trying on wedding dresses at a fancy-pants place. Bree really got the ball rolling on the dress thing -- she researched wedding dress places and made me a few appointments, and then the two of them played peanut gallery as I tried a few on. New words: ruching; organza; French bustle. I tried on dresses that were worth more than my car.

The wedding in Houston was lovely, and if possible I will shamelessly steal ideas from it--including if at all possible the photo booth idea that these pictures came from. We had a lot of fun with that photo booth. We also found a Kettle Korn machine in the Sky Mall catalogue that will probably be making the wedding trip. It'll be my contribution to Dairymen's.

But my real obsession since the Leila and TJ wedding are these amazing rosewater pastries that Lelia said were Persian baklava, along with some shortbready-type cookies that were much lighter (albeit definitely heavy on butter and sugar) and may be made with rice or chickpea flour. I have spent several minutes that I will never get back google image-ing "Persian rosewater cookies" with no luck finding an exact match. Here's a really bad picture of some that Leila and her mom sent me home with.

But I did find a Persian bakery in Seattle that I'll check it out as soon as I am over the work catch-up hump, and have recovered from the sugar high I have from Olivia's visit. We made bread and brownies, Jake got me birthday cupcakes, his cousins gave easter/b-day candy and my boss gave me really good chocolate .... i need a break. And I have to get some wedding crap off my list. People are being very generous with offers to help -- Amy, my cousin Gaby in Guayaquil, Jake's sister. I will enlist them.

But the dress thing is apparently time-sensitive. I have tried on dresses ranging from $300 to $5000, at a consignment store, a wedding dress outlet store, the fancy-pants boutique and a tailor/designer who custom makes a dress from a sketch he draws for you. The message from all--the former ballerina-turned high-end gown seller, the mom with the masters in public administration who wanted her own business and hours, the business that helps brides have more eco-friendly weddings -- was "get on it ASAP." Okay okay okay. I'm on it. This cake lady named Joyce in Wisconsin is making similar noises about ordering a cake. Ok.