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!


  1. Your cheesecake looks cool.. Loved the cupcake!

  2. Your cheesecake sounds delicious! Banana and chocolate is such a great combination! The mini one looks great too.

  3. Nice post... gorgeous cheesecake, good camera, nice shots, interesting recipe.

    But what we REALLY want to know is...
    How's ROCKY???!!!?!

  4. Ever since I was a child, most fruit plus sour cream was a treat. To this day, I still dip bananas in sour cream. Your gorgeous cheesecake brought back that memory and makes me want to try it your way. Lovely job!

  5. Love your mini cheesecake! So cute!

  6. Baking is a huge stress reliever for me, a good escape. I loved reading about the adaptations you made with this recipe.

    And yes, I'm still working through the blogs. Thanks for participating in the April Daring Bakers challenge!

    Jenny of Jenny Bakes