Month: November 2014

Isabel’s Perfect Holiday New York Style Cheesecake: Sinful and Gluten-Free

Cheesecake, Cream Cheese Cake, Perfect Cheesecake, Springform Cheesecake

Take your time with cheesecake; it will pay off with no cracks, a perfect texture, and a need to run at least 10 extra minutes on the treadmill.

If you are still searching for that perfect holiday dessert, I have one for you.   For both religious and secular celebrations (Christmas, Thanksgiving, Chanukah), this cheesecake is a winner.  Why? It’s a dairy dessert, served cold and it’s gluten-free (if you make it with corn starch, not flour). It  can be served with fruit or fruit topping or whipped cream.  It can be drizzled with chocolate or caramel. It pleases those who like something a little savory and those who like something a little sweet.  And as the un-ironically named Cheesecake Factory has discovered, you can throw nearly ANY other sweet ingredient in the wold into it without ruining it (well, almost). It’s a desert associated with NY (for lovers and haters) and also associated with luxury— often found at expensive restaurants and steak houses.

That makes sense, because as a make-at-home dessert, it’s a bit labor-intensive.

Although it likely originated in Greece, I grew up eating cheesecake at Junior’s in Brooklyn, NY, and in other places around the NYC area in the 70s.  Those velvety, creamy and hint-of-lemony cheesecakes were so perfect—in flavor, texture and appearance, that I never ever thought I could replicate it at my home.  I just assumed that was something you had to have a factory replete with big steaming pots and viking stoves to make.   That, and lots of mysterious-as-to-how-to-fold boxes and of course, a giant floor-to-ceiling spool of red and white string.

Then, years later, BFF Jill gave me her Mom (Isabel)’s cheesecake recipe.   It was authentic 70s and NEARLY perfect.   Like a lot of recipes from that time period, it suggests that you toss everything together (including—gasp—corn starch). It suggests you mix the ingredients on HIGH.  And it doesn’t tell you anything about how finicky Springform® pans really are. (If you bend one, you might as well throw it out IMHO).  Reportedly there are national and international variations on Cheesecake, but the recipe below produces a Cheesecake of the New York variety—dense, creamy and full of sour cream.

So after making it several times, I have concluded a few things that you might not know from the recipe.

1. Springform® Pans are not waterproof.  If you’re going to make a cheesecake, you should protect it.   There are a myriad of ways for you do this, with foil, inside, outside or both.   Either way, your goal is to make sure the water you are putting the cheesecake in to cook stays outside of the pan where you want it, not inside your cake, where it can nearly ruinous as water is for chocolate. You’ll thank me.

2. Cheesecakes and their ingredients  are sensitive.   For this reason, I don’t recommend you beat the ingredients on “High” in your mixer.  After you pour the mix into your greased Springform pan, knock it a few times to get out the air bubbles.  But after that, don’t run or jump near the oven, as it can lead to cracks in your Cheesecake.  If you kids, tell them not to run or jump near the oven either.

3. Do not throw unsifted corn starch into a full complement of dairy products.  Instead, add it to the lemon juice (or vanilla) and whisk it to create a slurry.  Corn starch likes to be in a liquid, and mixes better with the other ingredients that way.

4. This recipe doesn’t have a crust.  Jill and her Mom did not favor a crust.  I like a graham cracker crust. You have to find the one that works for you, but if you can’t find one, here’s a start.

5. It’s all about NOT cracking.  As you may learn, over-mixing, overcooking, under-greasing, and a host of rookie mistakes (some detailed here) will cause the top of your cheesecake to crack.  Now that obviously doesn’t change the taste at all, and if you’re wise, you’ll cut a cracked cheesecake out of sight of your guests.  But eventually it will become a point of pride to produce seamlessly crack-free top.   Until then, it’s still worth all the fuss.

Ingredients

  • 4 8-oz containers of whipped cream cheese  (as long as you bring it to room temperature it probably doesn’t matter whether you use bricks or tubs).
  • 16 oz sour cream
  • 1 stick sweet butter
  • 5 eggs
  • 2 tablespoons cornstarch
  • 1 and 1/4 cup sugar
  • 1 tablespoon + vanilla
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 2 tablespoons lemon juice

Directions
Let cream cheese, sour cream, butter and eggs stand at room temperature for approximately 1 hour.  (I take them out in the morning and make the cake in the afternoon.   Don’t start the cake too late, it has a multiple hour progression— it’s not 12 minute chocolate chip cookies).

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

Using a stand mixer, blend cream cheese, butter and sour cream together with sugar and vanilla.

Beat in one egg at a time. Continue beating until mixture is very smooth.

In a separate bowl, create a slurry with the lemon juice and corn starch.  Add to the other ingredients.

Pour mixture into a greased 9 1/2 inch springform pan. (I use butter, but use PAM if you like).  Place the Springform® in larger roasting pan filled with water about hallway up its side.

Bake for 1 hour until the top is golden brown. Turn off oven; let cake cool in oven for one hour.   Then cool on the countertop for an hour (but really until cool); store in refrigerator overnight if possible (and  24 hours wouldn’t kill you, either).  I cover it with plastic wrap.

Take out of the refrigerator at least 15 minutes before serving, unless you really like cold cake.   Celebrate your New York cred.   Enjoy the luxury life. And if celebrating a holiday, have a great one.

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Kate’s Butter

As an adult and a parent navigating through this complicated world, I am always very appreciative when something gets a little easier.  The nice people at Kate’s Butter of Maine have now started to wrap their salted butter and unsalted butters in different color wrappers, thereby making it much easier to distinguish which one is for use on bread and string beans (salted) and which one in baking (unsalted). The salted is in a wrapper with red letters.  Seems like a little thing but it is so helpful when you’re pivoting between things (especially upcoming holidays like Thanksgiving and Christmas, et al) and you don’t really want to keep the sticks in the box (which I had to do).   So thanks Kate’s!  You do make the best butter on the market today!

Kate's Unsalted and Salted Butter

Kate’s Unsalted (Green) and Salted (Red) Butter

Old-Fashioned Apple Cake (with Frosting)

Frosted old fashioned apple cake with frosting brown sugar and brown butter

Frosted Old Fashioned Apple Cake with brown sugar and butter frosting

November is to apples what black is to bananas, i.e. nature’s alarm clock telling you it’s time to use ’em or toss ’em.  As that siren grew louder, I spied my pile of ever-softening honey crisp apples with despair. Decisive action was necessary. Taking to my trusty recipe network, I found Old Fashioned Apple Cake on King Arthur and got to work. Unlike my signature “Best Apple Cake in the World” which takes lots of time, prep and requires three major kitchen appliances to complete, this was going to be a walk in the park.

Aside from the ingredients already in my pantry (Apples, Flour, 9 x 13 pan), I noted in the comments section of the recipe where people had successfully added carrots and raisins to the cake and cream cheese and boiled cider to the icing.   (Boiled cider is on my list of ingredients that I pine for and will likely never have, because I never successfully get to the check out at King Arthur).

Sun-maid raisins, toasted pecans and baby carrots

Raid the pantry recipe: raisins, pecans and baby carrots make this apple cake delicious.

My inventory check revealed I had all those things, and I knew I needed to use them. Shockingly,the one thing I was missing was regular orange carrots. I had only baby carrots and a collection of strange colored carrots (white, red and dark red) that are fun to use in salads but have a distinctly different taste, and ergo not right for this project. I usually have a lot of dried fruit on hand,  but at the time the only raisins I had were little boxes that I used to throw in my kids’ lunch.  (They in turn, were likely hurled at their enemies, but never eaten). I had pecans, which I toasted to a nutty perfection but then did not include BECAUSE I AM NOT GOING TO COOK NUTS TWICE so don’t ask me to do it.  They stayed in a bowl and were eaten by passers by who continued to inquire what I was making, and more importantly, when it would be ready.  I used roasted, but untoasted pecans in the cake.

King Arthur advises you to “frost the cake while the frosting is still warm,” but I regarded that as Voodoo that results in runny frosting and ruined cake,  so I opted for the “chill first” method.  The comments in the recipe noted that cooling the frosting allows you to get a better handle on how sweet it will taste, and this is true– the first night the frosting tasted only a little sweet—despite being made almost entirely of two kinds of sugar.   As the days wore on, the frosting did start to seem like it was too sweet, and perhaps we would have been better glazing the cake instead of a full, pile-on frosting.

Frosted or not, this is a nice little cake that thanks to the ginger and nutmeg has a great fall taste profile and is a worthy of use of apples that have been rejected due to softness or lack of crisp appearance.   And remember, nature wants you to make cake.  Why else would she turn bananas black or the calendar to November?

King Arthur's recipe for Old Fashioned Apple Cake with Brown Sugar Frosting

Old Fashioned Apple Cake, just out of the oven.

Old Fashioned Apple Cake

  • 2 1/3 cups King Arthur Unbleached All-Purpose Flour
  • 1 2/3 cups granulated sugar
  • 2 teaspoons baking soda
  • 3/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground ginger
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • 2 large eggs
  • 2 tsp or 1 tblsp vanilla
  • 1/2 cup (8 tablespoons) unsalted butter, softened
  • 3 large apples (this was about 4+ cups)
  • 1 large carrot or 4 baby carrots, shredded
  • ~1/2 cup raisins, craisins, currants or dried fruit of your choice
  • 1/2 cup diced pecans

Frosting

  • 7 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 2/3 cup brown sugar
  • 1 oz cream cheese
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 cup milk
  • 2 1/2 cups confectioners’ sugar
  • 1 tbsp vanilla extract

 

Preheat the oven to 325°F. Prepare a 9″ x 13″ pan.  I used parchment paper and PAM.  You can grease and flour if you like.

1) Mix the dry ingredients (except the sugar) in one bowl.  Mix the sugar, butter and eggs and vanilla (in that order) in a stand mixer until satiny.

2) Add the dry ingredients to the wet ingredients.  Just combine (don’t OVERMIX).  Then add the apples and carrots.  Just combine (don’t OVERMIX!).  Chop and add nuts.

3) Spread the batter in the prepared pan.

4) Bake for 45 minutes, or until a toothpick comes out clean.

5) Remove the cake from the oven and cool completely; don’t remove the cake from the pan.

To make the frosting:

1) Melt the butter in a small pan over medium heat. Stir in the brown sugar and salt and cook, stirring, until the sugar melts.

2) Add the milk, bring to a boil, and pour into a mixing bowl to cool for 10 minutes.

3) After 10 minutes, stir in the cream cheese, confectioners’ sugar and vanilla.  Taste and add salt.  Beat on high; if the mixture appears liquidy, add more confectioners’ sugar. If too crumbly, you can add more milk or vanilla.   Chill frosting in mixing bowl.   This will give the frosting a chance to cool as well as the cake.  This is good for everyone. 

4) Frost the cake.  Keep a light touch; the frosting is very sweet.