Saturday, December 11, 2010

A Tale of Two Cheesecakes

Cheesecake has and always will hold a certain sentimental value for me. To this day, it’s the one dessert that no one can make “better than mom”. The simplicity of her cake is unbeatable: a textured graham cracker crust with a thin layer of chocolate, filled with a creamy, beautifully balanced layer of cream cheese. No additional flavoring was ever needed, and the cake always came out of the oven absolutely perfect. This compelled me to perfect the cheesecake, and one might say it’s something of a specialty of mine now. I’ve baked a number of decadent cheesecakes, from creamy Dulce de Leche Cheesecake Squares to a realization of the Cheesecake Factory’s famous Red Velvet Cheesecake with Cream Cheese Frosting. As mentioned in my last post, I had mistaken the day for the actual December Birthday Celebration in my office and accidentally brought in two bundt cakes, so I needed to find two new recipes. What better way to celebrate my birthday month than to make a cheesecake? In honor of the holiday season, I settled on two luxuriously festive cheesecakes: Rich Kahlua Cheesecake with Chocolate Ganache Topping and Whipped Cream, and Spiked Eggnog Cheesecake with Sour Cream Topping and Caramel Sauce. This blog post is dedicated to my Mom considering she, to this day, is the queen of the simple cheesecake.
A closet nerd, I thought I would share the when and where of cheesecake. According to Wikipedia, it was served to the athletes of the first Olympic Games of Greece in 776 B.C, yet cheese molds have been discovered dating back to as far as 2000 B.C! Written accounts of these times describe cakes with similar results to those of modern cheesecakes. Talk about a traditional dessert! Cream cheese itself came into creation through the infallible method of innovation: by accident. A New York dairyman named William Lawrence accidentally created cream cheese in a failed attempt of making French Neufchâtel: a soft, unripened cheese from Normandy. Lawrence’s “invention” was distributed in tin foil wrapping under what would become a household name: Philadelphia Cream Cheese.
So enough on the history lesson, let’s talk about these cakes! The idea stemmed from my desire to use the Kahlua I have left over from a Big Lebowski night I hosted (White Russians, a classic from the film, use very little). When it comes to sweeter liquors, I tend to lean towards cheesecake given both the flavor and texture it can lend to the final product. Bailey’s is a classic, but coffee liquor is a close second when it comes to dessert contexts. I found one extremely decadent recipe (which will eventually find its way to this blog), but considering I needed two cheesecakes, I knew I wouldn’t have the time needed for that beauty. But this cake was still absolutely delicious!
The ganache was an addition on my part: I felt the cake could use a little extra “oomph” in presentation. I used my new cheesecake pan for this one, and I admit it’s not as good as my old pan (which I used in the next recipe). The new pan has an all-metal frame, whereas my old one has a glass bottom. The consistency and baking time was right on target with the old pan, whereas the new pan had a narrower, taller result; not quite my style for a classic cheesecake (as seen below). 
Rich Kahlua Cheesecake with Dark Chocolate Ganache and Whipped Cream
Adapted via AllRecipes
Yields: 10 - 12 servings

Chocolate Graham Cracker Crust:
- 1 cup chocolate cookie crumbs
- 1/4 cup butter, softened
- 2 tablespoons white sugar
- 1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon

Chocolate Cappuccino Cheesecake:
- 3 (8 ounce) packages cream cheese, softened
- 1 cup white sugar
- 3 eggs
- 8 (1 ounce) squares semisweet chocolate (I used Baker’s Chocolate)
- 2 tablespoons whipping cream
- 1 cup sour cream
- 1/4 teaspoon salt
- 2 teaspoons instant coffee granules dissolved in 1/4 cup hot water
- 1/4 cup coffee flavored liqueur (I used Kahlua)
- 2 teaspoons vanilla extract

Dark Chocolate Ganache:
- ½ cup heavy whipping cream
- 1 cup semisweet chocolate chips
- 2 tsp instant coffee granules

For Crust: Preheat oven to 350 degrees F (175 degrees C). Butter one 9 or 10 inch springform pan. Set a 9x11 baking pan filled halfway with water onto the bottom rack of the oven. Combine the chocolate wafer crumbs, softened butter, 2 tablespoons white sugar, and the cinnamon. Mix well and press mixture into the buttered springform pan. Bake in preheated oven for 8 to 10 minutes. Place on a wire rack to cool.

For Cake: Melt the 8 ounces semisweet chocolate with 2 tablespoons whipping cream in a pan or bowl set over boiling water, stir until smooth. Set aside. 

In a medium sized bowl beat the softened cream cheese until smooth. Gradually add 1 cup white sugar mixing until well blended. Add eggs, one at a time. Beat at low speed until very smooth. Add the chocolate mixture to the cream cheese mixture and blend well. Stir in sour cream, salt, coffee, 1/4 cup coffee liqueur, and vanilla; beat until smooth.

Pour mixture into the prepared pan. Bake in the center of oven at 350 degrees F (175 degrees C) for 45-60 minutes (will vary based on your oven and pan size/shape - this new pan took over an hour given its depth). Center will be soft but will firm up when chilled. Do not over bake. Leave cake in oven with the heat turned off and the door ajar for 45 minutes. Remove cake from oven and allow to cool for an additional 30 minutes. 

For Ganache: place semisweet chocolate chips and espresso powder in a glass bowl, and set aside. Heat heavy cream in a small saucepan over medium heat, and remove once at a boil - pour over the chocolate chips and allow to sit for at least 1 minute. Slowly begin whisking the mixture from the center, and gradually work outwards (this, by the way, is one of my FAVORITE ways of working with chocolate - the transformation is always so gorgeous). Once fully incorporated, allow to cool for 10 minutes, then pour over the cheesecake. Cool the cake for 8 hours or up to overnight. Serve with whipped cream. 
I'd made this eggnog cheesecake once before, and remembered it being a huge hit. There’s something beautiful in the way cream cheese and eggnog complement one another, and creates a cake with a silky texture yet complex flavor profile. In addition to nutmeg, a splash of dark rum and cloves created the dessert likeness of a cup of eggnog, and was without a doubt the favorite of the two cakes (I also credit this to the difference between the pans).
Inspired by a different Bon Appétit recipe I’ve been eyeing for quite some time, I chose to add a sour cream topping with a quick caramel sauce that became super dark (I was doing dishes, lost track of time, and poured in the heavy cream just before the sugar’s burning point – phew!) The overall result was gorgeous, and has convinced me to buy a second of my original pan. The new one won’t go to waste, naturally, but the old one will be my go-to nonetheless. Oh, and did I mention this cake was unbelievably delicious? Enjoy!
Spiked Eggnog Cheesecake with Sour Cream Topping and Caramel Sauce
Adapted via AllRecipes
Yields: 8 - 10 servings

Graham Cracker Crust
- 1 cup cinnamon graham cracker crumbs (I used Cinnamon, but plain works fine)
- 2 tablespoons white sugar
- 3 tablespoons melted butter

Eggnog Cheesecake:
- 3 (8 ounce) packages cream cheese, softened
- 1 cup white sugar
- 3 tablespoons all-purpose flour (I omitted this, and it made little difference)
- 3/4 cup eggnog
- 2 eggs
- 2 tablespoons rum (I used Myer’s Rum)
- 1 pinch ground nutmeg
- 1 pinch ground cloves

Sour Cream Topping:
- 1 (16-oz) container sour cream
- 2 – 3 tbsp sugar
- 1 pinch ground nutmeg

Caramel Sauce:
- ½ cup granulated sugar
- ¼ cup water
- 1 tbsp light corn syrup
-1/2 cup heavy cream

For Crust: Preheat oven to 325 degrees F (165 degrees C). In a medium bowl combine graham cracker crumbs, 2 tablespoons sugar and butter. Press into the bottom of a 9 inch spring form pan. Bake in preheated oven for 10 minutes. Place on a wire rack to cool.

For Cake: In a stand mixer, combine cream cheese, 1 cup sugar, flour and eggnog; beat until smooth. Blend in the eggs one at a time, then add the rum and nutmeg. Pour mixture into cooled crust. Bake in preheated oven for 50 minutes (will vary based on your over and pan size/shape), or until center of cake is barely firm to the touch. 

For Sour Cream Topping: While the cake is baking, whisk together the sour cream, sugar and nutmeg. Pour the mixture over the top of the baked cheesecake and bake it for another 10 minutes. The top layer should look set. Turn the oven off and let the cheesecake to cool in the oven for 45 minutes to an 1 hour with the door ajar. Chill for 8 hours or up to overnight. 
For the Caramel Sauce: The day you plan to serve the cake, make the sauce. Bring the first three ingredients to a boil over medium heat, then let boil until the mixture begins to turn a golden amber, about 8 to 10 minutes (this time can vary, so be sure not to walk too far away from the stove). As soon as it becomes amber, pour in the heavy cream - it will bubble vigorously. Once settled, whisk the caramel until fully incorporated and smooth. Allow to cool for 5 minutes, then drizzle over the top of cake (try not to eat the caramel before doing so, and trust me - this is a difficult temptation). 

Thursday, December 9, 2010

The Disaster Chronicles: The Art of Improvising

I confess: I have been neglecting my blogging duties for quite some time now. Yet while the month of November seems to have been “dessert-less”, the baker in me never sleeps. I still baked things here and there, such as cookies and sweet breads, but the main reason for my absence from blogging was due to two disappointing creations. I almost chose to omit these entirely from the record and pretend they never happened, but then realized sharing these disappointments is crucial to my own development as a baker as well as to my readers’ credible interest. As such, I am starting a new blog series called: “The Disaster Chronicles…” to show that no matter what your level of expertise, we are all still human. There are two specific desserts I plan to showcase for this entry. 

The first was for my roommate Jenn’s oboe recital mid-November (which she played beautifully for, by the way!). This cake, a Coffee-Chocolate Layer Cake with Mocha Mascarpone Frosting, was supposed to look like this. The result of my own cake can be compared to ordering a red dress online and receiving a glaring orange dress of poor material in the mail. Basically, my cake’s final look was nowhere close to what the photo implies! Instead of a thick, dark chocolate look I ended up with a light, smooth frosting that had a whipped cream consistency. I don’t have a photo of the final product given my own distress at its lack of similarity to the intended product. Nonetheless, the cake tasted delicious and my roommate’s recital was hours away, so I had two choices: attempt constructing the layer cake with a frosting that may or may not survive transport, or improvise. Here’s the key to this post – improvisation in baking is a powerful tool, especially given how many times I as a baker have had to defer from the original recipe.
In this case, I chose the following presentation: the two layers on two separate plates, and each topped with a layer of the creamy mascarpone frosting and a sprinkling of shaved chocolate. In other words, rather than creating a Coffee-Chocolate Layer Cake with Mocha-Mascarpone Frosting, I created two Mocha-Cappuccino Tortes topped with Chocolate Mascarpone Whipped Cream. Needless to say, they were devoured at the recital reception.
Having read a number of reviews on Epicurious, it seems my “lighter-than-expected” frosting was a common occurrence with others who had tried this recipe. As such, my only recommendation can be to use a dark chocolate cocoa powder in the frosting, such as Dutch-Processed Cocoa Powder or Hershey’s Special Dark Cocoa Powder. The cake recipe, though, is amazing! 

The second disaster was more of a disappointment in presentation than I was read to handle. I planned to make two bundt cakes for my office’s December birthday celebration party. Sadly, I was off by an entire WEEK and ended up bringing in the two cakes just because (they were still eaten, of course). Here’s the other downside – I had just returned from Thanksgiving break, so I a) was extremely tired and b) had to bake both cakes the day I got back (Sunday) since the “birthday celebration” (or so I thought) was the following day (Monday). You can imagine that, after returning from a 4 day vacation, my ability to devote an entire day to baking two cakes was the last thing I could do given my list of post-vacation chores: laundry, groceries, cleaning, checking email, etc. The basic moral of the story is the first cake I baked was under comfortable conditions, while the second was under nervous anxiety. The first cake turned out beautifully: a chocolate cinnamon cake with simple glaze. The texture, look, and taste all measured up to my standards, and I couldn’t have been happier. It was the second cake that made it to my disaster chronicles: the Apple Bundt Cake with Caramel Glaze
Let begin this story in saying that I had been worrying about finding the second bundt recipe for a LONG time before finally settling on Apple. Pear, Cappuccino, Spice Cake, Sweet Potato - you name, I probably Googled it. So you can imagine my dismay when my research was foiled by this cake’s disappointment. I wanted a beautiful, golden bundt filled with chunks of soft apple and tinged with cinnamon and nutmeg. Instead, I ended up with a bundt that had a crispy outer shell and a sponge-like filling, that was then drenched in an extremely messy caramel sauce. The result was a cake I could hardly imagine carrying beyond my front door for fear of trailing caramel sauce across Boston. The smell emanating throughout my apartment was to die for, but this recipe is one that is literally a “home-style” recipe (a.k.a. not meant for delivery beyond residence - see the photo below) 
My improvisation: a new bundt cake – I had to come up with something to bring in (considering one cake would never be enough for my office). I deferred to my previous post: pumpkin bundt cake. I baked it the morning of, and my coworkers loved that the cake was still warm. Regardless of my oversight on the birthday celebration, these two cakes were duly enjoyed (below). 
A suggestion for the Apple Caramel Bundt: if you ever encounter such a strange mess as this that’s still utterly delicious, do what our mother’s used to: casserole it! By that I mean crumble the bundt cake, throw it into a casserole dish, top with some nuts or cranberries, and bake it for 10 to 15 minutes to reheat. Serve in small bowls with a scoop of vanilla ice cream and call it a day.

So to make a long story short, I learned a few lessons from these two cakes. Never overestimate a source, regardless of how prestigious their reputation may seem, and always consider the delivery aspect of said cake before drenching it in a sauce that is likely to get onto everything you encounter en route. I hope these disaster chronicles will save you a similar fate.

Monday, November 8, 2010

Pumpkinadoola in Cakeroola Bippity Boppity Boo!!!

Nothing announces the onset of fall quite like the sudden appearance of autumnal squash in stores everywhere, especially pumpkin. The pumpkin has become a seasonal staple, from jack-o-lanterns to old-fashioned pumpkin pie. While it’s been years since I’ve carved a pumpkin, I have certainly made my share of pumpkin pies, and have explored a number of variations as well (including a Bourbon Pumpkin Pie for a dear Kentucky friend). Yet one context for pumpkin that is often overlooked is cake, where the spiced flavors of the classic meet a whole new realm of texture, not to mention the option of luscious cream cheese frosting! I needed to bake a cake for a Murder Mystery Dinner party I was hosting, and wanted a real show-stopper. Picture this: it's the 1940s, a terrible blizzard is raging outside, the guests are enjoying lavish hors d'oeuvres and drinks, and...oh, did I mention a valet was found dead in the kitchen? Basically it was one HUGE catering/hosting event for me, and the stress meter was at code red! Nonetheless, it was a GREAT party and everyone loved it! The cake HAD to be a centerpiece, naturally, so I chose to employ a decorating technique I had seen a while back in a Taste of Home Halloween special issue – a (literal) Pumpkin Spice Cake with Cream Cheese Frosting.
A hardy plant, pumpkins can be grown on every continent except Antarctica (who'd have thought?). The United States is one of the world’s largest producers, harvesting over 1.5 BILLION pounds of pumpkin every year!!! Halloween and Thanksgiving have made the squash an extremely popular product for the Fall season. Given its versatility, we see the pumpkin as the focus for a number of festival competitions: carving contests, pie competitions, and giant pumpkin weigh-offs (the world record holds at 1,725 pounds!!! Imagine trying to make a jack-o-lantern of that!) All the above according to Wikipedia.
That all being said - this cake was DELICIOUS! I doubled the recipe in order to make the "pumpkin" shape. I omitted the walnuts, and needed a LOT of yellow food coloring to achieve the appropriate hue of "pumpkin" (I had run out of red food coloring thanks to all the red velvet cakes I've made the past 2 years). The best part about this cake is that both the presentation AND the decadent flavor will leave your guests "dying" for more ;-) 

(Literal) Pumpkin Cake with Cream Cheese Frosting
adapted via
serves 15-20 

  • Cake: 
  •    - 4 cups white sugar
  •    - 2 1/2 cups vegetable oil
  •    - 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  •    - 2 (15-oz cans) canned pumpkin
  •    - 8 large eggs
  •    - 4 cups all-purpose flour
  •    - 6 teaspoons baking powder
  •    - 4 teaspoons baking soda
  •    - 1/2 teaspoon salt
  •    - 4 teaspoons ground cinnamon
  •    - 2 cups chopped walnuts (optional)

Cream Cheese Frosting:
   - 4 (8-0z) packages cream cheese frosting
   - 1 cup butter, softened
   - 4 cups sifted confectioners' sugar
   - 2 teaspoons vanilla extract

For cakePreheat oven to 350 degrees F (175 degrees C). Grease and flour two 12x18 inch pans. Sift together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt and cinnamon. Set aside.
In a large bowl combine sugar and oil. Blend in vanilla and pumpkin, then beat in eggs one at a time. Gradually beat in flour mixture. Stir in nuts. Spread batter into prepared 12x18 inch pan. Bake in the preheated oven for 30 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the center of the cake comes out clean. Allow to cool.

For frosting: In a medium bowl, cream together the cream cheese and butter until creamy. Mix in the vanilla, then gradually stir in the confectioners' sugar. Remove 1/2 cup of frosting, and dye the remaining frosting orange. The reserved portion should be dyed green. Store in the refrigerator after use.

For assembly: level the bottoms of the cake to make them flat; set aside the extra cake. Place one half, top side down, onto a cake platter - spread 3/4 cup to 1 cup orange frosting across the half. Top with the second half, and spread with the remaining orange frosting. Stuff the cut cake into the stem, ad shape part of it into a stem - frost the stem with the reserved green frosting. 

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

When Chocolate Found its Dark Side

I must admit – I was reluctant to post this recipe given the events that shortly followed the creation of these brownies, but the feedback from those who had the chance to enjoy them compelled me to go through with it. This past weekend, I finally came to know the perils of biking in Boston. Long story short, it was an over-the-handlebars deal that resulted in a 6-hour hospital visit and a hysterical mother back in Georgia. Seeing as it could have been MUCH worse than it was (fractured nose, a number of scratches and bruises), I felt this recipe still deserved its due. I sent the brownies with my roommate to the gathering (since I was indisposed to go). The two hosts had BREWED their own beer, called “STUDIO” and had invited their friends over for an evening of homemade beer and treats. I felt it was perfectly appropriate to make something using my favorite beer to bake with: Guinness. The only question was how to make something unique – I had already baked a chocolate stout cake, and just recently made Guinness-Gingerbread Cupcakes. Brownies became an option in my brainstorming process, and I couldn’t shake the idea, so I decided to make Guinness Stout Brownies (Photos courtesy of my lovely roomie, Jenn Berg).  
These brownies were meant to have a Dark Chocolate Truffle Ganache, but given the unfortunate circumstances that followed later that afternoon, the brownies were delivered to the party as is. I had received the idea for the ganache from a blog I frequent called Sugar Plum ( I can’t say how the ganache fairs in this context, but I highly doubt ANYONE would be averse to having a silky, dark layer of truffle chocolate atop stout brownies.
I always recommend using high-quality chocolate when making brownies from scratch – considering chocolate is the primary ingredient, you don’t want to risk it burning, and a cheaper chocolate won’t produce as silky of results. I used Lindt Excellence – 70% Cocoa. I omitted the chocolate chips (considering I thought I would be including a ganache) and used regular Guinness rather than Guinness Extra Stout. I imagine these will make another appearance so that a) the ganache can tested and b) I can have the opportunity to try one :-) Enjoy!

Dark Chocolate-Guinness Stout Brownies 
Adapted via 
Yields: 24 – 30 brownies

Guinness Stout Brownies:
- 1 cup all-purpose flour (or pastry flour)
- 3/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
- 1/4 teaspoon salt
- 6 tablespoons unsalted room temperature butter, cut into cubes
- 8 ounces dark bittersweet chocolate, chopped
- 3/4 cup white chocolate chips
- 4 large eggs, at room temperature
- 1 cup superfine or granulated sugar
- 1-1/4 cups (10 ounces) Guinness Extra Stout beer (see Note below)
- 1 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips
- 1/8 cup (about) confectioners' sugar for dusting

For Brownies: Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F. Line a 9 x 13-inch baking pan with nonstick foil. In a medium bowl, whisk together flour, cocoa powder, and salt until evenly combined. Set aside.

Melt butter, bittersweet chocolate, and white chocolate chips in a double-boiler over very low heat, stirring constantly until melted. Remove from heat. In a large mixing bowl, beat eggs and sugar on high speed until light and fluffy, about 3 minutes. Add melted chocolate mixture, beating until combined.

Beat reserved flour mixture into melted chocolate mixture. Whisk in Guinness stout beer. The batter will seem a bit thin. Drop semisweet chocolate chips evenly on top of batter (some will sink in). Pour into prepared baking pan. Bake 25 to 30 minutes on center rack in the oven, until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out almost clean. Let brownies cool, uncovered, to room temperature.

Note: The Guinness should be at room temperature. This recipe uses a little less than a standard 12-ounce bottle of Guinness stout beer. Do not include foam in the measurement. Either spoon off the foam or let it rest until the foam subsides.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

A Creamy Alternative to Gluten

Having recently experimented in baking with vegan alternatives, the concept of a gluten-free dessert was far less intimidating. Granted, there were a number of considerations I had to take into account (including the fact that, unless labeled “pure”, vanilla extracts and flavorings contain gluten!), but the majority of the staples were still in play (i.e. eggs, milk, sugar, etc.).  As such, I was able to choose a simple solution with a decadent result: Pumpkin Spice Cheesecake with a Caramel Sauce and Gluten-Free Gingersnap Crust.

This recipe, from (formerly known as RecipeZaar), is allegedly a la Cheesecake Factory style. The biggest change I made was the topic of this entry: I altered the crust to produce a gluten-free dessert. Some cheesecakes call for 2 – 3 tablespoons of flour. I avoid these recipes altogether since I am something of a cheesecake purist. Thus, this recipe was entirely without gluten aside from the crust. I simply replaced the suggested graham cracker crust with a gluten free alternative of MI-DEL gingersnap cookies.
Gluten intolerance, known as Celiac Disease, is a relatively new concept in American diagnostics, and is believed to effect up to 1 in every 105 persons in the United States. It is an autoimmune disease where the body reacts to the appearance of gliadin, a glycoprotein found in heat products, and results in the degeneration of intestinal villi. This consequently interferes with the absorption of nutrients, inducing the symptoms of fatigue, weight loss, anemia, etc (Wikipedia). The party I baked this cake for had not one but TWO present with Celiac, so I made sure to do my homework. 
Cheesecake is a specialty of mine, probably given that it is my favorite. Whether in its simplest form (New York Style) or extremely complex (Red Velvet Cheesecake), it is a dessert that never fails to please. 

Notes: I used a 9-inch spring-form pan, rather than the 8-inch originally called for. The caramel sauce I used is from a previous recipe I posted a while back - Dorie Greenspan knows her stuff ;-) 

Pumpkin Cheesecake with Caramel Sauce and a Gluten-Free Gingersnap Crust
Adapted via
Yields: 8 - 10 Servings 

Gluten-Free Gingersnap Crust:

   - 1 1/2 cups MI-DEL Gluten-Free gingersnap cookies, finely crumbled
   - 5 tablespoons butter, melted
   - 1 tablespoon sugar

Pumpkin Cheesecake
   - 1 cup sugar 
   - 3 (8 ounce) packages cream cheese (at room temperature)
   - 1 teaspoon vanilla (make sure it’s PURE, or else it might have gluten!)
   - 1 cup canned pumpkin 
   - 3 large eggs (at room temperature)
   - 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
   - 1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
   - 1/4 teaspoon allspice

Caramel Sauce
   - 2 cups sugar
   - ½ cup water
   - 1 ½ tablespoons light corn syrup
   - 2/3 cup heavy cream
   - 2 tablespoons unsalted butter, at room temperature

For crust: Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Wrap tin foil around the outside of a 9-inch spring-form pan, and spray lightly with cooking spray. Combine the gingersnap crumbs with the melted butter and sugar in a medium bowl. Stir well enough to coat all of the crumbs with the butter. Press onto the bottom and halfway up the sides of the pan. Bake the crust for 5 – 7 minutes,  then set aside until you are ready to fill it.

For cheesecake: In a large mixing bowl combine the cream cheese, sugar, and vanilla. Mix with either the paddle attachment (in a stand mixer) or with an electric mixer until smooth. Add the pumpkin, eggs, cinnamon, nutmeg and allspice and continue beating until smooth and creamy. Pour the filling into the pan. Bake for 60-70 minutes. Once the center has almost set, turn off the oven and leave the cheesecake inside for an additional hour.

For caramel sauce: Combine the sugar, water and corn syrup in a medium heavy-bottomed saucepan, stirring just to combine the ingredients. Place the pan over medium-high heat. Heat, without stirring, until the caramel turns deep amber, 5 to 10 minutes depending on the size of your saucepan and the intensity of the heat. As the sugar is caramelizing, wipe down any splatters on the sides of the pan with a pastry brush dipped in cold water. To test the color of the caramel, drop a bit onto a white plate. Don’t be timid about the color – if it’s too pale, it won’t have much flavor.

Lower the heat a bit and, standing back from the saucepan, add the cream and butter. When the spatters are less vehement, stir to calm down the caramel and dissolve any lumps. Let cool for a bit, then pour over the top of cheesecake – cut with a knife, dipped in after water every slice to prevent a mess, and enjoy! 

Friday, October 22, 2010

"It Takes Two"

I fully acknowledge that the title of this blog was a grade C movie starring the Olsen twins from the 90s, but the following recipes/decadent photos should more than remedy my referencing such a mediocre flick. I gained a reputation as the “office baker” thanks to these cupcakes. An “unnamed” (you know who you are) coworker secretly crossed out all of the names on the Birthday Sign-Up Sheet (a list that shows who is in charge of providing a cake/dessert for the monthly birthday celebration) and volunteered my services for the next 5 months. In other words, these cupcakes mean business, and will surely create a cult following of sugar-addicted fans if you endeavor to recreate them. I baked these cupcakes (a total of 48!) for our CEO Jennifer Hurley-Wales’ surprise birthday party, which took place in lieu of an all-staff meeting. Knowing the entire office would be involved, simple cupcakes with frosting wasn’t about to cut it, so I took leap: Dark Chocolate Cupcake with Salted Caramel Filling and Dark Chocolate Frosting AND Guinness-Gingerbread Cupcakes with Lemony Cream Cheese Frosting and Candied Ginger.
Dark Chocolate Cupcakes with Salted Caramel Filling

Guinness-Gingerbread Cupcakes
Time-consuming would be an understatement for these recipe – be prepared to devote an entire evening and morning to these little beauties. The result was well worth the effort. Considering I wanted these cupcakes to go above and, both are hybrids of several recipes. Let’s start with the one I know caught all of your attention, the chocolate! My go-to recipe for chocolate cake has and always will be Hershey’s “Perfectly Chocolate” Chocolate Cake. Quite some time ago, I had come across a recipe by Martha Stewart on one of my go-to baking blogs, BakeorBreak, and have been waiting for the perfect opportunity to try it! Unfortunately, the recipe was for mini cupcakes which, while cute and equally delicious, wasn’t quiote the angle I wanted for this surprise party. As such, I stole the salted caramel filling (no, you’re not dreaming – this is really happening) and dark chocolate frosting portions of the recipe, and used my favorite chocolate cake recipe. These cupcakes were unbelievably amazing!!!!!!!!!
Cooking tip: the recipe calls for a candy thermometer in order to register when the caramel is done – having never owned a candy thermometer; I go by sight and wait until the boiling sugar begins to turn deep amber. I also added 2 tbsp of butter for extra creaminess! For the frosting, be prepared to add a tablespoon or two of butter if the chocolate seems to be burning (a.k.a. gets too stiff to stir).
Confession time: per usual, I forgot a few things. For the chocolate frosting, I didn’t use the “best quality” chocolate for the frosting, but rather 2 bags of Hershey’s semi-sweet chocolate chips. The flavor, in my opinion, was still a sinfully rich texture, so I think either decision is a safe one. Additionally, I used kosher salt in place of the Fleur de Sel.

Dark Chocolate Cupcakes with Salted Caramel Filling
Adapted via BakeOrBreak
Yields: about 30 cupcakes

Dark Chocolate Cupcakes:
   - 2 cups sugar
   - 1-3/4 cups all-purpose flour
   - 3/4 cup HERSHEY'S Cocoa
   - 1-1/2 teaspoons baking powder
   - 1-1/2 teaspoons baking soda
   - 1 teaspoon salt
   - 2 eggs
   - 1 cup milk
   - 1/2 cup vegetable oil
   - 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
   - 1 cup boiling water

Salted Caramel Filling:
   - 2-1/2 cups sugar
   - 2/3 cup water
   - 1 tablespoon light corn syrup
   - 3/4 cup heavy cream
   - 2-1/2 teaspoons sea salt
   - 2 tablespoons unsalted butter

Dark Chocolate Frosting 
   - 1/2 cup plus 1 tablespoon unsweetened Dutch-process cocoa powder
   - 1/2 cup plus 1 tablespoon boiling water
   - 2-1/4 cups (4-1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature
   - 3/4 cup confectioners’ sugar, sifted
   - 1/4 teaspoon salt
   - 1-1/2 pounds semi-sweet chocolate, melted and cooled

For cupcakes: Heat oven to 350°F. Grease and flour two 9-inch round baking pans. Stir together sugar, flour, cocoa, baking powder, baking soda and salt in large bowl. Add eggs, milk, oil and vanilla; beat on medium speed of mixer 2 minutes. Stir in boiling water (batter will be thin). Pour batter into prepared pans. Bake 30 to 35 minutes or until wooden pick inserted in center comes out clean. Cool 10 minutes; remove from pans to wire racks. Cool completely. 

For caramel filling: Heat sugar, water, and corn syrup in a heavy saucepan over high heat. Stir occasionally until syrup is clear. Attach a candy thermometer to side of pan. Stop stirring, and cook until syrup comes to a boil, washing down sides of pan with a wet pastry brush as needed. Boil, gently swirling pan occasionally, until mixture is caramelized and turns a deep amber brown.

Remove from heat. Slowly pour in cream and wait until the simmering subsides; whisk with a wooden spoon until smooth, then whisk in butter 1 tbsp at a time. Stir in sea salt. Use immediately. If caramel begins to harden, reheat gently until pourable.

For filling: Combine cocoa and boiling water. Stir until cocoa has dissolved.
Using an electric mixer on medium-high speed, beat butter, confectioners’ sugar, and salt until pale and fluffy. Reduce speed to low and add melted and cooled chocolate. Beat until combined. Beat in cocoa mixture. Frosting can be refrigerated up to 5 days or frozen up to 1 month. Bring to room temperature and beat on low speed until smooth before using.

For assembly: Use a paring knife, cut a cone-shaped piece, about 1/2-inch deep, from the center of each cupcake. Spoon 1-2 teaspoons of warm caramel filling into each cupcake. Sprinkle a pinch of sea salt over filling.

Fit a pastry bag with a medium open-star tip (Wilton #18). Fill pastry bag with frosting. Pipe onto cupcakes, swirling tip and releasing as you pull up to form a peak. Garnish with a pinch of sea salt. Cupcakes are best eaten the day they are filled and frosted. Store at room temperature in an air-tight container until ready to serve.

Note: The cupcakes can be stored, unfrosted, in an airtight container for up to 2 days at room temperature.

Now, let’s talk about the wild card: Guinness-Gingerbread Cupcakes. When I was first asked to bake the birthday cupcakes for the occassion, the coordinator had suggested this combination. My adventurous streak was intrigued having never tried such a flavor combination, and I set out to find the perfect recipe. It boiled down to two possible sources, and I went with my leading man –David Lebovitz. The balance of Guinness, molasses and sugar seemed perfect for the depth of flavor I wanted. Unfortunately, the thought of a lime buttercream frosting wasn’t exactly my ideal pairing, so I went with a standard cream cheese frosting and added lemon zest and juice. The result was perfect, and the minced candied ginger was the perfect finishing touch! I doubled this recipe since the original only produces 12, but somehow ended up with 30 cupcakes rather than 24!
Cooking tip: be sure to have the sugar pre-measured during the boiling of the Guinness-molasses mixture; you want to add it immediately after you remove the pot from the heat to ensure the sugar melts evenly.
Confession time: I completely forgot to include the minced candied ginger, hence using it instead as a garnish – simple solution, but still a beautifully delicious result!

Guinness-Gingerbread Cupcakes with Lemon Cream Cheese Frosting
Adapted via David Lebovitz
Yields: 12 cupcakes

For the cupcakes:
   - 1/2 cup stout beer, such as Guinness
   - 1/2 cup  mild-flavored molasses
   - 1/2 cup vegetable oil
   - 1/4 teaspoon baking soda 
   - 3/4 cup packed light brown sugar
   - 1-1/3 cups all-purpose flour
   - 1-1/4 teaspoons baking powder
   - 2 tsp.ground ginger
   - 1 tsp. ground cinnamon
   - 1/4 teaspoons ground cloves
   - 1/2 teaspoons table salt
   - 2 large eggs, at room temperature
   - 1/2 cup finely minced candied ginger

For the frosting
   - 2 (8 ounce) packages cream cheese, softened
   - 1/2 cup butter, softened
   - 2 cups sifted confectioners' sugar
   - 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
   - half a large lemon, zested and juiced
   - Strips of candied citrus peel or candied ginger, for garnish

For the cupcakes: Preheat the oven to 350°F. Line a standard 12-cup muffin tin with cupcake liners. In a very large saucepan, bring the stout, molasses, and oil to a boil over medium-high heat. Remove from the heat and whisk in the baking soda until dissolved. (The mixture will foam up, then settle down.) Stir in the brown sugar, then let cool until tepid.

Into a small bowl, sift together the flour, baking powder, ginger, cinnamon, cloves, and salt. Whisk the eggs into the stout mixture, then whisk in the flour mixture just until incorporated. Don’t overmix. Gently stir in the minced candied ginger. Divide the batter among the cupcake liners and bake until the cupcakes feel just set in the center, 22 to 24 minutes. Let cool completely.

For the frosting: In a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream together the cream cheese and butter until creamy. Mix in the vanilla, then gradually stir in the confectioners' sugar. Add the lemon zest and juice. Store in the refrigerator after use. Transfer the frosting to a pastry bag fitted with a star tip. Remove the cupcakes from the muffin tin. Pipe rosettes of frosting in the center of each cupcake. (If you don’t have a pastry bag, you can spoon a mound of frosting decoratively in the center.) Garnish each with strips of candied citrus peel or a piece of candied ginger.

Note: The cupcakes can be stored, unfrosted, in an airtight container for up to 4 days at room temperature.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

The Vegan Experiment

The words "eggless" and "dairy-free" are two that can become a baker's worst nightmare. My friend Laynard, a devoted vegan, just recently celebrated his birthday, and was ecstatic when I offered my baking services. Yet after hours of surfing my favorite sites (while watching outdated episodes of SNL on Hulu), I discovered the innate challenges vegan baking can present. From egg replacers to soy yogurts, I had to fully familiarize myself with a vocabulary of foreign terms and ingredients. It was Whole Foods (go figure) that came to the rescue with a gorgeous cake PERFECT for fall weather - Triple-Layer Vegan Carrot Cake with Soy Cream Cheese Frosting
 Knowing full well that Whole Foods carries all the necessary ingredients, I endeavored to restock my baking staples with vegan-friendly items. This included Ener-G Egg Replacer, Earth Balance “Butter” Sticks, and Tofutti Cream Cheese. Despite the guarantee that these supplements would work “just like the real thing,” you can imagine my apprehension as a first-time vegan baker.

To make a long story short, this cake was amazing! There obviously was an altered look to the cakes, and they were quite fragile as well. So long as you handle the layers carefully, the shape of the cake will be maintained. The frosting, while not as rich as your traditional cream frosting, provided a delicious alternative. The cake had a lush texture with a moist crumb – so for those looking to experiment with the terms “eggless” and “dairy,” this cake receives my stamp of approval! One minor confession (but don’t all of my posts have these?): I used canola oil rather than safflower, but the substitution was by no means a game-changer. I also omitted the raisins, but I can blame Whole Foods for not having any in stock (and for some reason the convenience store down the block was just too far away to bother). Enjoy!

Triple-Layer Vegan Carrot Cake with Soy Cream Cheese Frosting
Adapted via Whole Foods
Serves 14 - 16

Carrot Cake:  

   - 2 1/2 cups flour
   - 1 teaspoon salt
   - 2 teaspoons baking soda
   - 4 teaspoons baking powder
   - 1 tablespoon ground cinnamon
   - 1 teaspoon ground nutmeg
   - 1 teaspoon ground ginger
   - 3 tablespoons egg replacer
   - 2 cups light brown sugar
   - 1 cup safflower oil (I used canola)
   - 1 cup almond milk (unsweetened, original)
   - 1 cup unsweetened applesauce
   - 3/4 pound carrots, finely grated (about 3 cups)
   - 1 cup walnuts or pecans, chopped
   - 1 cup seedless raisins

   - 12 tablespoons non-hydrogenated margarine, chilled and cut into pieces
   - 1 1/2 pounds soy cream cheese, cold
   - 1 1/2 cups powdered sugar
   - 1 teaspoon vanilla extract

For Cake: Preheat oven to 350°F and lightly grease three (9-inch) round cake pans; set aside. Put flour, salt, baking soda, baking powder, cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger and egg replacer into a mixing bowl and whisk together to blend. Put sugar in a separate large mixing bowl and whisk in safflower oil, almond milk and applesauce. When fully combined, add almond milk mixture to flour mixture and mix just until smooth. Stir in carrots, walnuts and raisins, then divide batter evenly between the prepared cake pans. Bake for 25 minutes, or until the center springs back gently when pressed. Remove from oven and transfer to racks to let cool completely.

For Frosting: Beat margarine in a large bowl with an electric mixer on medium speed for 3 minutes. Add cream cheese in pieces and mix until thoroughly blended. Slowly add sugar and vanilla and mix until blended. Increase mixer speed slightly and continue mixing for 2 to 3 minutes, until light and fluffy. Cover and set aside until ready to use (I would recommend chilling this for about 20 minutes, just to allow it to stiffen)

For Assembly: Place a cake layer, bottom side up, on a cake plate or pedestal. Spoon one-quarter of the frosting onto the top and spread it evenly. Place a second cake layer, bottom side down, on top of the first, and spread with an equal amount of frosting. Place the final cake layer, bottom side down, on top of the others and frost the top and sides with remaining frosting. Cover and chill until ready to serve or set aside to let set for 30 minutes, then cut into slices and serve.