Wednesday, July 21, 2010

And The Baker Said "Let There be Cheesecake!"

Cheesecake...dulce de you need to read the rest of this post to be convinced that you must make these? Let us consider the pros and cons. The pros: a rich texture of cream cheese with a buttery graham cracker crust, the sinful addition of dulce de leche, and a glossy layer of chocolate to top it all off. The cons: that these are just photos and you are not eating a piece this very second. I baked these squares for my coworkers at From the Top, and an clean pan was returned to me within hours of its arrival at the office. In other words, I highly recommend this recipe for all lovers of cheesecake, and possibly to those who have an aversion towards this classic dessert as well. It's just that good.
There is nothing more beautiful than dulce de leche. A simple ingredient, it has the capacity to transform any dessert from average to extraordinary. I always make my own based on David Lebovitz's recipe, and it turns out perfect every time (see above). The traditional method of preparation is boiling a can of sweetened condensed milk over the stovetop. This method seems particularly dangerous when one considers it could become a volatile procedure. The oven method is my preference, and has always produced the desired. That bowl of dulce de leche was extremely difficult to set aside to complete the recipe.
It is regrettable that cheesecake has not received due recognition on this blog considering it is a specialty of mine. But I do have one very special recipe in mind that will soon grace the archives of this site (it's a surprise, so stay tuned!). As far as this recipe is concerned, it takes a slightly different route than your traditional cheesecake: it calls for unflavored gelatin. Being the purist I am, this ingredient was one I initially opposed. Yet one of the setbacks in making cheesecake squares is their lack of stability. The addition of gelatin is a quick fix for said problem, and certainly proved its point with these squares.
Dulce de Leche Cheesecake Squares
Adapted from SmittenKitchen
Make 24-30 squares

  • 1 cup crumbled graham crackers (4 to 4 1/2 crackers)
  • 2 tbsp sugar
  • 3 tbsp unsalted butter, melted
  • 1 tsp unflavored gelatin (from a 1/4-oz envelope, will be just about half an envelope)
  • 1/4 cup whole milk
  • 8 oz cream cheese, softened
  • 2 large eggs
  • 3/8 teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup dulce de leche (store-bought, or homemade)
  • 3 oz bittersweet chocolate (not unsweetened), coarsely chopped (I used Ghiradelli)
  • 1/2 stick (1/4 cup) unsalted butter, cut into pieces
  • 2 teaspoons light corn syrup


For Crust: Put oven rack in middle position and preheat oven to 325°F. Line bottom and sides of an 8-inch square baking pan with 2 sheets of foil (crisscrossed), leaving a 2-inch overhang on all sides.

Finely grind crackers with sugar and a pinch of salt in a food processor*. With motor running, add butter, blending until combined. Press mixture evenly onto bottom of baking pan. Bake 10 minutes, then cool in pan on a rack 5 minutes.

*If you don't have a food processor (like me), then grinds the crackers, sugar, and salt in a blender. Once done, place in a bowl and mix in the melted butter (much less of a mess this way)

For Cake: Sprinkle gelatin over milk in a small bowl and let stand 2 minutes to soften. Beat together cream cheese, eggs, salt, and gelatin mixture in a bowl with an electric mixer at medium speed until well combined, about 2 minutes, then stir in dulce de leche gently but thoroughly. Pour filling over crust, smoothing top, then bake in a hot water bath (I was able to fit mine in a 9×13-inch baking pan) in oven until center is just set (shake the pan gently to test for this), about 45 minutes.

Once done, turn off the oven and leave the cheesecake inside for at least 1 hour (this will prevent the unseemly crack notorious to all cheesecakes), then remove from oven and let cool on a rack for an additional 45 minutes to an hour. Chill, covered, at least 6 hours.

For Glaze: (within 2 hours of serving) Heat all glaze ingredients in a double boiler or a small metal bowl set over a saucepan of barely simmering water, stirring until smooth, then pour over cheesecake, tilting baking pan to coat top evenly. Chill, uncovered, 30 minutes.

Lift cheesecake from pan using foil overhang and cut into 1-inch squares with a thin knife, wiping off knife after each cut. (This is crucial! I had a glass of water next to me while cutting the squares, and I dipped the knife after each slice)

Note: Cheesecake (without glaze) can be chilled up to 3 days. If glaze is chilled overnight, it will make it difficult to cut

Monday, July 12, 2010

In Honor of Germany's Performance at the 2010 FIFA World Cup

Okay, so German Chocolate Cake is by no means of German origin, but instead owes its name to Baker's German's Sweet Chocolate; a dark baking chocolate bar created by Englishman Samuel German. But I felt Germany deserved to be acknowledged for an extremely valiant effort in the 2010 FIFA Tournament, and this decadent dessert seems to do them justice regardless of origin. I had also promised my coworkers at From the Top that I would provide them with baked goods after having circulated this blog link around the office. So the choice: German Chocolate Cupcakes.

Let me preface this blog entry by saying the following: these cupcakes are not your standard "Betty Crocker" cupcakes that mushroom 6 inches above the pan. In fact, the tops are almost completely flat. But looks can be deceiving, and this cupcake has a few tricks up its sleeve. The first secret? Separating the eggs. Emulsifying the yolks into the batter then folding in the (whipped) egg whites separately create a texture that is both light and rich! The yolks provide the leavening agent, while the whites incorporate just enough air into the mix to create a fluffy consistency. The second secret: buttermilk! Now I have mentioned this in previous posts - I never purchase buttermilk for baking (unless it is an essential component to the overall taste, in which case I shell out the extra dime). But the simplicity of adding a tablespoon of white vinegar to a cup of milk will produce the desired effect, and it is an effect that is by and far a leading contributor to the beautifully moist texture of these cupcakes.
Now on to the recipe: these cupcakes are from one of my favorite blogs - David Lebovitz. As a resident of Paris, he has learned that the French palate prefers desserts that are not as sugar-laden as American recipes. I personally find it a welcome change of pace considering it presents a dessert that relies more on the quality of its ingredients than on that extra cup or two of calls for cake flour, but having never had the energy/funds to stock up on said ingredient, I always resort to all-purpose. The trick? Loosely-measuring all-purpose flour will produce the same effect as cake flour (as illustrated above). The buttermilk and cake flour shortcuts are two constants in my baking, and saviors to my wallet.
Another change: I used a mixture of unsweetened coconut with sweetened. This combintation produced a well-balanced frosting that wasn't too overwhelming or lacking in sweetness. I also doubled this recipe wanting to create 24 cupcakes...I ended up with 32. Not sure how that happened, but just be aware that this is a possibility. WARNING: upon finishing all the steps required for the batter, you will be tempted to take a spoon and eat it straight from the mixing bowl (see above). RESIST this temptation by all means and proceed to fill those cupcake liners. Trust me, the baked product is way worth it. But definitely feel free to have a spoonful (or five) of the frosting ;)
German Chocolate Cupcakes
Adapted (and Doubled) from David Lebovitz
24-28 cupcakes


  • 4 ounces bittersweet or semisweet chocolate, chopped
  • 1/2 cup boiling water or coffee
  • 16 tbsp (2 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 1 1/2 cups sugar
  • 4 large eggs, at room temperature, separated
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 2 cups loosely-measure all-purpose flour
  • 2 tbsp unsweetened natural cocoa powder
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup (125 ml) buttermilk (or 1 cup milk + 1 tbsp white vinegar/lemon juice)

  • 1 1/2 cups evaporated milk
  • 1/2 cup packed light brown sugar
  • 4 large egg yolks
  • pinch of salt
  • 4 tablespoons butter, salted or unsalted, at room temperature
  • 4 ounces bittersweet or semisweet chocolate, chopped
  • 3 cups sweetened or unsweetened coconut flakes, lightly toasted (or 1 1/2 cups of each)
  • 2 cups chopped, toasted pecans
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract

For Cupcakes: Preheat the open to 350ºF (180ºC). Line a muffin tin with 12 cupcake liners. Pour the boiling water or coffee over the chocolate, and stir until melted. Set aside. In the bowl of a stand mixer, or by hand, beat the butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Add the egg yolks and mix until thoroughly incorporated. Then mix in the vanilla and the melted chocolate. Whisk together the cake flour, cocoa powder, baking soda, and salt. Alternate adding the flour mixture and the buttermilk, beginning and ending with the flour.

In a clean, dry bowl, whip the two egg whites until stiff, then fold one-third of them in to the chocolate batter, then the rest. Fold just into there are no streaks of white remaining, but don't overfold. Divide the batter between the muffin cups and bake for about 25 minutes, until the batter feels just set in the center. Remove from the oven, then let cool for a few minutes.
Once cool enough to handle, remove the cupcakes from the muffin tin and let cool on a wire rack completely before frosting

For Frosting: Whisk together the evaporated milk, brown sugar, egg yolks, and salt in a medium saucepan. Add the butter, then cook the mixture, stirring constantly with a heatproof spatula over medium heat, like a custard, until the mixture begins to thicken and coats the spatula. Do not let boil.

Remove from heat and immediately whisk in the chocolate, stirring gently until melted. Then stir in the coconut, pecans, and vanilla. (If using just unsweetened coconut, you can add an additional teaspoon of brown sugar if it's not sweet enough, to your taste.) Let cool to room temperature, then use the frosting to ice the cupcakes, topping the cupcakes with a bit of toasted coconut as a garnish after you ice them, if you wish.

Saturday, July 10, 2010

"Carrots are divine... You get a dozen for a dime, It's maaaa-gic!"

We all know Bugs Bunny can't resist the temptation of a carrot (as shown in the title of this post). And the ever-expanding healthy movement has embraced it's nutritional values as the perfect snacking commodity (especially with hummus, a personal favorite!). But who ever got the idea to put carrots into a dessert?

According to Wikipedia, using carrots as a sweetening agent has been in effect since medieval times, given it was more affordable and readily available than conventional sweeteners. The carrot was a good substitute because, like the sugar beet, it has a higher sugar content than other vegetables. Sweet and cheap? Bugs Bunny couldn't have put it better...
Now that I've ranted about carrots, I should confess that this cake by no means solely depends on the sugar content of the carrot. It packs a LOT of flavor, and is a bit more of an intense carrot cake than the one grandma used to make. Nonetheless, I can guarantee you won't be disappointed.

Now let's talk about this cake - the recipe comes from one of my favorite blogs, SimplyRecipes, and is apparently a family heirloom. I made this for a trumpet friend of mine, Tom Daniels - granted, his birthday had been several weeks prior, but I keep my word. Obviously we have carrots, but there are two power ingredients in this recipe that caught my attention. The secret to a great carrot cake is getting the perfect moist texture. Most recipes use oil (from safflower to olive, the latter being what I used), but some call for either crushed pineapple or applesauce as well. This one uses crushed pineapple, a flavor I feel pairs better with carrot in this instance. But it was the addition of shredded COCONUT that made me realize this was an offer I couldn't refuse.
I warned you this was an intense carrot cake. But I've always had the "sky's the limit" approach when trying new baking recipes, so this was right up my alley. That being said, there are plenty of other recipes out there worth trying. One recipe I can personally recommend is from the Joy of Baking. I just couldn't resist that coconut...
Okay, so I slipped up on this recipe - I completely forgot to add the walnuts to the batter. To my credit, it was 95 DEGREES outside, and thinking becomes a little cloudy when you are standing in a kitchen, while preheating an oven, and the weather feels as though it could bake a cake itself (also my excuse for not having as many photos during the process). My solution? Add the nuts (even more finely chopped than what the recipe calls for) to the cream cheese icing! So it sort of defeat the purpose, but that killer set of ingredients did their job without fail and it still turned out to be an AMAZING cake!
Notes: I used unsweetened coconut and added about 1 tsp of confectioner's sugar and a few drop of water. The recipe says it will take about 45 - 50 minutes, whereas mine took about 40 - 42. Make sure to check after 35 just to be safe. Also (as reflected in the directions) I mixed the ingredients a little differently than called for to a) allow better incorporation and b) prevent the works from flying all over my kitchen.

Carrot Cake Recipe
Adapted from SimplyRecipes
Serves 12-16


  • 3 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
  • 2 cups sugar
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 Tbsp baking soda
  • 1 Tbsp cinnamon
  • 1 1/2 cups olive oil or grapeseed oil
  • 4 large eggs, lightly beaten
  • 1 Tbsp vanilla extract
  • 1 1/2 cups shelled walnuts, chopped (what I left out, oops! Reserve extra for garnish)
  • 1 1/2 cups sweetened, shredded coconut (I used unsweetened + 1 tsp powdered sugar)
  • 2 cups of finely grated carrots
  • 1 cup of drained crushed pineapple
  • 8 oz cream cheese, at room temperature
  • 6 Tbsp unsalted butter, room temp
  • 2 1/2 cups of confectioners' sugar
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 2 Tbsp lemon juice
  • (technically this is where the walnuts fell in my own creation)


For Cake: Preheat oven to 350°F. Butter and flour two 9-inch cake pans. Sift dry ingredients into the bowl of a stand mixer (or a large mixing bowl if using a hand mixer). Combine oil, eggs, and vanilla in a separate bowl (I would suggest a wet measure cup or comparably sized pitcher to allow easy pouring). Slowly incorporate the wet ingredients into the dry, beating on a low speed after every addition. Once all the oil mixture has been incorporated, make sure to beat well. Fold in chopped walnuts, coconut, carrots and pineapple (or in my case, forget about the walnuts, haha!)
Pour batter into pans. Set on the middle rack of oven and bake for 45-50 minutes (shift positions of cakes front-to-back if necessary about halfway through), until edges have pulled away from sides and a toothpick or sharp knife tip inserted into the center of the cake comes out clean. Cool on a cake rack.
For Icing: Cream together the cream cheese and butter in a mixing bowl. Slowly sift in the confectioners sugar and beat until mixture is free of lumps. Stir in vanilla and lemon juice.
For Assembly: Once cakes have cooled, place one layer, flat side down, on a cake plate/caddy/presentation platter of choosing and spread about 1/2-cup of frosting over top. Top with second layer and frost the remainder of the cake. Sprinkle top with chopped walnuts or arrange walnut halves in a crown around the top (Note: if you forgot the nuts, like me, then feel free to add them in between the layers as well as around the cake).