Creamy Cheese Cake - ☺♥
I discovered that one very important recipe was missing from Food Nirvana, one for a very creamy cheesecake. Oddly, of all the foods I made over many years I never made a cheesecake until now. I am guessing the reasons had to do with the fact my mother never made one, nor did my wife, Marie, who was an excellent cook. Beyond that we consumers are typically easily convinced that places like the Cheesecake Factory® must make the best cheesecake so why bother?
During the 2015 Christmas holidays I had a slice of salted caramel cheesecake from the Cheesecake Factory®. It looked beautiful, as do all of their special cheesecakes. But when I considered the taste and texture exclusive of the salted caramel topping and blond brownie bottom, I was not impressed. The cheesecake itself was too sweet and had too little flavor. It was overwhelmed by the strong tastes of the topping and the overly thick bottom crust.
Then an ancient memory came back to me. The year was 1969 and the event a family gathering of my then wife Pat's relatives in Asbury Park, NJ. One of the relatives by marriage was a physician from New York City. His food contribution to the gathering was his own home made creamy cheesecake. Mine was my home made dandelion wine.
We were both so impressed by each other's offerings that we decided to exchange recipes. Oh, how I wished I had never lost that recipe! Moving ahead to the present time, I had no way of getting that recipe. I did, however, have many opportunities, like everyone else, of doing Internet research and then using my food knowledge to identify the optimal recipe. Thus, the recipe below is one that I found and slightly modified and the cheesecake I just made is excellent. It is so good that it does not need any fruit or other topping, though I include topping instructions in the recipe.
So, why compete with the Cheesecake Factory®? The simple answer is that I now make a creamy cheesecake that is superior in texture and taste to their commercial offering. In short, I was not as pleased as I should have been with their expensive product. Well, I've done this type of competitive thing so often, with success, with other types of foods, that I saw no reason to hesitate relative to cheesecake. So be it. I hope you enjoy this recipe, which I obtained from the Internet and modified just a bit. And I must confess, the professionalism in the description of how to make a perfect creamy cheesecake truly impressed me. It was a rare find and I owe a debt of gratitude to the creator.
There is one other item I must mention. I did not have graham crackers so I made a crust using two cups of almond flour, 1/4 cup of sugar, 5 tbsp. of melted butter, 1/4 tsp. of cinnamon and 1 tbsp. of water. It too is perfect. You can buy almond flour via the Internet. Peggy likes the crust far better than one made with graham crackers.
You will be very popular if you make and serve this cheesecake to family and friends. It is truly delicious!
For the cheesecake:
2 pounds of regular Philadelphia® brand cream cheese
1 cup of sugar
2 tsp. of cornstarch
1/8 teaspoon of salt
1/2 cup of sour cream
2 teaspoons of fresh lemon juice
1 teaspoon of vanilla extract
3 extra large eggs
1 egg yolk from an extra large egg
For the crust:
12 whole Nabisco® graham cracker rectangles (6 ounces), or use 2 cups of almond flour, 1/4 cup of sugar and 1/4 tsp. of cinnamon as I did
5 tablespoons of butter, plus extra to grease the pan
If needed, one or two tbsp. of water
For the topping: (optional)
One 21 oz. can of either cherry or blueberry thickened and sweetened pie filling
9-inch or 10-inch springform pan (I used a 9" pan and 65 minutes of baking time)
Aluminum foil (use an extra wide roll)
Food processor (or use a rolling pin or wooden kitchen mallet and a one gallon Ziploc® freezer bag)
Electric stand mixer
Measuring cups and spoons
Roasting pan or other deep dish or deep skillet big enough to hold the springform pan
Preheat the oven and warm the cream cheese: Preheat the oven to 350°F with a rack in the lower-middle position. Take the blocks of cream cheese out of their boxes and let them warm on the kitchen counter while you prepare the crust, about 30 minutes.
Rub the pan with butter: Use your fingers to rub a small pat of butter all over the bottom and sides of the pan.
Wrap the pan in foil: Cut two long pieces of foil and lay them on your work surface in a cross. Set the springform pan in the middle and fold the edges of the foil up around the sides of the pan, but not over the top. Note that if you use an extra wide roll of aluminum foil one piece may be enough to cover the bottom and sides of the springform pan. The foil gives you extra protection against water getting into the pan during the water bath baking procedure.
Prepare the crust: Crush the graham crackers in a food processor (or in a Ziploc® freezer bag using a rolling pin or wooden kitchen mallet) until they form fine crumbs — you should have 1 1/2 to 2 cups. Melt 5 tablespoons of butter in the microwave oven or in a small pan on the stovetop and mix this into the graham cracker crumbs. The mixture should look like wet sand and hold together in a clump when you press it in your fist. If not, add extra tablespoons of water (one at a time) until the mixture holds together. Transfer it into the springform pan and use the bottom of a drinking glass/tumbler to press it evenly into the bottom.
Bake the crust: Place the springform pan in the oven (be careful not to tear the foil). Bake for 8 to 10 minutes until the crust is fragrant and just starting to brown around the edges. Let the pan and crust cool on a cooling rack while you prepare the filling. (I let my almond flour crust bake for 12 minutes and it did not brown around the edges.)
Mix the cream cheese, sugar, cornstarch, and salt: Combine the room temperature cream cheese, sugar, cornstarch, and salt in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with a paddle attachment. Mix on medium-low speed until the mixture is creamy, like thick frosting, and no large lumps of cream cheese remain. Scrape down the beater and the sides of the bowl with a spatula. Then mix a minute longer on medium speed.
Mix in the sour cream, lemon juice, and vanilla: Add the sour cream, lemon juice, and vanilla to the bowl and beat on medium-low speed until combined and creamy. Scrape down the beater and sides of the bowl with a spatula. As before, mix on medium speed for one more minute, then again scrape down the beater and sides of the bowl.
Mix in the eggs and the yolk one at a time: With the mixer on medium-low speed, add the eggs and the yolk one at a time. Wait until the previous egg is just barely mixed into the batter before adding the next one. At first, the mixture will look clumpy and broken, but it will come together as the eggs are incorporated. Do a final scraping with the spatula and then mix on medium speed for one minute.
Stir a few times by hand: Scrape down the beater and sides of the bowl with a spatula. Stir the whole batter a few times by hand, being sure to scrape the bottom of the bowl, to make sure everything is incorporated. The finished batter should be thick, creamy, and silky. Don't worry if you see a few specks of un-mixed cream cheese here and there; they will melt into the batter during baking and won't affect the finished cheesecake.
Pour the batter over the cooled crust: Check to make sure the crust and the sides of the pan are cool — if they are cool enough to touch comfortably, you can proceed. Pour the batter over the cooled crust and spread it into an even layer against the sides of the pan.
Transfer the springform pan to the water bath: Transfer the pan to a roasting pan or other baking dish/deep skillet big enough to hold it. Bring a quart of water to a boil and pour some of the boiling water into the roasting pan/dish/skillet, being careful not to splash any water onto the cheesecake. Fill the container that holds the springform pan with the boiling water to about an inch below the top edge of foil.
Bake the cheesecake: Bake the cheesecake at 350°F for 50 to 60 minutes. Cakes baked in a 10-inch pan will usually cook in 50 to 55 minutes; cakes in a 9-inch pan will usually cook in 55 to 60 minutes. The cheesecake is done when the outer two to three inches look slightly puffed and set, but the inner circle still jiggles (like Jello®) when you gently shake the pan. Some spots of toasted golden color are fine, but if you see any cracks starting to form, move on to the next step right away.
Cool the cheesecake in the oven: Turn off the oven and crack the door open. Let the cheesecake cool slowly for one hour.
Run a knife around the edge of the cake and cool the cake completely: After an hour, remove the cheesecake from the oven and from the water bath, unwrap the foil, and transfer the springform pan to a cooling rack. Run a thin-bladed knife around the edge of the cake to make sure it is not sticking to the inside of the pan (which can cause cracks as it cools). Let the cheesecake cool completely on the rack to room temperature.
Chill the cheesecake for four or more hours in the refrigerator: Chill the cheesecake, uncovered, for at least four hours or up to three days in the refrigerator. This step is crucial for letting the cheesecake set and achieving perfect cheesecake texture — so don't rush it.
(Optional)Top the cheesecake with the pie filling and serve: Take the cheesecake out of the refrigerator about 30 minutes before you plan to serve it. Unmold the cake from the springform pan and then top the cheesecake with cherry or blueberry pie filling just before serving.
You can serve the cake right from the bottom of the springform pan, or use a large off-set spatula to gently unstick the crust from the pan and transfer it to a serving platter. Leftovers (if any!) will keep, uncovered and refrigerated, for several days.
Date Pinwheel Cookies - ▲
These cookies were my best friend Morrie Shaffer’s favorites. My experience making them for him tells me that the more dates and nuts you use the better. You can easily increase the amounts of dates and nuts shown below by 50 percent if you want a chewy cookie.
12 ounces of pitted dates, chopped
1 cup of water
1/4 cup of sugar
2 teaspoons of lemon juice
1 cup of finely chopped pecans or walnuts
1 cup of butter, softened
2 cups of brown sugar, firmly packed
3 1/2 cups of all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon of baking powder
1/2 teaspoon of salt
1/4 teaspoon of baking soda
In a saucepan, combine the dates, water, sugar and lemon juice. Bring the date mixture to a boil, then reduce the heat and simmer for about 10 minutes, stirring occasionally. Stir in the chopped nuts. Remove the pan from the heat. Set it aside to cool the contents to room temperature.
In a mixing bowl, cream the butter, brown sugar, and eggs until light and fluffy. In a separate bowl, combine flour, baking powder, salt and baking soda; stir to blend. Gradually add the dry ingredients to the creamed mixture. Beat until just blended.
Divide the dough into three equal portions. Wrap each portion in waxed paper and chill them in the refrigerator, about 30 minutes to one hour or until they are easy to handle.
Between sheets of waxed paper, roll each portion into a rectangle, about 12 x 8 inches.
Remove the top piece of waxed paper and spread each rectangle with about 2/3 cup (or more) of the date mixture. The idea is that the date mixture should be divided into thirds and each part used with one rectangle of dough. Starting with the 12 inch side, lift the edge of the waxed paper. Peel the paper off as the dough is rolled, jellyroll fashion. Repeat with remaining portions and filling. Wrap the rolls in waxed paper and refrigerate them for several hours or overnight.
Preheat the oven to 350° F. Cut each roll into 1/4 inch thick slices and place them about 1 inch apart on greased (buttered) cookie sheets. Bake them for 10 to 12 minutes; cool them on cooling racks. The recipe makes 7 to 8 dozen cookies.
Ginger Square Cookies - ☺♥
These yummy cookies are very much like the old fashioned gingersnaps. They are well worth making and we can thank Marie for this one too.
Bake these cookies for 8 minutes in a 375º F oven.
1/3 cup of molasses
½ cup of butter
2 cups of flour
1/3 cup of brown sugar
1 ½ tsp. of ground ginger
½ tsp. of baking soda
½ tsp. of ground cinnamon
¼ tsp. of salt
¼ tsp. of ground black pepper
1/8 tsp. of ground cloves
1 egg lightly beaten
In a saucepan combine the molasses and the butter, then cook and stir over low heat until the butter is melted. Remove from the heat; pour the mixture into large bowl and allow it to cool to room temperature.
In a second bowl stir together the flour, brown sugar, ginger, baking soda, cinnamon, salt, pepper and cloves. Set the mixture aside.
Stir the egg into the cooled molasses mixture. Then stir in the flour mixture until the ingredients have combined to form dough. Divide the dough in half. On waxed paper shape each dough half into a 1½ inch square log, about 5½ inches long. Wrap and chill the logs in the freezer for about 30 minutes.
Preheat the oven to 375º F. Slice the logs into 1/8 inch slices and place the pieces 1 inch apart on ungreased cookie sheets. Prick each piece several times with a fork. Bake for 8 to 10 minutes or until the edges are firm and lightly brown. Transfer the cookies to wire racks, cool them completely; then sprinkle them with powdered sugar.
Gobs (Whoopie Pies) - ☺♥
Gobs are also known as Whoopie Pies. Whatever the name they are a real treat. Think of moist chocolate cake baked like two puffy cookies and served with a thick layer of icing between the two cake layers, each one about three to four inches in diameter and one to one and one half inches thick. Marie gave us this great recipe. She used to make them for the kids back in the early 1980’s and they were very popular.
Ingredients and Directions:
2 cups of sugar
½ cup of Crisco shortening
Add 1 cup of buttermilk (or 1 cup milk plus 1 tsp. lemon juice)
¾ cup of boiling water
1 tsp. of vanilla
Mix well and set aside.
4 cups of flour
1 tsp. of baking soda
½ tsp. of baking powder
½ tsp. of salt
¾ cup of dry cocoa
Mix the sifted ingredients with the creamed mixture to complete the cake batter. Drop the batter in 2 tbsp. amounts onto a non-stick cookie sheet allowing two inches clearance on all sides between the edges of the batter.
Bake at 450º F for 5 minutes. Allow the cakes to cool to room temperature on a rack before using the filling shown below.
Mix together 5 tbsp. flour and 1 cup of milk and set the mixture aside.
1¾ cups of powdered sugar
¾ cup of butter
½ cup of Crisco shortening
¼ tsp. of salt
5 tsp. of vanilla
Add the filling mixtures together and mix with an electric mixer.
Put a generous amount of filling (about 1/3 inch thick, or more) on the flat side of one cake and place another cake, flat side down, on top and press them together lightly to form the gob. Continue until all the gobs have been made.
Wrap them individually in plastic wrap to keep them fresh. Store them in the refrigerator. Allow them to come to room temperature when serving them.
Hotel Du Pont® Macaroons - ☺♥
If you’ve ever eaten at the Hotel DuPont® Green Room in Wilmington DE you likely tried the macaroon cookies. They are the very best macaroons as their interior is slightly soft and has intense flavor.
I got the recipe below from the Internet, presumably identical to that used at the hotel. The baking instructions were simply wrong. As usual, I worked on this one until I got it right.
1 lb. of almond paste – see the recipe earlier in this section for almond paste
1 1/4 cups of sugar
3 or 4 egg whites depending on the size of the eggs (3 if jumbo, 4 if extra large)
1 cup of shredded sweetened coconut (optional, not part of the Internet recipe)
1 tsp. of vanilla (optional, not part of the Internet recipe)
Preheat the oven to 325º F.
Mix the coconut (optional, but I use it) and sugar on slow speed with a mixer until they are well blended. Then add one egg white and mix until blended.
Then add the almond paste in small amounts until the mixture is well blended. Add the rest of the egg whites and mix until smooth.
You should refrigerate this batter for two hours if you expect to use this as a drop cookie recipe using a conventional cookie tray (Good luck if you decide to do that, for the batter will likely run while baking, unless you pre-blend the sugar and egg whites over a double boiler to a warm temperature.). But the best and easiest way is to use the mini-muffin tray method described below under variations, or the oblong baking dish method that makes rectangular macaroons.
If you decide to use cookie trays then grease the cookie trays lightly with butter. Drop about two teaspoons of batter per cookie, leaving two inches clearance on all sides (do only 12 per cookie tray). Bake no more than 15 or 20 minutes or until light golden or tan around the edges. Let the macaroons cool on the tray and then remove them gently with a flat spatula and transfer them to a wire cooling rack. Good luck! The batter ran all over for me, making nearly flat cookies.
Variations: Put the batter into mini-muffin tray compartments. There are two different ways to do this. For the first methop you butter or spray Pam® into the compartments. Alternatively, life is much easier if you use mini-muffin paper baking cups. Then, fill them half full or slightly more with batter and bake at 325ºF for 25 to 30 minutes. Check for doneness (light golden or light tan on top) after 25 minutes and give extra time if needed. The actual baking time can vary from 25 minutes to 40 minutes based on how much batter you put into each compartment/baking cup. The macaroons should fill the compartments/baking cups and expand well above them during baking. This method produces a much superior macaroon as the batter cannot run and result in a flat cookie. Note again that the baking time required is proportional to batter height before baking. Too short a baking time will result in a cookie with a raw or undercooked center. For example, if a cupcake size product is made in a regular cupcake pan, the baking time will be around 45 to 55 minutes. I have also used a 9"x13"x2" glass baking dish and simply cut the baked macaroon pastry into rectangles. It worked wonderfully as the cookies had the identical texture, internal softness and the intense flavor as those served at the Hotel DuPont®. But my favorite method is to use paper baking cup inserts with the mini-muffin pans.
I have also used a 9"x13"x2" oblong glass baking dish and simply cut the baked macaroon pastry into rectangles. It worked wonderfully as the cookies had the identical texture, internal softness and the intense flavor as those served at the Hotel DuPont®.
Macaroons should be eaten immediately or put into an airtight container and refrigerated.
This recipe makes about 60 cookie macaroons or 36 mini-muffin size macaroons or 24 to 32 macaroon pieces/rectangles.
Irish Carbomb Cupcakes - ☺♥
My thanks go to Lisa Swanson, Janet’s niece, for this wonderful recipe. Lisa made these cupcakes and brought them as our dessert for our 2012 St. Patrick’s Day dinner. They are really yummy!
For the Cupcakes:
1 cup of stout (e.g. Guinness®)
1 cup of butter
3/4 cup of unsweetened cocoa powder (preferably Dutch-process)
2 cups of flour
2 cups of sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons of baking soda
3/4 teaspoon of salt
2 large eggs
2/3 cup of sour cream
For the Whiskey Ganache Filling:
8 ounces of bittersweet chocolate
2/3 cup of heavy cream
2 tablespoons of butter, room temperature
2 teaspoons of Irish whiskey (Bush Mills®)
For the Irish Cream Frosting:
3 to 4 cups of confections sugar
1 stick of unsalted butter, room temperature
1/4 cup to 1/2 cup of Baileys Irish Cream®
Make the Cupcakes:
Preheat the oven to 350ºF and line 24 cupcake cups with foil and paper liners.
Bring the stout and butter to a simmer in a heavy, large saucepan over medium heat.
Add the cocoa powder and whisk until the mixture is smooth. Cool slightly.
Whisk the flour, sugar, baking soda and salt in large bowl to blend.
Using an electric mixer, beat the eggs and sour cream in another large bowl to blend. Add the stout-chocolate mixture to the egg mixture and beat just to combine.
Add the flour mixture and beat briefly on low speed. Use a rubber spatula and fold the batter until it is completely combined.
Divide the batter among the cupcake liners, filling them two-thirds to three-quarters of the way.
Bake the cupcakes until a tester inserted into the center comes out clean, rotating them once front to back if your oven bakes unevenly, about 16-18 minutes.
Cool the cupcakes on a rack completely.
Make the Whiskey Ganache:
Chop the chocolate and place it in a heatproof bowl.
Heat the cream until it simmers and pour it over the chocolate.
Let the mixture sit for one minute and then whisk it until it is smooth (if there are still pieces of unmelted chocolate after whisking for a couple of minutes, you can heat it over a double boiler, whisking constantly until it's completely smooth).
Add the butter and the whiskey and stir until they are combined.
Fill the Cupcakes:
Let the ganache cool until it has a thick consistency but is still soft enough to be piped (you can put it in the refrigerator to speed up this process, but make sure to stir it every 10 minutes).
Meanwhile, using your 1-inch round cookie cutter, an apple corer, or a small sharp knife, and cut the centers out of the cooled cupcakes. You want to go most of the way down the cupcake but not cut through the bottom — aim for 2/3 of the way.
Put the ganache into a piping bag with a wide tip (or a plastic bag with a corner snipped off) and fill the holes in each cupcake to the top. Technically, you're only supposed to fill the ganache to the top of the cupcake, but I allowed mine to peak, so it looked like a little hershey's kiss on top. I figured a little extra whiskey ganache didn't hurt.
Make the Irish Cream Frosting:
Whip the butter in the bowl of an electric mixer for several minutes until very light and fluffy.
Slowly add the powdered sugar, a few tablespoons at a time while continuing to mix.
When the frosting looks thick enough to spread, drizzle in the Baileys Irish Cream® and whip the frosting until all ingredients are well blended.
If the frosting is too thin, add another spoonful or two of powdered sugar and mix.
Ice and decorate the cupcakes. Use green sprinkles to make it festive for St. Patrick's Day.