Pumpkin Cheesecake

Most people, me included, feel pretty passionate about cheesecake.

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I mean it’s the kind of dessert that is delicious when made right, profoundly disappointing when make incorrectly, and unfortunately easy to make wrong

I mean we’ve all heard the horror stories of the overly-dense lumpy cheesecake that stuck to the roof of your mouth for hours afterwards right?

And then there is the dreaded ‘crack.’ You know what I’m talking about – when you pull your cheesecake out of the oven only to discover that the top has fractured and created an ugly and noticeable scar on the top of your painstakingly crafted dessert.

But when it’s done right, when the top doesn’t crack, and the cream-cheese is properly softened and whipped into oblivion to ensure absolutely no lumps get through?

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That’s when the magic really happens.

This pumpkin cheesecake was a part of my thanksgiving ‘quartet’ and while I couldn’t possibly chose a favourite out of the four I made, I can tell you that this is by far the best cheesecake ever.  

Yes it requires you to bake it in a water-bath. And yes, it’s worth it. You know why? Using a water-bath = no cracking (caveat: if you over-bake the cake it will crack no matter what so do pull it out when the centre is still jiggly. It will set as it cools. I promise.).

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But back to the cake: it was light, creamy, delicious, delicately spiced, and elegant. The whipped cream topping served to tie together the crumbly ginger-pecan shortbread crust, and the slightly tangy-sweet filling. An egg-heavy batter that included a 1/2 cup of whipped cream kept the whole thing rich, creamy, smooth, and surprisingly light.

I do mean light in texture. Not in calories. Forget any misguided notion you ever had that cheesecake is a health food.

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So if you’re afraid of cheesecake making, make this one. I promise as long as you follow the directions, and use the dreaded water-bath, it WILL turn out delicious.

And yes, it takes a little bit of time, but it is well worth the effort. A quick note that when I made this I put the cake together on one day, let it sit in the fridge overnight and added the topping the next day, then kept it in the fridge until about an hour before serving it.

Pumpkin Cheesecake (lightly adapted from Sprinkle Bakes)

Ginger-Pecan Crust:
1 cup all purpose flour
1/4 cup firmly packed light brown sugar
1/8 tsp salt
1/3 cup pecans (1.2 oz.)
1/4 tsp ground ginger
1/2 cup cold butter
1 tablespoon cold water

1. Preheat your oven to 350 degrees and generously butter a 9-inch springform pan. Properly buttering the edges will ensure you get a proper pan release, so don’t skimp. Wrap the pan in heavy duty aluminum foil, do this or you’ll have water seep into the pan and ruin your crust.
2. Throw flour, brown sugar, salt, pecans, and ginger into a food processor and process until pecans form crumbs.
3. Add in cold butter and process until crumbs form.
4. Add the water and process in short bursts until the dough starts to come together.
5. Press into the bottom of the spring-form and bake for 25-30 minutes. Remove from oven and allow to cool completely.

Pumpkin Filling:
1 cup canned pumpkin puree
1/2 cup heavy cream
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp ground ginger
1/4 tsp salt
1 1/4 lbs (20 oz, or 2 1/2 eight oz. bricks) cream cheese, softened
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup brown sugar, packed
1 tbsp cornstarch
4 large eggs

1. Turn down heat on the oven to 325 degrees.

2. In a small bowl whisk together the pumpkin puree, heavy cream, vanilla, cinnamon, ginger ,and salt.

3. In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with a paddle attachment beat the cream cheese at medium speed until it is creamy (depending on how warm your cream cheese is this will take 2-4 minutes, the goal is to beat out any and all of those pesky lumps).

4. Add the sugars gradually and beat until combined.

5. Add the pumpkin mixture and beat until batter is uniform.

6. Add eggs one at a time, mixing after each addition until incorporated into the rest of the batter.

7. Using a rubber spatula pour the cheesecake filling into the cooled spring-form over the crust. Place the pan into a large baking dish filled with water so it comes about 1-inch up the sides of the springform. Bake for 70-80 minutes or until the sides are set and the centre of the cake still jiggles. Cool completely, it will set as it cools.

Whipped Cream Topping:

2 cups heavy cream

1/2 cup of sugar

1. Whip the cream in the bowl of a standing mixer until it thickens.

2. Add the sugar in gradually, beating the sugar and cream until stiff-peaks form.

3. Spread over the top of the cake and pipe the extra whipped cream into decorative swirls.

Keep cake in the fridge until ready to serve.

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Gingerbread Pear Cranberry Crisp (and Thanksgiving)

Last week was the biggest week of my year. You see, for the last six years I have lived in Vancouver, BC, where Thanksgiving takes place in early October and is not quite as big a deal as it is in the USA. I mean it’s still fun but it’s a three day weekend not a four day weekend, and because it is in early October it doesn’t quite signal the start of the holiday season the way US Thanksgiving does.

This year, I felt like I had a marathon-long list of things to be thankful for, but first and foremost, I was/am beyond thankful for the opportunity to once again live in my favourite city in the world, surrounded by the majority of my favourite people.

So to show my gratitude and appreciation, I did what I do best: I baked.

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I mean, I’m pretty sure I don’t know how to say thank you other than via baked goods.

For the record, the back four desserts were by me. I promise to tell you more about them this week.

Today I want to tell you about the dessert that was the most un-assuming. Second from the left – Gingerbread Pear-Cranberry Crisp.

I saw this recipe on Smitten Kitchen about a month ago, and immediately bookmarked it, thinking ‘I’ve got to make that for Thanksgiving.’ My family has a history of crisps on Thanksgiving, and since I had offered to be in charge of the desserts (really I announced I was doing them and I think everyone was too afraid of my butter and sugar crazed self to argue) I figured I had to include crisp as a hat-tip to tradition since I don’t really make pie…

I love pears, and I love cranberries, so I suspected the mix of tart and sweet flavours combined with the spiciness of the gingersnaps would be outstanding.

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Well friends, I was right.

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Not only was it delightful to look at, with the bright red cranberries giving this dessert a particularly festive flair. It was delicious. I was nervous that the topping, which is basically crushed cookies, some flour, spices, and butter, would be too crumbly, or powdery, but it clumped perfectly and retained its crispness until this particular dessert was finished off for breakfast on Friday morning.

The acidity from the cranberries and the lemon juice paired flawlessly with the mildness from the pears and gingerbread flavour just tied it all together.

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So if you’re looking for an easy and delicious dessert to grace your holiday table (I suspect this would certainly be Christmas appropriate) then I suggest you do yourself a favour and make this crisp.

Pear, Cranberry and Gingersnap Crisp
Very Lightly Adapted from Smitten Kitchen

Crumble
1 cup all-purpose flour
1/4 cup granulated sugar
3 tablespoons brown sugar
16 store-bought gingersnap cookies (I used the triple-ginger snaps from Trader Joes and it worked perfectly)
1/8 teaspoon ground ginger
1/8 teaspoon table salt
1/2 cup/1stick unsalted butter, melted and cooled, plus some extra to butter the pan

Filling
2 pounds (about 4 to 5) large ripe pears peeled, halved, cored and sliced 1/4 inch thick
1 1/2 cups fresh cranberries
1 tablespoon lemon juice – about 1/2 a lemon
1/2 teaspoon finely grated lemon zest (about 1 lemon worth of zest)
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons granulated sugar
2 tablespoons (14 grams) cornstarch

1. Preheat your oven to 350 degrees, and lightly butter a 2 quart oven-proof baking dish

2. Combine flour, both the sugars, gingersnap crumbs, ginger, and salt. Pour in the melted butter and stir until mixture clumps.

3. To the baking dish add the pear, cranberries, lemon juice, lemon zest, and vanilla. Stir to coat in lemon juice. In a separate small bowl whisk sugar and cornstartch, then add to fruit, mixing to ensure all fruit is coated.

4. Cover in the crisp topping. It will feel like a lot, but just use it all. Trust me on this one. Bake for 45 minutes until the topping is just a bit brown, and you can see juices bubbling through the topping and around the edges.

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Vanilla Bean White Cake with Whipped Vanilla Frosting

I would apologize for the fact that all the photos for this post come off my iphone camera, but this cake needs to be talked about. Badly. And when I turned on my DSLR this morning as I pulled the eggs and butter out of the fridge, it flashed that terrible ‘low battery’ warning and then died. So I turned to my phone because waiting to bake until the battery charged just wasn’t going to happen.

But enough about cameras, let’s discuss cake.

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This cake is a fluffy, light, yet somehow still moist (yes, I hate the word too) vanilla bean white cake with the smoothest, most delicious whipped vanilla frosting that tastes like ice-cream.

White cakes are interesting. Often they are dry, crumbly, and dense. The batters are temperamental. A high liquid content leaves them prone to curdling and we’ve all accidentally dropped the yolks into the egg whites as we separated them right? Right?? No, just me? Well now you know my secret. I make mistakes too.

But let me assure you that this cake is worth careful egg-separating, and ensuring you don’t add your liquids to the batter too quickly.

This is one of those cakes where you promise yourself you’ll only have a sliver and then the next thing you know, half of it has disappeared. Does that happen to anyone else? Please say yes.

This is one of those cakes people talk about for months. I first served this cake during a dinner party a friend threw in September. Three months later I’m still being reminded that I need to make this very cake for all upcoming birthdays and events. This cake will make you a lot of friends, and isn’t that why everyone bakes? Do me a favour and just agree.

This cake isn’t fancy, and it’s not the most show-stopping of cakes but the flavour and texture are perfect.

The recipe comes from my absolute favourite cake blog – Sweetapolita, and since I made absolutely no changes to her already flawless recipe I’ll let you head over to her blog for the exact details on how to make this cake.

Instead, I want to talk about cake decorating.

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Look, I understand. Really I do. Layer cakes are intimidating. You have to prepare pans with parchment paper, somehow flip out still warm cakes without ripping them in half. Then wait patiently while they cool. Level, mask, frost, pray to the cake gods that you have enough frosting to fill all your layers and cover your entire cake….

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But I’m here to tell you it’s easy. Seriously, if I can do it, you can too. All it takes is a bit of patience, some precision, and the right tools. I like to use a rubber spatula, an offset pallet knife, and a straight pallet knife. A bench scraper is helpful in getting those elusive perfect edges.

It all begins with good pan preparation. I know this seems tedious and a bit excessive, but trust me when I say it makes a world of difference. After you preheat the oven, and before you do anything else you absolutely must, must MUST do the following: generously butter your pans, drop in a tablespoon or so of flour and coat the sides of your pan with flour before tapping out the excess. Now for the fun part. Place the pan on a piece of parchment paper and trace it. Cut out the circle, then place it in the bottom of the pan. This guarantees a perfect release. Every. Single. Time. No more ripped cakes, no more banging, tapping, or prying. Just loosen the edges when they come out of the oven, and then flip them onto a cooling rack.

While your cakes cool, make your frosting.

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Let me take a moment to say, that I love frosting.

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I’m pretty certain I make cake, simply so I can eat frosting. This frosting in particular will change your life. I frequently state that foods will change your life. I know that. But you should know that while I say it often, I don’t say it lightly.

Once your cakes have cooled, grab a turntable (You can find a cheap, ugly, but ultimately functional one at Michael’s for around $20. No it wont last forever, but if you’re like me and cheap, it’ll work), and place a smear of frosting on the turntable. Then plop your cake layer down on top. The frosting keeps it in place, and keeps your cake from sliding off the turntable.

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Then cover the top with a generous layer of frosting, before laying on the second layer. Repeat with any additional layers, though I only used two in this instance.

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Using a rubber spatula, press frosting onto the sides. Then hold the straight pallet knife against the side of the cake and slowly spin the turntable to spread across the sides of the cake. Get a thin layer on there, and then throw the cake into the fridge for about half an hour.

When the frosting has set, pull it out and throw on a thicker layer. This is where I like to hold a bench scraper lightly against the side as I turn the cake to get really smooth edges.

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Decorate as you see fit. Tonight, since this is for a friend’s birthday, I chose sprinkles. You can’t go wrong with sprinkles right?

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Just agree with me. It’ll be easier that way.

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Maple Cupcakes with Maple Cream Cheese Frosting

Those of you who know me, know I have a cupcake obsession. When I was a kid my mother used to take me to a small local bakery about once a week, and tell me to order whatever I wanted. I always ordered the same thing: a vanilla cupcake with vanilla frosting, and every year for my birthday we’d buy 20-some odd of those same vanilla cupcakes to bring into school. The bakery has sadly since closed, but my love for cupcakes remains.

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I mean come on, they’re adorable, delicious, and unbelievably satisfying.

Plus unlike cakes which require levelling, torting, masking, and frosting, cupcakes just have to cool, be popped out of the cupcake tins, and frosted. Additionally, they’re much less stressful to transport than cakes. When I have a cake in the car you’ll see me folding towels to use as levellers, and then I drive ten miles below the speed-limit with one hand holding onto the cake-box until I am safely at my destination.

Cupcakes on the other hand can be popped into a box, and simply set into the back seat with very little fanfare. One or two may end up slightly ruined, but the great thing is most recipes make at least a dozen, and an ugly cupcake gives you an excuse to eat it. I mean seriously, no one wants that deformed one, and more importantly you have to make sure they still taste good after transportation. Quality control people. Quality control.

I mean, I love making cake. Love it. But sometimes I just want a cupcake.

I first made these cupcakes last June. They were completely inappropriate given that it was nearly 80 degrees out, perfectly sunny, and summer. Today is more appropriate, given that we’re into the second week of November and it’s definitely not pushing 80 outside. Plus, the time has officially ‘fallen back,’ Starbucks has switched to holiday cups, and I could order an eggnog latte, if I liked eggnog. It’s officially the holiday season, so let the holiday baking begin.

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These maple cupcakes with maple cream cheese frosting come out of one of my favourite cookbooks: Baked Explorations.

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These particular cupcakes are pretty much perfect. They are dense, with a hint of maple, and covered in the most incredible cream-cheese frosting I’ve ever had. I love it so much I use it every time I make cream-cheese frosting no matter what I’m planning to use it for.

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Unlike most cream-cheese frostings which are overly sweetened due to an overload of powdered sugar added in to stiffen them up, this frosting uses a bit more butter and cream cheese which lets the flavour shine through. I’ll be honest – it doesn’t hold a piped-shape very well, but it does so enough to use a plain round-tip, or to get decently-smooth edges onto the side of a cake. But the flavour is undeniable, and well worth putting out a slightly messier dessert.

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Just trust me and make the damn cupcakes.

Here’s what you need (lightly adapted from Baked – Explorations: Classic American Desserts Reinvented)

1.5 cups whole wheat pastry flour

1.5 cups all purpose flour

3 teaspoons baking soda

1 teaspoon salt

1/2 cup plus 2Tbsp of butter – softened and cut into chunks.

2 cups pure maple syrup – and for the sake of maple syrup lovers everywhere, use the real stuff, it’s pricy but worth it.

3 egg yolks

1 egg

1.5 cups whole milk

For the Frosting:

3/4 cups unsalted butter, softened and cut into chunks

12 ounces cream cheese softened – I let mine sit out on the counter while I make and bake and cool the cupcakes

4 cups powdered sugar – sifted, this keeps out the lumps so don’t skip it.

2 tablespoons maple syrup.


Here’s what you do:

1. Preheat the oven to 350 and line 2 muffin trays with cupcake liners.

2. Sift the flours, baking soda, and salt together in a large bowl and set aside.

3. In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment beat the butter until it starts to ribbon a bit. Turn the mixer onto low and stream in the maple syrup before increasing the speed and beating for about 3 minutes until the mixture is close to uniform. It will look a bit curdled as the butter will not want to blend with the maple syrup. That’s ok so long as you’ve managed to get the mixture fairly uniform.

4. Lightly beat the egg yolks and eggs and then pour into the batter in three separate additions. Beat until just incorporated after each additions.

5. Scrape the bowl, and with the mixer on low speed add half the flour, then all the milk, and the rest of the flour. Mix until just uniform, as soon as the last of that flour disappears, turn off your mixer.

6. Using a 1/4 cup measure, fill each of the muffin cups. Bake for 20-25 minutes (my oven took 22 minutes), rotating the pans 180 degrees, and switching racks if baking both pans at the same time, after 15 minutes. Remove from oven when a toothpick inserted into the centre comes out clean. Cool in the muffin pan for 15 minutes and then transfer to a cooling rack to cool all the way before frosting.

To make the frosting:

1. Beat butter in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment until it is completely smooth. Add the softened cream cheese and beat until they are combined, scraping down the bowl as necessary.

2. Add the maple syrup, then lower the speed on the mixer and add the powdered sugar, once it starts to incorporate beat on medium speed until the frosting comes together.

Frost cupcakes using either a pallet knife, or a large round tip. As I mentioned above, the frosting is too soft to hold a star shape.

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Chocolate Chip Cookies

I want to talk about chocolate chip cookies. Really, good chocolate chip cookies. Among most of my friends, the search for the perfect chocolate chip cookie is on par with the quest for the meaning of life. The thing is, I’m fairly confident that these cookies are the answer to that query.  

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I stumbled upon this recipe one day while browsing the internet for new recipes (my favourite lazy-afternoon activity). Hailing from the New York Times and accompanied by an entire article on the characteristics that make up a perfect chocolate-chip cookie, I suspected they could permanently end my personal quest for the perfect cookie. I did, however, have a few reservations:

For one, the recipe requires both cake flour and bread flour. At the time I owned neither. Perhaps more problematic, however, was the technique. The cookies required a 24-36 hour rest period. That is exactly what it sounds like: you make the dough, cover it in plastic wrap, and stick it in your fridge for a day to a day and a half. Yes, for a day and a half you have to know that perfect and delicious cookie dough is within arms reach, and you have to force yourself to do nothing about it.

I put off making this recipe for a few weeks. Then, one Sunday afternoon in July, I forced myself to buy some bread flour and cake flour while on my weekly grocery-shopping trip. I had the foresight to pull butter out of the fridge before leaving my apartment, and I put my mixer to work as soon as I got home.

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A half-hour later I had dough.

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20 hours later I gave in and started pre-heating my oven and rolling the dough into golf-ball sized cookies. I have no patience. Delayed gratification? No concept whatseover. According to most studies this means I will fail at life. I’m ok with that if failure means these cookies.

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These are 100% worth the wait. Crispy at the edges and soft in the middle with that perfect chewiness in the in-between section that is (in my opinion) the hallmark of a perfect cookie.

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So trust me, and make these. Buy the flours, and wait for them.

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The only foreseeable problem is that your quest for the perfect cookie will become irrelevant. I’d apologize, but I’m not really sorry, and I suspect you’ll forgive me once you’ve had these.

Perfect Chocolate Chip Cookies (adapted from the NYT)

Makes approx. 30 4-6 inch cookies (I’ve seen this number vary, but that’s how many I’ve got sitting in my kitchen – anyone want a cookie?)

Here’s what you’ll need:

2 cups minus 2 tablespoons (8 1/2 ounces) cake flour*
1 2/3 cups (8 1/2 ounces) bread flour*
1 1/4 teaspoons baking soda
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon coarse salt (note I cut this amount down, I like very little salt in my baked goods… I know some people swear by it, but I find it makes them, well, salty)
1 1/4 cups unsalted butter
1 1/4 cups (10 ounces) light brown sugar*
1 cup plus 2 tablespoons (8 ounces) granulated sugar*
2 large eggs
2 teaspoons natural vanilla extract
1 1/4 pounds bittersweet chocolate disks or fèves, at least 60 percent cacao content

*If you do have a kitchen scale, I’d recommend using it, the measurements were slightly off when I just used the measuring cups.

Here’s what you do:

1. In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment cream butter and sugars until light and fluffy.

2. In a separate bowl whisk the flours, baking soda, baking powder, and salt together.

3. Add eggs one at a time, mixing after each one is added to incorporate. Add in vanilla.

4. Slowly add the dry ingredients, stirring gently until they have all been added.

5. Dump in the chocolate chips – I used an entire bag of dark chocolate chips – and fold gently with a spatula to combine.

6. Now for the hard part – transfer into a bowl, press plastic wrap against the dough and put it into the fridge. Forget about it.

7. After 24-36 hours the dough will be rather hard, and a bit crumbly, but scoop out golf-ball-sized amounts of dough, and roll them into balls with your hands – they’ll come together just fine.

8. Place six balls on a cookie sheet lined with parchment paper, and then press down with the heel of your hand to flatten slightly.

9. Bake for 18 minutes – this was perfect in my oven, but yours might be a bit different, you want them just barely browning on the edges, and puffed up in the middle.

10. Place the baking sheet on a wire rack to cool for ten minutes, then remove the cookies from the baking sheet and place on a separate wire rack to cool completely. Repeat from step 7 until you run out of dough.

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