Monday, September 30, 2013

Lemon Cheesecake with Strawberry Sauce

K loves cheesecake. I am pretty sure he loves it so much that I can safely say it is his favorite dessert. Although, he really is an equal opportunity dessert lover, so that is a pretty big claim to make.  The only other thing I know he loves as much as cheesecake, is lemon flavored desserts.  So this year when I asked him what kind of cake he wanted for his birthday dinner and he said "Cheesecake, but you have to pick the flavor,"  I knew right away that lemon was the way to go.  I browsed the internet for a few days to find a recipe that I thought would work out the best.  Finally I settled on this recipe and I am very glad that I did.  I have made him a couple of different cheesecakes over the years, like a white chocolate raspberry cheesecake pie for this past Valentine's Day, but I think this one was the most successful cheesecake so far.  No cracks! YAY! Plus it had the perfect creamy smooth cheesecake texture that I was hoping to achieve.  Since cheesecake can be a little overwhelming the first couple times that you make it (at least I thought it was) I will do a step by step on this recipe. 

First make the crust for the cheesecake by crushing graham crackers in a large plastic bag with a mallet or rolling pin.  You can also use a food processor but that is a pain to clean out, so I just go with the bag method even though it takes a minute or two longer.  Combine the graham cracker crumbs with some sugar, chopped pecans, and butter.  The mixture should resemble wet sand.  Press the crumb mixture into a 9" springform pan.  This is a special pan that has a removable bottom which is especially important when making cheesecake.  Bake the crust for 10 minutes in your preheated oven and let cool while you make the filing.

 Zest a couple of lemons (I used meyer lemons, which are sort of a cross between a tangerine and a lemon) and set this aside for a minute while you mix the cream cheese and sugar.

 In a large bowl mix your softened cream cheese with the sugar and beat for a couple of minutes until smooth and combined.  Add the lemon zest, cornstarch, vanilla, and heavy cream and beat until combined.

 Add the eggs and egg yolks one at a time, mixing well between each addition.  Stop the mixer and give the sides of the bowl a good scrape before adding the lemon juice.

 Pour in the lemon juice and mix very well.  Wrap the outside of your springform pan in aluminum foil, making sure there is no seem on the bottom of the pan.  Pour all of the batter on top of the cooled graham cracker crust in the springform pan.  Give the pan a few little shakes to level the batter out.

Place the springform pan into a large roasting pan or some other type of pan large enough to hold the cheesecake pan.  Pour boiling water into the roasting pan about half way up the sides of the cheesecake and bake in the oven for 60 to 70 minutes.  The water bath will help the cheesecake bake evenly.  I have skipped this step every other time I have made cheesecake.  Don't be like me!  The water bath is absolutely necessary to have that perfect smooth texture. 

 The cheesecake will be done when the outside edges look firm and the middle is set but still a little jiggly.  Let cool for about an hour and then place in the fridge for at least four hours to firm up.  When you are ready to serve, run a butter knife around the outside of the cake and slowly pull the lever on the springform pan to release. 

I made a simple strawberry sauce to top the cake, which was a really nice, sweet compliment to the tangy lemon cheesecake. 

K loved his birthday dessert.  As I am typing this blog, he asked me what I was blogging about today, and I said lemon cheesecake.  His response was "mmmm!"  I am sure I will be getting requests for this one again.

 The graham cracker crust was buttery, crunchy, and just a hint of nutty with the addition of pecans.  The cheesecake was velvety and rich; delicious topped with sweet strawberry sauce and fresh whipped cream. 

Lemon Cheesecake with Strawberry Sauce
Inspired by Jo Cooks

Graham Cracker Crust

1 1/2 cups graham cracker crumbs
1/2 cup chopped pecans (or walnuts)
2 tbsp white sugar
6 tbsp melted butter

Preheat oven to 350°F.  Combine all ingredients in a medium bowl and mix well.  Press into the bottom and up the sides of a springform pan.  Bake for about 10 minutes until lightly golden and let cool.

Lemon Cheesecake

32 oz (2 lbs) cream cheese softened
1 1/3 cups white sugar
2 tbsp lemon zest
2 tsp vanilla
3 tbsp cornstarch
1/3 cup heavy cream
3 eggs
2 egg yolks
1/2 cup lemon juice

Decrease oven temperature to 325°F.  Combine cream cheese  and sugar and mix well until no lumps remain.  Zest about 2 lemons and add to the cream cheese mixture.  Mix in vanilla, cornstarch, and heavy cream.  Beat in eggs one at a time, mixing completely between each egg.  Scrape the sides of the bowl and beat in the lemon juice.  Pour batter into the tin foil wrapped springform pan and bake in a water bath for 60-70 minutes until the outside of the cake is firm and the center is set but still slightly jiggly.  Cool for  one hour and then refrigerate for at least four hours before removing from  the pan and serving. 

Strawberry Sauce

16 oz strawberries (fresh or thawed frozen berries)
1/4 cup sugar
1/4 cup water
Juice from 1/2 of a lemon

In a medium saucepan, cook all ingredients for about 10 minutes over medium heat until bubbling and starting to get thick. Cool completely before serving.


Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Carrot Cake with Maple Cinnamon Cream Cheese Frosting

 My sister, C, recently returned from about six months living abroad in Bhutan attending a school program and then she spent the summer wwoofing in Europe.  I think she is incredibly brave and adventurous for embarking on these journeys and traveling the world on her own.  Although I have a bit of the travel bug, I don't think I would have the courage to travel to foreign countries and just immerse myself in the cultures, like she did, especially in Bhutan.  C wrote a wonderful, interesting blog cataloging her adventures, if you want to take a look, here.  Most of my travel dreams are to see many of the beautiful National Parks in the western United States and to go back to Europe, maybe Italy, France, or Germany.  A lot of my desires for traveling are driven by photography and food.  I would love to photograph Yellowstone, Zion, Yosemite, Canyonlands, the list goes on.  I think Italy is probably the highest on my list of foodie places to go, all the pasta, breads, mmm and gelato!  Oh, plus I have to return to Alaska again, someday. I was lucky enough to visit Alaska when I was about 15 and it was truly the purest most beautiful place I have ever been in my life, so far.  I hope my family and I are fortunate enough to travel to some of these places someday. So anyways, when C returned to the US, she was home for just a few short days before returning to college. My family threw a big welcome home party and we decided to make a bunch of traditional American foods that she had been missing.  Definitely no rice or chiles on the menu! Carrot cake is certainly an American classic, so that is what we decided to make.

This carrot cake has quickly become my family's go to request for big family gatherings.  I actually don't think I have ever made a single batch of this recipe. I am always doubling or tripling the recipe to make enough for everyone! 

This time I decided to try the recipe out as cupcakes for the first time. I have made this as a layer cake for several other occasions.  Let me assure you, the cupcake version is every bit as good as when made as a layer cake.  The cupcake to frosting ratio was perfect! 

The cupcakes are super moist from the pineapple and carrots and the spice blend is definitely spot on.  I love adding raisins, but I always have to make a few plain ones for my raisin hating husband :)  You could add walnuts to the batter, but I prefer to use them as garnish.  I didn't have any nuts on hand this time, so I tried using heath bar bits.  I actually thought this was a wonderful twist.  It still gives that crunch that nuts would give but instead adds a complimenting toffee flavor.

Pardon the quality of this picture, but I wanted to show you a picture of this recipe in cake form.  I made this cake a couple of years ago and my photo skills were...well, much more 'in progress'.  As you can see, the cake is sturdy and you can stack it right up, as big as you might need. This cake probably served about 40 or so people. Plus I think the butterflies are super cute!

 Of course, I can't forget to mention, you can't have carrot cake without cream cheese frosting. In fact, I am pretty sure that is written in the rules of the universe somewhere.  This maple cinnamon version is the perfect finish for this cake; super creamy and just sweet enough.  The cinnamon carries from the cake to the frosting and ties everything together.  The flavors of this cake would be especially wonderful for the autumn months coming up. I hope you have the chance to give this a try.

Carrot Cake
Inspired by Rasa Malaysia
24 cupcakes or two layer 9" cake

2 cups all purpose flour
2 tsp baking soda
1 tsp salt
2 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp nutmeg

1/4 tsp ginger
1 cup white sugar
1 cup light brown sugar
1 cup canola or vegetable oil

4 large eggs 
1 tsp vanilla 
1 8 oz can crushed pineapple
3 cups grated carrots (about 5-6 large carrots)
1/2 cup raisins (optional)

Walnuts or heath bar bits (optional)

Preheat oven to 350°F.  In a medium bowl,  whisk together the flour, baking soda, salt, cinnamon, nutmeg, and ginger and set aside.  In a large bowl, stir together the sugars, oil, eggs, and vanilla until well combined. Drain about half of the juices from the pineapple (make sure you get the pineapple in natural juices and not syrup) and add all of the crushed pineapple plus remaining juice to the wet ingredient mixture. In two additions, add the flour mixture into the wet ingredients and stir until everything is just combined.  Fold in the grated carrots and raisins, if using.  Just a few notes about the carrots, I don't bother peeling my carrots. I just make sure to scrub them really well and cut off the tops and bottoms.  I also use my food processor to shred the carrots, but some people prefer the texture of using a hand grater, so just do it which ever way you prefer.  If making cupcakes, line the tins with cupcake paper and fill each one about 3/4 full.  Bake for 15-18 minutes until a toothpick inserted into the cake comes out clean.  If making cakes, line each pan with parchment paper circles and grease well. Divide the batter evenly and bake for about 40 minutes. Let cupcakes or cakes cool slightly and then remove to wire racks to cool completely.  Frost with cream cheese frosting, recipe below.

Maple Cinnamon Cream Cheese Frosting

16 oz cream cheese
8 oz butter
3-4 cups powdered sugar
2 tbsp maple syrup
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp vanilla

Let cream cheese and butter come to room temperature and then beat with an electric mixer until smooth and well combined.  Add powdered sugar to your taste and preferred consistency.  The more powdered sugar, the sweeter but stiffer the frosting will be. Combine with cream cheese mixture at low speed and then beat for 3-4 minutes on medium speed.  Add maple syrup, cinnamon, and vanilla and finish mixing until well combined.  Frost cooled cupcakes or cake with a piping bag or by hand. I used a large (Wilton 1A) tip to pipe the frosting onto these cupcakes.  Garnish with chopped nuts or heath bar bits, if desired.


Monday, September 9, 2013

Pavlova with Fresh Fruit

I am pretty much going to let the pictures do the talking on this recipe because in all of its simplicity this dessert is just beautiful and speaks volumes for itself. The shell of the meringue is crisp and sweet while the interior is like a fluffy marshmallow. Topped with slightly sweetened whipped cream and fresh tart berries, every bite of this dessert melts away in your mouth.  The best way I can describe Pavlova is like eating a perfectly sweet summer cloud.

Pavlova with Fresh Fruit
Inspired by Laura in the Kitchen

5 large egg whites
1 cup white sugar
2 tsp cornstarch
1 tsp vanilla
1 tsp white vinegar
1/4 tsp salt 

1 cup heavy whipping cream
2 tbsp white sugar
1 tsp vanilla
Fresh Fruit

Preheat the oven to 300°F. 

In an extremely clean bowl of a stand mixer (any grease, bits of yolk, or residue will not allow your egg whites to whip properly) add the egg whites and whisk on medium speed until medium peaks begin to form. 

Continuing on medium speed, spoon the sugar into the egg whites one spoonful at a time until completely incorporated. The mixture should be thick, glossy and will hold a fairly stiff peak.  Rub a tiny bit of the egg whites between your fingers to make sure the mixture is not gritty and all of the sugar has dissolved.  Continue to beat, if necessary, until mixture is smooth.

Remove the bowl from the stand mixer and fold in the salt, cornstarch, vanilla, and vinegar. 

Line a baking tray with parchment paper and spoon the egg white mixture into one big pile in the center of the parchment paper.  Carefully spread evenly into about an 8" circle.  The meringue should about about 1 to 1 1/2" tall and should be fairly smooth and level.  The meringue will not really change shape while baking, although it may puff up some and then fall and crack around the outside when it cools. 

Bake for 50-60 minutes and then shut off the oven.  Crack the oven door and let the meringue cool completely in the oven.  You can make this the night before you are serving and just let the meringue sit in the cool oven overnight.   Note that you can make this recipe with a hand mixer as well, but I would not recommend trying to whisk the whole recipe by hand unless you have arms of steel.

Immediately before serving, transfer the meringue to a cake stand or plate.  Whip the heavy cream to soft peaks and add sugar and vanilla.  Spoon the whipped cream over the meringue and top with fresh berries of your choosing.  Raspberries, blackberries and blueberries was a great combo, but I have also done strawberries, kiwi, and blackberries. I am sure any fruit you like would be excellent as well. I hope you give this delicious recipe a try.