Saturday, April 9, 2011

A learning experience

(Sorry about the ugly strawberry top staring at you.  People wanted to eat the cheesecake, so I didn't have a lot of time for photos.)

When I started this blog, I promised to share with you my failures as well as my successes.  Today, I have something that is sort of a mixture of both – my first cheesecake.  It was one of those things that I took to a party, and I wasn’t completely happy with the results, but everyone that ate it said it was great.  And honestly, there were things about it that I really did like, and the mistakes were things that I can fix for next time.  Since it was my first attempt, I am going to try not to be too hard on myself and file this one as a learning experience.
The cheesecake was made for Dear Friend C’s birthday celebration.  The thing about C is that, as wonderful of a person as she is, she is a total weirdo that doesn’t like cake.  But she does like cheesecake.  For the surprise party that her sweet husband organized, I made this cheesecake.  I had this idea in my head to do a chocolate cookie crumb crust, with a strawberry swirl, and chocolate-dipped strawberries on the top.  It sounded like a great idea!!  So off I went.
Sometimes I get overly ambitious in the kitchen and it comes back to bite me. 
The successes in this endeavor were the crust and the chocolate-dipped strawberries.  Instead of a straight chocolate cookie crust, I actually did what I have dubbed “The Combo Crust of Wonder”.  It was a mix of graham crackers and chocolate cookies, and boy was it good.  It was exactly what I wanted.  That crust shall be duplicated.  And the strawberries were very easy and quite good.  Since they are so simple to do, if I had screwed them up, I would have been pretty upset.   
The part that needs work was the actual cheesecake.  Stupidly, I tried to swirl strawberry preserves into the cheesecake before I poured it into the pan.  Instead of making the swirl I was envisioning in my head, it all clumped together at the center of the bottom of the cheesecake.  Not pretty.  And, the top got very brown, and the edges were a little over-baked while the center was under-baked.  I followed the directions and baked it to the proper temperature, but it just didn’t work out.  I’m starting to think that I need to replace the thermometer I keep inside the oven, because other things are starting to overcook on the outside too.  Lessons learned: no more preserves and buy a new thermometer. Here’s an interior shot, so you can see what I’m talking about:

As for the actual process, I have some notes.  Making a cheesecake is somewhat time-consuming, but it can be made in advance, and in stages.  I made the crust on Thursday, and baked it on Friday for a party on Saturday.  I just kept it wrapped in plastic when it was hanging out, and once it was all baked and cooled, I kept it in the fridge. 
I will make another cheesecake.  I must figure out how to do this right, and I won’t give up until I do.  Lucky for you, I’ll let you know about my results.

New York Cheesecake
Source: America’s Test Kitchen “Family Baking Book”
8 whole graham crackers, broken into 1-inch pieces
6 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted and cooled, plus more for brushing (about 1 tablespoon)
3 tablespoons sugar
(fp note: for The Combo Crust of Wonder, use 7 graham crackers and about 9 chocolate sandwich cookies, with the cream filling scraped out.  Follow the rest of the instructions as printed below)

2 ½ pounds cream cheese, cut into chunks and softened
1 ½ cups sugar
1/8 teaspoon salt
1/3 cup sour cream
2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
2 large egg yolks
6 large eggs

1.       For the crust: Adjust and oven rack to the middle position and heat the oven to 325 degrees. Process the graham cracker pieces in a food processor to fine, even crumbs, about 30 seconds. Sprinkle the melted butter and sugar over the crumbs and pulse to incorporate. Sprinkle the mixture into a 9-inch springform pan. Press the crumbs firmly into an even layer using the bottom of a measuring cup. Bake the crust until fragrant and beginning to brown, 10 to 15 minutes. Let the crust cool to room temperature, about 30 minutes. (fp note: if you want to do this in advance, once the crust is cooled, wrap it in plastic wrap and store at room temperature until you are ready to use it.)
2.       For the filling:  Meanwhile, increase the oven temperature to 500 degrees. Beat the cream cheese in a large bowl with an electric mixer on medium-low speed until smooth, 1 to 3 minutes. Scrape down the bowl and beaters as needed.
3.       Beat in half of the sugar and salt until incorporated, 1 to 30 minutes. Beat in the remaining sugar until incorporated, 1 to 3 minutes. Beat in the sour cream, lemon juice, and vanilla until incorporated, 1 to 3 minutes. Beat in the egg yolks and eggs, two at a time, until combined, 1 to 3 minutes.
4.       Being careful not to disturb the baked crust, brush the inside of the prepared springform pan with melted butter. Set the pan on a rimmed baking sheet. Carefully pour the filling into the pan. Bake the cheesecake for 10 minutes.
5.       Without opening the oven door, reduce the oven temperature to 200 degrees and continue to bake the cheesecake until an instant-read thermometer inserted in the center of the cake registers 150 degrees, about 1 ½ hours, rotating the pan halfway through baking.
6.       Transfer the cake to a wire rack and run a knife around the edge of the cake. Let the cheesecake cool until just barely warm, 2 ½ to 3 hours, running a knife around the edge of the cake every hour or so. Wrap the pan tightly in plastic wrap and refrigerate until cold, about 3 hours.
7.       To unmold the cheesecake, wrap a wet, hot kitchen towel around the cake pan and let sit for 1 minute.  Remove the sides of the pan and carefully slide the cake onto a cake platter.  Let the cheesecake sit at room temperature for 30 minutes before serving. (fp note: I didn’t do the hot towel part, and you can see in the photos where my knife slipped and scarred the edge of the cheesecake.  I also just served it on the bottom of the springform pan. We’re not fancy people.)

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for the FANTASTIC birthday cake. My father in law can't stop talking about it and I can't stop thinking about how I'm going to snag another piece from the fridge. Nummers.