Friday, August 10, 2007

Cheese Me, Please Me

There are a number of recipes out there that I long to bake, but not just bake, bake well. Perusing through bakeries, foodie blogs, magazines and cookbooks, I find myself wishing I could duplicate some of the wonderful creations out there.

I am plagued, however, by something that stops many fledgling bakers from achieving their desires: Fear. Yes, fear. Fear of failure. As silly as it may sound to some folks, fear of failure can be a powerful barrier to attempting to conquer new challenges. For those of us that don't have the benefit of a formal cooking school education or a chance to apprentice under an experienced baker, the thought of trying to duplicate some of the more difficult recipes can be daunting. Not only that, some of those recipes call out some spendy ingredients - I don't know about some of you out there, but I really have a hard time putting a couple of hours of work and some of my hard earned money into something if it isn't going to turn out right the first time. I know, I know, that's a somewhat unrealistic expectation - you can't expect to do everything right the first time, and you can sometimes only learn from your failures. That's very true, but it doesn't make it any easier.

I had always wanted to try a cheesecake, but had always passed on the chance because I feared the results wouldn't be any good. I have collected more cheesecake recipes than I can count, watched numerous Food Network chefs make this dessert over and over, and read many comments on Allrecipes about the trials of folks attempting to recreate this luscious treat. Something finally urged me on to finally try this out - I think it was the 5 packages of cream cheese sitting in the refrigerator. I had purchased them in the hopes of making a cheesecake, but for awhile, there they sat, staring at me, reminding me that I had taken the first step, but now I needed to follow through. One day, I noticed that I was getting closer to the expiration date - I was not going to through out those wonderful creamy bricks, and I was certainly not going to just turn them into some kind of dip again. No, it was time to commit. So, I jumped in to my recipe archive.

Allrecipes.com is a favortie source of recipes for me. I found this site about 5 years ago and make regular visits to see what's new out there. I often find recipes I want to try and save them on my computer for later review. What I like about the site is the vast number of readers that leave their comments - some of them really make a huge difference in these recipes. Often, a reader will note a particular step may have been left out, or perhaps they will further clarify on a technique that some of us may not be totally familiar with. So, I grabbed a recipe rated 5 stars that had plenty of comments from folks that had made this recipe before. There were some great suggestions about having your cream cheese at room temperature prior to mixing and about using a Bain Marie (water bath) to cook the cheesecake even though it wasn't part of the recipe. My choice was the NY Cheesecake III. It had a different crust than most, but the readers seemed to have very positive results with this one - and, many used it as their first attempt at cheesecake as well.

My results? Well, the picture above says a lot. One of my bigger fears was the dreaded 'crack' running through the middle of the cake. What can I say, it came out better than I could have expected. Only slightly browned around the edges, just slightly 'jiggly' at the very center, and smoooooth on top - only 2 tiny cracks that were very hard to spot. How about the taste? I made this for a family gathering (violating one of my personal rules about 'testing' recipes on large groups when you don't have a backup recipe on hand). What can I say, they loved it. Many thought it was store bought. It was creamy, flavorful and had just the right balance of density.

What did I learn? Well, I'm very thankful for the suggestions on Allrecipes. I believe that getting the cream cheese to room temperature had a big effect on this recipe. I chose mix the cream cheese batter by hand as some suggestions noted that over mixing was a bad thing too. I would have been unable to mix this by hand if the cream cheese had not been softened. Next, the water bath. One drawback to the water bath is the water seeping in to your pan. Most folks suggest wrapping the pan with a layer of heavy foil, but one person noted using a cooking bag. I just happened to have one on hand, so I placed that around the pan, placed the pan on a large baking sheet, and poured some near boiling water in the pan (after it was already sitting in the oven - didn't want to spill anything). The hardest part about this recipe was patience. Many readers noted, as did the recipe, to leave the cake in the oven for an hour (or more) once the cooking time was completed and the oven was turned off - this is supposed to help prevent cracking. I have to tell you, I was like a little kid on Christmas morning, pacing back and forth, wondering what was hidden behind that door, but I was determined not to open it, I just didn't want to risk ruining this recipe. I actually ended up leaving the cake in the oven overnight instead of the 1 hour recommended in the recipe. When I got up early the next morning, I opened the oven to find the cake pictured above. (I'm sorry for such a plain photo here, I just had to show how smooth the top of this cake turned out)

So, I've managed to conquer one of my fears. Cheesecake is off the list of baking don'ts and on the menu of the wannabe baker. It really wasn't all that bad. Of course, the next test is to see if I can duplicate the results and be sure the first attempt wasn't just a fluke. That aside, I now can feel more confident about tackling another item on my list of mose feared recipes - what that will be remains to be seen.

NY Cheesecake III - from Allrecipes.com
NY Cheesecake III

Crust:

1 1/2 Cups All-Purpose Flour
1/3 Cup White Sugar
1 Egg, Beaten
1/2 Cup Unsalted Butter, Softened

Batter:

2 1/2 Pounds Cream Cheese, Room Temperature
1 3/4 Cups White Sugar
3 TBLSP All-Purpose Flour
5 Eggs, Whole
2 Egg Yolks
1/4 Cup Heavy Whipping Cream

1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees F (200 degrees C). Lightly coat a springform pan with spray oil. Note: You could use a 9x13 inch pan instead.

2. To make the crust: Combine 1 1/2 cups flour, 1/3 cup sugar, 1 egg and 1/2 cup butter. Spread to the edges of the pan. Prick all over with a fork, then bake 15 minutes. Remove from oven and allow to cool.

3. Increase oven temperature to 475 degrees F (245 degree C). In a large bowl, combine the cream cheese, 1 3/4 cups sugar, 3 TBLSP flour, 5 eggs and 2 egg yolks. Mix thouroughly. Add 1/4 cup cream and mix only enough to blend.

4. Pour filling over crust and bake for 10 minutes at 475 degrees F (245 degrees C). After 10 minutes, reduce temperature to 200 degrees F (95 degrees C) and continue to bake for 1 hour. Turn off the oven, but leave the cake in the over for another hour. Remove from the oven, the center may still jiggle a bit - that's okay.

5. Chill overnight - don't skip this step. Serve plain or garnished with your favortie fruit.

My notes:

First, though the recipe doesn't call for it, I used a water bath, as I described in the post above. Second, be sure not to overmix your batter. Third, while the crust was good, it was almost too sweet for the cheesecake. When I make this again, I may go back to the standard graham type crust.

I served this with the Supreme Stawberry Topping, also from Allrecipes.com
Supreme Strawberry Topping

If you've never tried a cheesecake before, give it a shot, you just may be able to get past one of your recipe fears. I finally have.

7 comments:

bakinghistory said...

this looks perfect!
I prefer this kind of crust to the ones made with graham crackers crumbs.

BTW, I made cornbread with some sugar and was good. I wrote a short comment at the original post.

JennDZ - The Leftover Queen said...

Nice job! Congratulations on facing your fear and making this wonderful dessert - for a family gathering, no less!

Welcome to The Foodie Blogroll!

Rita said...

The cheesecake look so yummy.... btw nice blog come visit my blog please....

Rosa's Yummy Yums said...

Your cheesecake looks perfect and very scrumptious!

Hany Von Gillern said...

should try this one sometimes, very tempting! thank you for sharing the recipe!

Erin said...

Great job on the Cheesecake. I'm forever getting cracks in my cakes and having to "decorate" them away. I really need to stop being so lazy and actually do the whole water bath method...

Catherine said...

I have also had the fear of baked cheesecakes and took great courage from your blog. The other drawback I've had has been due to the cost involved. I look forward to giving it a try too. Thanks for your comments on your experience!