Monday, April 27, 2009

April's Daring Bakers Challenge: Cheesecake!

The challenge for this months Daring Bakers challenge was pretty straight forward: make a cheesecake. Be creative. We were given a basic cheesecake recipe to go off of but there were no real restrictions as to what we could do to it.

Standard blurb-o'-da-month: The April 2009 challenge is hosted by Jenny from Jenny Bakes. She has chosen Abbey's Infamous Cheesecake as the challenge.

At first, I wasn't too excited. I'm not a huge cheesecake person. I like it alright, but its rarely something I'll choose when I'm at a restaurant. Cheesecake has always been the one dessert dish Joe has liked to make so I've never felt compelled to make it.

But I was quickly excited by the creativity allowed in this challenge. My biggest complaint about the Daring Bakers is that we are all supposed to make the exact same recipe. No modifications. No tweaking. No creativity. And really, that's a huge part of the fun in baking, in my opinion. I can see why they do it but sometimes its a bit of a drag, especially when I sense the recipe needs a little something extra.

So wheels began to turn as I began to consider what kind of cheesecake I would like to make. My initial thought was to make an amaretto cheesecake, since amaretto and I have a long standing love affair. I thought about making an amaretti crust, though I wasn't sure how that would work out. However, I few other Daring Bakers immediately posted their own amaretto/almond cheesecakes and I wanted to be a unique snowflake, damnit. Also, we were out of amaretto.

I tossed around a few more ideas but wasn't inspired until I went to the market a few weeks back and spied blood oranges. I wasn't sure how I wanted to incorporate blood orange into the cheesecake but I was determined. And running out of time. So I bought a bunch and went home.

I eventually decided on a lightly flavored orange cheesecake topped with a blood orange curd for color and deliciousness. I didn't want to use graham crackers for the crust so I eventually settled on Nilla waffers instead. Mostly because I really like Nilla waffers.

The result was pretty fabulous. This is probably one of the creamiest cheesecakes I've ever had. I had a really hard time taking pictures of this for some reason but the white cheesecake against the blood orange curd was very pretty.

Orange cheesecake (based of Abbey's Infamous cheesecake recipe):


2 cups / 180 g Nilla cookie crumbs
1 stick / 4 oz butter, melted
Dash salt

3 sticks of cream cheese, 8 oz each (total of 24 oz) room temperature
1 cup / 210 g sugar
3 large eggs
1 cup / 8 oz heavy cream

Juice and zest of one orange

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F Begin to boil a large pot of water for the water bath.

2. Mix together the crust ingredients and press into your preferred pan. You can press the crust just into the bottom, or up the sides of the pan too - baker's choice. Set crust aside.

3. Combine cream cheese, salt and sugar in the bowl of a stand-mixer (or in a large bowl if using a hand-mixer) and cream together until smooth. Add eggs, one at a time, fully incorporating each before adding the next. Make sure to scrape down the bowl in between each egg. Add heavy cream, vanilla and orange juice/zest and blend until smooth and creamy.

4. Pour batter into prepared crust and tap the pan on the counter a few times to bring all air bubbles to the surface. Place pan into a larger pan and pour boiling water into the larger pan until halfway up the side of the cheesecake pan. If cheesecake pan is not airtight, cover bottom securely with foil before adding water.

5. Bake 45 to 55 minutes, until it is almost done - this can be hard to judge, but you're looking for the cake to hold together, but still have a lot of jiggle to it in the center. You don't want it to be completely firm at this stage. Close the oven door, turn the heat off, and let rest in the cooling oven for one hour. This lets the cake finish cooking and cool down gently enough so that it won't crack on the top. After one hour, remove cheesecake from oven and lift carefully out of water bath. Let it finish cooling on the counter, and then cover and put in the fridge to chill. Once fully chilled, you may cover with blood orange curd.


Blood orange curd


3 egg yolks

About 1 Tbsp blood orange zest

Juice of 6 blood oranges (some of mine were kind of dry- this yielded close to 1 cup)

1/2 cup sugar

Dash salt

1 Tbsp lemon juice

1 Tbsp butter

Over a double boiler, whisk the egg yolks, zest, juice (orange and lemon), salt and sugar. Cook, whisking constantly, until mixture thickens to coat the back of a spoon. Add the butter and whisk until combined.


I made my curd the night before and then warmed it back up to make it easier to spread on top the cheesecake. Then I let the whole thing chill again so it slice nicely.

All in all, I think this was my favorite challenge yet, I loved seeing how creative other people got. And of course it tasted good to boot.

I would say more but my Xanax is kicking in and I should go to sleep before I say things I regret. Ta!

Friday, April 24, 2009

Technicolor Unicorn Poops: Rainbow Cupcakes

Last Wednesday was my last day on my pediatric rotation so our group decided to make baked goods for the staff to thank them for putting up with us. Rainbows are theme of the pediatric hospital so I was suddenly inspired to make rainbow cupcakes.

Rainbow cupcakes were all over the food blogging scene for awhile and though I thought they were cute, I never had the occasion to make them. If you've never seen them before, you basically make white or yellow cake batter and then divide the batter into six bowls and dye each section a different color of the rainbow. Then you layer the colors in cupcake liners and bake. Ta da! Rainbow cupcakes.

I don't have a go to white cake recipe so I just used a Martha Stewart recipe that another blogger used for her cupcakes. I thought they turned out a little weird, they some how reminded me a bit of cornbread? Joe liked that they weren't too sweet though and they were better with frosting. Of course I can't find the recipe now to share with you but I'm not too sad unless you're dying to have a cornbread style white cake. If you'd like to make rainbow cupcakes yourself, I recommend this website.

For the frosting, I just used left over cream cheese frosting I had left over from the monster carrot cake. Brian ate one of the leftover tubs with a box of crackers but luckily one tub was still left over and was more than enough to frost all the cupcakes. I also dyed the frosting to top the cupcakes and did of a few in each color.

Brian thought these cupcakes were hilarious and dubbed them unicorn poops, which didn't stop him from eating the leftover ugly ones that I didn't take to the hospital. Other women will probably think you're really cute and creative when you make these and boys will think you are clinically insane. Such is life.

I've read a lot of criticisms of rainbow cake because it has- GASP SHOCK HORROR- FOOD COLORING in it. I think the food coloring here is the least of your worries, you should probably more concerned about how many sticks of butter are in this, not the two drops of blue food coloring you added. Cupcakes are never health food, people. Have people never heard of red velvet cake, which uses an ENTIRE BOTTLE of red food coloring? Chill out, people.

In any case, these are cute cute cute little suckers and pretty tasty to boot. Also they required my monthly cupcake requirement for the blog. I think these would be adorable for a kids birthday party, baby shower or gay pride event. They cover a lot of bases, really.

Next up: Daring Bakers challenge! And I am SO excited about this one, I plan on eating it tonight. Nyum nyum nyum.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Tapioca Pudding: When You Want Frogs Eyes in Your Pudding

So whenever I ask the boys what I should bake next, Joe always suggests something weird and elaborate and BJ inevitably asks for pudding, specifically pistachio or tapioca. I've never had pistachio pudding in my life, it's usually a frightening shade of neon green that I don't trust. I do like tapioca pudding but then the question was raised: just exactly where do you buy tapioca pearls?

The last time I was grocery shopping, I was perusing the baking aisle and stumbled upon a bag of tapioca pearls, just like that. I was expected I would have to look for them at a speciality store or Whole Foods or something but no, this was just in some random grocery store next to instant Jell-O pudding.

So I did some research and whipped some up last weekend when bored. I'm glad I read about it because it turns out you first have to soak the tapioca pearls and then cook them in the pudding to make them edible. The package said to soak them overnight but I soaked them for about an hour with no problems. Delayed gratification is not my strong point.

I was really happy with how this turned out, considering I've never played with tapioca before. I did use non-dairy milk and homemade vanilla extract and I think it would be loads better with vanilla bean or regular vanilla extract. You see, our 'homemade' vanilla is rum soaked with a vanilla bean but it really just tastes overwhelmingly like rum. Especially since Joe has been refilling it with Bacardi 151, which I think may not actually be alcohol but paint thinner. Usually it works okay in baked goods but in something where the vanilla flavor is so pronounced, this didn't cut it. It ended up being more of a rum flavored pudding than a vanilla pudding. And the non-dairy milk worked fine but Joe thought it could be more creamy. 

In any case, BJ and I ate it all fairly quickly and I would make it again. I probably will have to, what else do you do with a bag of tapioca pearls?

Recipe can be found here. I followed pretty much to a T, except I added 1/2 cup tapioca pearls instead 1/3 cup (when in Rome...) and use So Delicious brand coconut milk instead of milk. 

Busy baking week this week! I promised to make goodies for people on Wednesday and I have to finish the month's Daring Baker challenge by next Sunday. Plus I should really start studying for finals, which means baking procrastination starts to look really attractive.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Easter disaster cake

I had a lot of trouble deciding what dessert to bring to Easter dinner. On Saturday I still hadn't decided and I went to the local market to see if anything looked particularly inspiring. I wasn't inspired (though I did pick up some supplies for the next Daring Bakers challenge, which will be DELICIOUS) so I just went to my fall back plan: carrot cake. I've made carrot cake before. It's good, easy, and carrots = rabbits = spring = Easter. Or something.

And then things started to go horribly wrong. I didn't get the required vegetable oil until 10 pm so I had a late start. I looked at the recipe, one I had never used before, and thought it looked weird but decided to go with it. The recipe calls to mix the shredded carrots in with the dry ingredients, and then add the wet ingredient just until mix in. Okay, fine. But my batter appeared very thin and I had way more than would fill one cake pan. And while pouring it into the pans, I realized that the carrot/flour mixture had clumped, leaving delightful carrot/flour clumps throughout the batter. Excellent. I tried to smoosh them out but it still looked suspect. But it was nearing midnight and I was panicked so I put them into the oven.

These baked SO strangely, they were like the pod people of the cake world. They baked, but had a strangle bubbly layer on top that refused to much except for becoming weirdly gelatinous. I had no idea when to take this out because while my sticks were coming out clean, the very top remained slightly underbaked. Which doesn't make any sense, what cake bakes from the bottom up without ever solidifying completely on top? But after the cake had been in the oven much longer than called for, I pulled it out.

I ended up with about one and a half cakes: a full cake pan and a spring form pan that was like 1/2 inch thick since I didn't want to throw out the rest of the batter. I let them cool and unmolded them. Baby cake unmolded okay. Big cake was stubborn coming out of the pan. Eventually half came out while half stayed stubbornly in my generously greased pan. I was horrified. And tired, seeing as though it was now close to 1 am. I freaked out for awhile and eventually scraped the rest of the cake out the pan, kind of puzzle piecing the bits together. Than I topped the deformed mess with the baby cake, so it now bared some sort of resemblance to a cake and not the hideous beast I had created.

I used the orange-ginger cream cheese frosting that I made for my carrot cake cupcakes (which turned out lovely, of course) and it turned out fine, which is probably why I didn't have a nervous breakdown. I smothered the monster cake with frosting and than haphazardly decorated it with pastel sprinkles and Easter colored M&Ms. And then I fretted to Joe about how much my carrot cake sucked and he reassured me until I felt okay about it.

The next day I had the traditional Easter of church, Easter lunch and then played a festive game of Life. I should've took pictures of lunch because it was all very delicious and fattening: veggie pot pie for the vegetarians, ham for the omnis and cheesy potatoes and spinach squares for everybody. The carrot cake tasted fine-- I think cream cheese frosting fixes everything-- so I was satisfied with it, though I'll shun the recipe for the rest of my days. I have no idea what I did wrong or if it was the recipe, the recipe did have good reviews but I followed the directions exactly and measured all the ingredients on a scale so I have no idea what happened. I blame you, Alton Brown!

Anyways. Now I have tons of left over cream cheese frosting left over that I'm not sure what to do with, any ideas? Brian has been eating it in the middle of the night with a spoon but there's still plenty left. No Easter M&Ms were spared though, Brian swiftly ate them all. And almost died in the process. He threw one up in the air to catch in his mouth but it landed in his throat instead and he immediately doubled over and started hacking. Joe and I were totally prepared to do the Heimlich maneuver. If we had managed to stop laughing. He was fine though, he just ended up swallowing a whole M&M. Which is good, because Brian would've been really pissed off if a pastel colored M&M caused his death and not something more bad ass, such as a brain hemorrhage while playing Call of Duty 4.

Obviously I'm not going to post the recipe I used, but if you're morbidly curious, here it is. I did like the rest of Easter dessert ideas people threw out there and I plan to make them eventually. Next up: tapioca pudding.

Monday, April 13, 2009

Passover Rugelach

I don't often make Jewish treats since when Joe and I celebrate Jewish holidays, we usually go to one of his family member's house who keep Kosher. Joe doesn't keep Kosher, quite the opposite in fact: one of his favorite things is bacon. So I've made challah and such but pout because I can't impress Joe's kosher family with my gentile baking skillz.

Since passover rolled around, I decided I wanted to make something from the Jewish tradition, even if I couldn't take it to a Seder. I decided to make rugelach. I don't know if rugelach can be eaten on Passover but um, I don't care because I can eat rugelach whenever I want. I used a recipe from The Sweet Life that I've been eyeing for awhile but looking at other rugelach recipes, it's not too different from standard rugelach recipes.

I stuck with what the recipe said and filled the cookies with cinnamon, walnuts and currants but I think I would have liked them better filled with some sort of jam-y filling. But that's just me, I tend to prefer fruit fillings over nutty fillings.

I haven't eaten much rugelach so I can't say how traditional these are but I was happy how these turned out. Joe said the rugelach he's had in the past is often dry but these were nice and soft. Not exactly moist but you don't really want a moist cookie, do you? I'd rather not feel like I'm eating a small, disc-shaped sponge.

Like I said, the recipe seems pretty spot on to ones that I've seen on the internet so I won't post it: it's just a cream cheese based dough filled with a fruit and nut mix. I also am a proud owner of the Joe 3000 pasta maker model so it was fine to roll it. It was a bit delicate but more forgiving than pie crust.

By the way, I was totally unprepared for an Orthodox Seder. I've only ever been to reform Seders, where we kind of haphazardly dipped some bitter herbs in some salt water and called it a night. So when I got to Joe's families house and they cheerfully asked me if I had taken a nap I was like huh? And then I found out that it is not uncommon for their family to hold 8 or 9 hour Seders. We some how whizzed through it in a mere 4 hours though! A passover miracle. We went the second night as well but only for a little over an hour, Joe was so exhausted that he would've passed out in a bowl of matzoh ball soup.

Next up: Easter dessert. Because I don't shun any holiday in which it acceptable to bake.

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Uggo oatmeal cookies

I have another cold. What happened to my immune system of steel? I think it's probably because the last two years I've been working in the hospital with adults and the last few months I've been working with kiddos instead. New germies. Delightful! Not to mention that Brian is constantly wary of any hospital germs I could be carrying. He asks me all sorts of medical questions but the minute I clear my throat or sneeze, he stares daggers at me and won't be within 5 feet of me. Which is probably smart since Joe cannot escape me and inevitably ends up with whatever I have, bwa haha.

Anyways. I made cookies recently. I got a bit cookied out for a few months, probably from the Great Christmas Cookie Extravaganza, Part 1 and Part 2. Joe suggested I make chocolate chip cookies recently when I couldn't decide what to make and I broke out of my cookie slump. I used the chocolate chip cookie recipe from The Sweet Life, my favorite dessert book. I had never tried this recipe before and they were WONDERFUL. So much so that I didn't even get a chance to take a picture of them.

The recipe was kind of that mythical chocolate chip cookie recipe that is crisp and caramelized on the edges with a chewy, soft center. It yielded something like four dozen cookies but since the proportions of the recipe would've been weird if I halved it (half an egg, anybody?) Joe told me to make the whole thing, telling me I could bring some to work tomorrow. I ended up not bringing any to work, however, because I remembered that one of my co-workers can't have gluten. But they were still all eaten within 24 hours. I ate two cookies. That means that Joe and BJ both ate about two dozen cookies within a day. I hate boys.

So a few days later I made oatmeal chocolate chip cookies from the same cookbook. It's actually pretty remarkable that I had chocolate chips left over, Brian has the tendency to wake up from hungover hibernations and immediately consume large amounts of candy, sometimes a pound of chocolate chips. This time though I think he ate two dozen cookies instead so I was in the clear.

The oatmeal cookies were really good but man, they are ugly. They were really thin but lumpy because of the oats. On my first batch my oven was a bit too hot and the cookies were paper thin and on the edge of burnt. I took them out of the oven with a look like, "What the eff cookies! You do not look so delicious!" But they got a bit prettier after I sorted out the oven temperature. It helps that we FINALLY got an oven thermometer, where we learned that our oven runs about 50 degrees hotter than it says. No wonder I was having to pull my baked goods early.

I dubbed these Uggo cookies, after the sphynx cat Brian decided he should get solely to name Uggo. Sphynx cats are those delightful hairless kitties. Like this:
I especially like that one because he's a bit cross eyed. Poor guy. In case you were wondering, the only TV show BJ and I can agree upon is Cats 101 and Dogs 101. The other 99% of the time, I'm mocking the horrible dialogue on Burn Notice and he's making fun of the multiple horrible reality TV shows I so adore.

I can't find the recipe online so I won't post it, sorry! I'm a little terrified of copy infringement. I'll try to find the chocolate chip cookie recipe or just suck it up and post it because you deserve to make them, they are DELICIOUS.

p.s I am spending Passover with Joe and Easter with Katie, my bestie. My gentile, non-Kosher hands are not allowed to make anything for Passover but Katie suggested I bring dessert to Easterfest. What should I make? So far I have thought of: carrot cake, some sort of cheesecake or pie. Let the voting commence.