Cheesecake (Finally)

Okay, so remember a million years ago when I said cheesecake was in the queue? And then I tried to tide us all over with raspberry cheesecake ice cream, which was great, but was not what I was dreaming of. Well here we finally are. And what a wonderful place it is.

cheesecake!

Classic Cheesecake
Adapted from about 4 recipes
This was my first cheesecake and I was really happy with it. I served it with a strawberry coulis, but you could use any berry sauce, chocolate or caramel, fresh fruit, or just leave it as is. Really, this cake doesn’t need anything on top to make it fabulous. Also, you can freeze it!

For the Graham Cracker Crust:
1 1/2 cups finely ground (or smashed) graham cracker crumbs
4 Tablespoons salted butter, melted
1/4 cup granulated sugar
pinch of salt

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. I like to make the crust right in the pan. In a standard springform pan, mix all ingredients until the mixture is evenly moistened. I think a fork works well for this. Press the crumbs onto the bottom surface of the pan until you have a nice even coating, then push the remaining crumbs up the sides of the pan about 2 inches high. Bake the crust for about ten minutes, then remove and cool.

For the Cheesecake:
3 8-ounce packages cream cheese, softened
4 large eggs, at room temperature
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
1 cup granulated sugar

Before you begin all your ingredients should for real be at room temperature. For real. This is the best, most reliable way to avoid lumps in the cake.
Using an electric mixer, beat the cream cheese on medium speed until soft and fluffy. Add the eggs one at a time, beating well and scraping down the bowl and the beaters after adding each egg. Scrape down everything very thoroughly. This is the time to avoid lumps. After the eggs, add in the vanilla and sugar and beat on low speed until everything is incorporated and smooth, continuing to scrape the bowl and beaters every so often. Pour the batter into the prebaked crust, but only scrape the batter from the sides of the bowl into the pan if you’re sure you won’t be adding lumps. Place the springform pan on a baking sheet (in case there are drips) and place into an oven that’s been preheated to 350 degrees. Bake for about 35 minutes, until the sides of the cake about four inches in are puffed and set, but the center still wobbles when you gently shake the pan. Leave the oven on, but remove the pan to a cooling rack and set aside for 15 minutes.

For the Topping:
16 ounces sour cream
2 tablespoons granulated sugar
2 teaspoons vanilla

As the cake is cooling for 15 minutes, mix all the topping ingredients together in a medium bowl. After 15 minutes have passed, place dollops of the topping all over the surface of the cake. Use a spatula or knife to smooth the topping over the whole cake. Return the cake to the oven for 15 more minutes. After 15 minutes, remove the cake from the oven and run a thin knife around the edge of the pan to loosen the cake. Cool the cake completely in the pan on a rack, then remove the sides of the springform pan, cover the cake, and place it in the refrigerator overnight or for at least 4 hours. Run your knife under hot water before cutting the cake and in between slices for nice, clean cuts.

graham cracker crust

cheesecake topping

cheesecake

Strawberry Coulis
1 cup fresh or frozen (thawed) strawberries, stems removed
1 tablespoon water
2 tablespoons granulated sugar (to taste)
2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice (to taste)

Add all ingredients to a blender or food processor. Puree until smooth. Press through a fine sieve or cheesecloth. Add more sugar or lemon juice as you see fit. Cover and refrigerate for at least four hours and up to a week.

strawberry coulis

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Blizzard Breakfast

Did you all hear about the Snow we had in Chicago?

blizzard breakfast

TBA Farms Apple Pie

Back at the end of October, I had a wonderful visit to TBA Farms. In addition to slaughtering chickens, drinking homebrew, observing sausage making, walking by the lake, being kind of scared of the dog, and meeting and having a ton of fun with a million lovely people, I (with a crew of helpers) made 5 apple pies for the big feast.

apple pie

The thing is, I don’t really use a recipe for apple pie. But here’s what I do:
-First, I make a batch of Martha Stewart’s pate brisee. Divide it in half and chill for at least an hour.
-While the dough is chilling, peel 5 or 7 apples, depending on how big they are. Chop them up. I like a mixture of bite-sized chunks and thin slices, with more chunks than slices overall.
-Place the prepared apples in a large bowl and top with a few tablespoons (about a half a large lemon’s worth) fresh lemon juice, 1 or 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour, 3 or 4 tablespoons granulated sugar, a teaspoon cinnamon, and any other spices you might like. Some good options are 1/4 teaspoon of ginger, cardamom, nutmeg, mace, or anything like that. Mix everything up (I think your hands are the best tool for this part).
-Roll out half the pie dough and place it in a pie plate. Add the apples, making sure you’ve got enough to make a nice dome. Roll out the second half of the dough and pace it over the apples. Pinch the sides together and then turn the crust under and trim the excess or pinch it to make a pretty fluted edge. Cut a few vents in the top to allow the steam to escape.
-Bake the pie in a preheated 375 degree oven for about an hour and twenty minutes or until the top is nice and toasty brown, rotating the pan halfway through the baking time. Remove from the oven and cool for at least an hour before cutting.

apple pies at TBA farms

Pies at TBA Farms Feast

Apple pies are really pretty simple. Just make one a few times to figure out what your favorite amounts are and then you can make it any time you’ve got apples!

No Knead Bread Redux

Long, long ago I wrote about the No-Knead Bread Craze. I wrote out how I’d been making this basic recipe and added some ideas for adapting the recipe. Now, however, I’m going to present to you, not only an adjustment on ingredients and measurements, but also a greatly improved method. Because, really, who’s got a million clean tea towels on hand ready to be caked with bread dough? And who among us wants to lose all their lovely bubbles when the risen dough is unceremoniously dumped into the hot pot? And what crazy person is sitting around thinking how great it would be if they could only spend fifteen minutes scraping crusted dough off their counter? Not me, is the answer to all these questions. So, I present my new method of Almost No Knead Bread. Still simple (maybe more), still really difficult to mess up, and still extremely delicious. As I said before, this bread is great slathered with salted butter, dipped into soup, or paired with a hearty cheese. Keep in mind that in order to refresh the bread, you’ve really gotta toast the slices after the first day.

no knead crumb

Almost No Knead Bread
These are my favorite amounts, but let yourself play around with types and ratios of flour. Also, replacing 1/2 cup of the water with beer tastes good.
3 cups all purpose flour
1 cup whole wheat flour
heaping 1/2 teaspoon active dry yeast
2 1/4 cups water
1 1/2 teaspoons salt

Mix all ingredients together in a large bowl. The dough will be quite wet, unlike traditional kneaded bread doughs. Cover the bowl tightly with plastic and set it in a warm part of your house for 10-20 hours (I usually shoot for 18 hours).
Generously dust a clean countertop with about 1/4 cup flour and dump the dough out on the counter. Let it hang out for a few minutes while you rinse out the bowl, which doesn’t have to end up super clean. Let the bowl air dry as you work with the dough. Using a bench scraper, a stiff spatula, or just your well-floured hands, fold the dough on itself over and over, incorporating the flour you’ve put on the counter. The dough will be too wet to knead in the traditional way, but just keep moving it around and folding it for 2-3 minutes until the flour is absorbed.
Line the large, now cleanish, bowl with a single, large sheet of baking parchment. Leave a large overhang of parchment on either side of the bowl, creating a kind of cradle for the dough. Place the dough in the parchment-lined bowl (see picture below). Cover loosely with plastic and set aside in a warm spot for 1 1/2 to 2 hours.
About 30 minutes before your rise is complete, place a covered dutch oven (or covered heavy casserole) in a cold oven. Set the oven to 450 degrees. The pot will slowly heat up with the oven. After 30-40 minutes, carefully remove the pot from the oven. Remove the plastic from the bowl. Hold both sides of the baking parchment and lift the dough from the bowl. Place the dough, still in the parchment sling, directly into the hot pot. Some dough on the sides might be in direct contact with the pot, but mostly the parchment will be between the pot and dough.
Replace the lid of the pot and put it back in the oven for 30 minutes. After that time, remove the lid and bake the bread for 15-25 additional minutes, until it’s well browned. Remove the bread from the pot and carefully peel off the parchment. Set the bread to cool on a rack for at least 45 minutes before cutting.

no knead parchment sling

Dough rising in parchment-lined bowl

no knead close up

no knead loaf

Raspberry Cheesecake Ice Cream

I recently acquired a springform pan from Unique, but I’m still working on making a for-real cheesecake. So, while we all wait, here’s this.

raspberry cheesecake ice cream

Raspberry Cheesecake Ice Cream

For the Custard Ice Cream Base
2 cups half & half
5 egg yolks
1 cup sugar (just under a cup, actually), divided
Pinch of salt
1/4 cup seedless raspberry jam
1/2 cup heavy cream
6 ounces cream cheese, at room temperature

For the Raspberry Swirl
3/4 cup frozen or fresh raspberries
3 Tablespoons granulated sugar
1/2 teaspoon cornstarch

For the Crust Swirl
2 tablespoons butter
4 graham crackers, finely crushed

First Make the Custard:
In a medium saucepan placed over medium low heat, warm 2 cups of half & half, just under a half cup of sugar, and a pinch of salt. Just as bubbles begin to come up from the bottom of the pot, remove it from the heat. In a large bowl, whisk 5 egg yolks with just under a half cup of sugar until the yolks thicken and are creamy and pale yellow.
Temper the egg yolks into the warm cream mixture: While continually whisking the egg yolk mixture, slowly dribble in about a cup of the hot half & half mixture. Return the remaining half & half mixture to the stove, this time over very low heat. Start whisking the half & half and slowly drizzle in the yolk mixture. You’ve tempered!
Continue to warm the mixture over low heat, stirring frequently, until the mixture coats the back of a spoon. Remove from the heat and, if you’re feeling ambitious, pour it through a fine meshed sieve (You could skip that step if you wanted. It’s just to ensure you don’t have any curdled bits sneaking into your final custard). Whisk in 1/4 cup seedless raspberry jam, 1/2 heavy cream, and 6 ounces softened cream cheese. Cover the ice cream base and chill it in the refrigerator at least four hours or overnight.

To Make the Berry Swirl:
Defrost 3/4 cup of frozen berries. Use a blender, immersion blender, food processor, or, if you’re in a bind, a fork, to pulverize the berries. Press them through a fine sieve. In a small saucepan, add the berry puree, sugar, and cornstarch and heat over low. Whisk constantly until the mixture comes to a simmer and thickens slightly. Remove from heat and continue stirring until the mixture cools slightly, just a minute or two. Place the berry mixture in a bowl to cool in the refrigerator where it will continue to thicken.

To Make the Graham Cracker Crust Swirl:
Melt 2 tablespoons of butter in a pan over medium heat until the butter foams and then subsides. If you’re feeling ambitious, you can keep cooking the butter until it turns a medium brown and smells nutty. Finely crumble 3 whole (large rectangles, not squares) graham crackers into the butter (I used my hands for this, but you can pulse them in a food processor or bang on them with a rolling pin). Thoroughly mix them into the melted butter. Toast the buttery crumbs for about a minute over medium heat. Remove from heat and spread them on a plate to cool to room temp, then chill them in the refrigerator.

To Assemble:
Freeze the ice cream according to the directions on your machine. After it’s done churning in the machine, place about a fourth of it into the container you want to freeze it in. Then drizzle a third of the berry mixture over the ice cream. Over that, sprinkle on a third of the graham cracker crumbs. Continue with the next fourth of the ice cream, then the berry mixture, crumbs, etc. End your layers with the final fourth of ice cream. Place in the freezer until solid, at least 4 hours. Enjoy.

raspberry cheesecake ice cream layers

layering in progress

raspberry cheesecake ice cream

New Oven, Same Uptown

Uptown Oven has moved!

Well, kind of. I moved. So I’m still in Uptown, but I’ve got a new-to-me kitchen.

As for the new Uptown Oven, she’s been working like a charm and she’s pretty darn accurate, although tends to let out a lot of heat in the back.
Overall, the new kitchen is great. Lots of light and windows. Plus it’s got plentiful bright white cabinets, enough counter space, and this beauty:

uptown sink

And, best part, no sharing.

Butter Pecan

This was my favorite ice cream of the past year. Use the ice cream base I wrote about before, and with a few small modifications, you’ll be in a delicious place.

butter pecan on the porch

Butter Pecan Ice Cream
2 cups (one pint) half and half
1 cup (1/2 pint) heavy cream
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
3/4 cup brown sugar
1/4 cup white sugar
5 or 6 large egg yolks
2 big pinches of salt

1 generous cup chopped pecans
4 tablespoons unsalted butter, at room temperature
1/2 teaspoon kosher or sea salt

Use the instructions from my basic ice cream base post to make the ice cream. You’ll notice that in the ingredient list above, I’ve substituted 3/4 cup of brown sugar plus 1/4 cup white sugar for the all white sugar original version. Also, I added vanilla and an extra pinch of salt or two. Add these at the end with the heavy cream.
As the ice cream base is chilling, prepare the pecans: Preheat the oven to 325 degrees. Spread chopped pecans on a large baking sheet and toast, tossing occasionally, until they are browned and fragrant, about 10 minutes. Immediately upon removing the nuts from the oven, add the butter and salt and toss until the pecans have melted and absorbed the butter. Set aside to cool, then place in the freezer as the ice cream churns.
After the ice cream is finished churning in the machine, remove about 1/4 of it to the container you’ll freeze it in. Sprinkle about 1/4 of the buttered and salted pecans over the prepared ice cream. Continue layering ice cream and pecans. Place the ice cream in the freezer until solid.

butter pecan melty