Tuesday, December 28, 2010

New York Cheesecake

To me, this is the single best cheesecake I have ever had.  I discovered this in Jim Fobel's cookbook about 20 years ago, and it is the one I return to again and again.  It is creamy smooth, lightly sweet, with a touch of lemon.  This cheesecake has become the favorite of family and friends who've had the good fortune to be served this slice of heavenly goodness.

Ordinarily I don't serve a topping because it is so good, but for those of you who like a cheesecake with a little something, I opened up a can of blackberry pie filling and put a nice dollop on the top.  I do this for you.

You may have noticed that this cheesecake does not have any kind of crust, neither bottom or sides. 

You may also have noticed that there are no cracks in the top.  That is because this cheesecake is baked in a bain-marie, a water bath.  This is one of the secrets to a truly creamy cheesecake.

You'll need advance planning to prepare this recipe, but if you do, I believe you will fall in love with this recipe as much as I have.
In the comments section, there has been some discussion about the leaky springform pan dilemma.  You have been kind enough to share a number of solutions, but a reader sent me a really good sounding solution that I want to include here. 
Brandy G. says:   I too have suffered from water leaks into my crust however I started using crock pot liners instead of foil. The liners accommodate the pans perfectly and withstand the overheat. I just roll the sides down some so they are not over the cake and voila!  It has saved so many cheesecakes...I hope it helps others too!  
Now doesn't that sound like a nifty solution!

New York Cheesecake
(Jim Fobel's Old-Fashioned Baking Book)

5 large eggs, room temperature
2 cups (one pint) sour cream, room temperature
4 8-ounce packages cream cheese, room temperature
8 tablespoons (one stick) unsalted butter, room temperature
1 1/2 cups sugar
2 tablespoons cornstarch
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 teaspoon fresh lemon juice
1 teaspoon grated lemon zest

Generously butter the inside of a 10-inch springform pan.  Wrap a double layer of heavy-duty aluminum foil tightly around the outside bottom and sides, crimping and pleating the foil to make it conform to the pan.  This will help to prevent water seeping into the pan when you put it into the bain-marie.  Position the baking rack in the center of the oven; preheat the oven to 300* Fahrenheit. 

In a large mixing bowl, using an electric mixer, beat the eggs with the sour cream until well blended.

In a medium-sized bowl, beat the cream cheese with the butter until smooth and creamy.  Add this to the egg-sour cream mixture and beat until smooth. 

Add the sugar, cornstarch, vanilla, lemon juice and lemon zest and beat thoroughly, about 2 minutes. 

Pour into the prepared springform pan and place in a roasting pan (or other pan) large enough to prevent the sides from touching.  Place in the oven and carefully pour in enough very hot tap water to reach halfway up the sides of the springform pan.

Bake for 2 hours, 15 minutes, or until the cake is very lightly colored and a knife inserted in the center emerges clean.  Remove from the water bath and carefully peel the aluminum foil from around the pan.  Let stand at room temperature until completely cool, about 4 hours.  Refrigerate, covered, until well chilled.  For best flavor and texture, this cheesecake is best chilled overnight.

**My Notes:  I can't stress enough how important it is to let those first 4 ingredients in this recipe come to room temperature.  I've hurried the cream cheese and have had unsightly lumps of it in my batter. 

**I've italicized the mixing instructions to emphasize blending the ingredients to achieve the desired texture.

** Have a platter or other large dish that will hold the hot and drippy springform pan after you remove it from the bain-marie.  When you remove the bain-marie from the oven, the water is very hot, so please exercise extreme caution.

Before removing the roasting pan, have a plan on where you are going to set it so you are not holding the pan, desperately searching for a clear space to set it down.  I find it impossible to remove the cheesecake from the bain-marie while it is in the oven, so I remove the entire set-up from the oven.  I make every effort not to burn my wrists or the back of my hands while removing the springform pan; I haven't been burned yet, but I have soaked the edges of the potholders in the hot water, and it's amazing how fast that steaming water is wicked up to my tender fingers!

**When you first remove the cheesecake from the oven, it looks light and puffy, and there may be some hairline cracks in the top.  Do not despair.  As the cheesecake cools, it will gently deflate and the hairline cracks disappear.

Monday, December 27, 2010

Julekake ~ Norwegian Christmas Bread

Sweetie-Pi's sister Susan is dating a man of Norwegian heritage.  Lloyd is a gentleman of courtly old world manners and demeanor, and when I say he is one of the sweetest men whom I have ever met, I do not exaggerate.  He is gracious and soft-spoken and a pure delight. When he smiles, his blue eyes sparkles and you can feel his heartlight beaming bright.   So when we were invited to their house for Christmas for an overnight stay, I wanted to do something a little special with him in mind. 

I am not familiar with Norwegian cooking and I do not have any friends who are either, so I had to rely on the internet.  As I often do, I turn to Allrecipes.com where recipe reviewers rate the recipe and often add a personal note of an ethnic recipe's authenticity.  A couple of reviewers said this recipe was much like the one in their own family archives, so I was encouraged and heartened to try.

My, my, my is this good.  Cardamon was an unknown spice to me (mainly because it can be expensive and it is not used in the typical recipes I make and I didn't want to invest in a spice that I was unsure I'd enjoy), but now I am addicted to it.  It is fragrant (almost flowery, but not) and sweet (unlike cumin or turmeric which I consider to be savory and hot).  The bread has a nice sweetness to it, but is not cloying.

You can see from this picture that this is not a tall loaf, and that initially troubled me, but once I stopped to consider that these loaves are made in a cake pan, I realized that they should be above even with the tops of the cake pan when fully baked.  Also, the directions say to allow the bread to double, approximately one hour, at both rises.  On the second rise, the bread had not doubled at the end of one hour, and I actually let it rise for two hours.  It still didn't really double, but I put it in the oven, and it finished rising as it baked.  I think the added weight of the fruit slowed the rising.

And what did Lloyd think.  Well, he took a slice and ate it.  Asked for a second slice and ate that.  He took a third slice.  "Reminds me of my mother," he said. 

Jukekake ~ Norwegian Christmas Bread
(found at Allrecipes.Com)

1 (.25 ounce) package active dry yeast
1 cup warm water (110-115*Fahrenheit)
1/2 cup sugar
1 egg
1/4 cup butter or margarine, softened
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon ground cardamon
3 3/4 cups all-purpose flour, divided
1/2 cup raisins (I use dried currants)
1/2 cup diced citron or mixed candied fruit

Grease two 9-inch cake pans and set aside.

In a mixing bowl, dissolve the yeast in warm water.  Add the sugar, egg, butter salt, and cardamon and 2 cups of flour.  Mix well.  Stir in enough flour to make a soft dough.  Add the raisins (currants) and the citron.

Turn onto a floured surface; knead until smooth and elastic, about 6-8 minutes.  Place dough in a greased bowl, turning once to grease the top.  Cover and let rise in a warm place until doubled, about 1 hour.

Punch dough down; divide in half.  Shape each portion into a flattened ball and place one ball in each of two greased 9-inch round baking pans.  Cover and let rise in warm place until doubled, about 1 hour.

Bake at 350*F for 30-35 minutes or until golden brown.  Remove from pans to finish cooling on wire racks.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Ginger Tea

I recently went to the library and borrowed a book about superfoods and their purported health benefits; one of the superfoods mentioned was ginger root.  At virtually the same time, after renewing my health insurance benefits, I learned that my premiums were going to increase $200 a month (I won't even tell you how much my employer is contributing, but let me say it's nearly four figures!!), and then through sheer serpendipity my long-time dear friend Jane mailed me these adorable gingerbread men mugs  (as well as several other sweet gingerbread men themed gifts.  I can't say enough how much I love them).  Anyway, signs and omens tend to come to me in groups of three and I took this as a sign to wake up and smell the ginger root.

Did you know that ginger root has a long history of being healthful with healing qualities?  Me neither.  Gnger root has been used to alleviate the inflammation of arthritis; nausea caused by pregnancy, indigestion and chemotherapy; migraines, menstrual cramps; upper respiratory infections.  Wow, huh?  All this goodness in a wonderful, delicious, aromatic tea.  I know I feel better just holding warm mugfuls of this golden drink and breathing it in.

Ginger Tea
(bookedmarked for over a year by One Perfect Bite)

8 cups water
1/2 cup fresh ginger, peeled and thinly sliced
1 lemon or lime, thinly sliced
1/4 to 1/2 cup dark honey
In a medium sized pot, bring water to a rolling boil. Remove from heat. Add ginger and lemon. Cover pot and let sit for 20 to 40 minutes. The tea becomes stronger the longer it steeps. Strain. Stir in honey. Serve hot or cold.

Monday, December 6, 2010

Cranberry and White Chocolate Biscotti


I just love the idea of cranberry and white chocolate; they look so festive appropriate for the season.  I took these to the office as a treat, and my workmates gave them a big thumbs up.  The flavor is much improved the second day, and  if stored in an airtight container, these biscotti will last several days. 

White Chocolate and Cranberry Biscotti

1/2 cup butter (no substitutes)
1 cup sugar
4 eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
3 cups all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
3/4 cup white chocolate chips
3/4 cup dried cranberries
**1 1/2 teaspoons dried orange peel (my addition)

In a mixing bowl, cream together the softened butter and sugar.  Add eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition. Beat in vanilla.  Combine flour and baking powder gradually add to creamed mixture.  Stir in cranberries and vanilla chips (and orange peel if using) .

Divide dough into three portions.  On parchment-lined baking sheets, using your impeccably clean hands, shape each portion into a 10" x 2" rectangle.  (It may help you to slightly dampen your hands to shape the dough.)

Bake at 350*F for 20-25 minutes or until lightly browned.  Remove pan from oven and allow to cool for about 5 minutes.

Transfer loaves to cutting board; using a serrated knife cut into diagonal 1-inch slices.  Place cut side down onto baking sheet(s) and bake for an additional 15 to 20 minutes or until golden brown. 

Remove from oven, cool on wire racks.  Store in air-tight container.