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If I had a nickel for every time someone told me they can’t make cheesecake, I’d advance my own cookbook and give my debit card pin to my favorite charities.

Their stories go one of two ways. They’ve either tried once, maybe twice, to make cheesecake and it didn’t turn out as perfectly as they expected, or they’ve never tried to bake cheesecake because they assume it takes special skills.

monster cookie cheesecake

It is possible that your first cheesecake won’t look like a Food & Wine centerfold. And it does take skills:

  1. The ability and patience to bring ingredients to room temperature. Using room temperature ingredients and adding the eggs last, and not overbeating once you add them, are the secrets to making cheesecake. Simple as that.
  2. The availability to be at home for a few hours. (But you can even run errands while the cheesecake cools.)

If you have these ordinary skills, you can make cheesecake. So let the big bad scary cheesecake out from under your bed and let’s talk about how you can make extraordinary cheesecake at home. My suggestion is to start with the easiest cheesecake and work your way up to making a more time-consuming, but not more difficult cheesecake, like monster cookie dough.

Vanilla cheesecake with fresh berries | Random Sweetness Baking

I know you can do this. In my early days of learning to make cheesecake, I undercooked a cheesecake and brought it to work. I was mortified. So I tried again. And now I’ve mastered the art of making cheesecake but I’m just a home cook. My field of training is in communications and business, not culinary arts. I flunked art in middle school and my home ec sweatshirt was too long and crooked. I once hot-glued wallpaper to cover a section of bedroom wall when I lived in a trailer house. And every once in a while, my cheesecakes have sinkholes, but so what? Did you know that a bad-looking cheesecake still tastes better than any pie or cake ever?

Vanilla Cheesecake with Fresh Berries

Crust (I toss whole crackers, sugar, and the melted butter in my food processor.)

1-1/4 cups graham cracker crumbs

3 tablespoons sugar

1/4 cup (4 tablespoons) unsalted butter, melted

Filling

4 (8-ounce packages) cream cheese, softened to room temperature (Take the cream cheese out of the packages and set them in your mixing bowl. Cover with a towel while they come to room temperature, at least 60 to 90 minutes before you are ready to bake.)

1-2/3  cups sugar

1/4 cup cornstarch

1 tablespoon pure vanilla extract (I use Sonoma Syrup Co. Vanilla Bean Crush)

3/4 cup heavy or whipping cream, at room temperature

3 large eggs at room temperature (Set these out when you get the cream cheese out.)

fresh berries of your choice

Put it all together

  1. Preheat oven to 350°. For a 9-inch springform pan, grease the springform pan with baking or cooking spray. For a 9-inch square baking pan, line with parchment paper or pan lining paper leaving extra paper hanging over the edge to use as a handle to lift the cheesecake out.
  2. Combine the crushed graham crackers, sugar, and melted butter in a small bowl. Stir well. (Or combine in a food processor.) Press the crumb mixture into the bottom and up the sides of pan. Bake 8 minutes. Remove from the oven and set aside to cool.
  3. In a large bowl using the paddle attachment of an electric mixer, beat room temperature cream cheese on medium-high speed until creamy throughout, with no chunks or pieces. Scrape down the sides of the bowl a few times while mixing. This will take approximately 3-4 minutes. This only works if the cream cheese is at a soft, room temperature consistency.
  4. Add the sugar to the cream cheese mixture and beat on medium-high speed for a few minutes until sugar is well combined and the texture is creamy.
  5. Put the cornstarch in a tiny bowl. While stirring, add just enough ice-cold water to dissolve the cornstarch. It’s probably a teaspoon or two of ice water. Stir until dissolved and then add to the cream cheese batter.
  6. Pour the vanilla extract and room temperature whipping cream into the batter and then beat on medium until all the ingredients are incorporated and the batter is smooth.
  7. Add the eggs, one at a time, beating on low just until combined. Turn off the mixer and gently scrape down the sides of the bowl after each egg is added. Do not overbeat.
  8. Gently pour the filling into the prepared crust. Bake at 350° for approximately one hour and 15 minutes or until the edges are light golden brown and the center is just set. Turn the oven off and crack the oven door open slightly. Let the cheesecake completely cool in the oven for two hours. (You can run your errands now.)
  9. Once cool, run a knife between the pan and the cheesecake to loosen it from the sides, then cover the top of the pan with plastic wrap and set in the refrigerator for at least 8 hours.

When ready to serve, remove the cheesecake from the springform pan or remove from square pan by lifting the edges of the parchment paper. To slice, run a large knife under hot water and dry before making each cut to keep the slices smooth and free from crumbs. Serve with your favorite berries.

Keep cheesecake in the refrigerator for up to seven days. If you want to freeze the cheesecake or slices of cheesecake, (remove the berries first) wrap tightly in foil or seal in freezer bags for up to six months. Thaw in refrigerator overnight and at room temperature for 2 hours or at room temperature for three hours.

If you want to bake these in 4-inch springform pans as I have pictured, lower the oven temperature to 275° and bake approximately 35-40 minutes. If you have mini cheesecake pans, bake for approximately 26 minutes.

Once you rule the kitchen with vanilla cheesecake, you are ready to make any cheesecake. Because the same basic rules apply—use room temp ingredients and don’t overbeat once you add the eggs to the batter.

Try Key Lime Cheesecake with Patrón Sauce.

Key lime cheesecake with Patron Sauce

Or Andes Mint Cheesecake.

Andes Mint Cheesecake

And then try a savory Taco Cheesecake. Yes, savory cheesecake.

Taco cheesecake

And then you are ready for Monster Cookie Dough Cheesecake, which is really quite easy, it just takes a little extra time to make the cookie dough balls.

monster cookie dough cheesecake

Monster cookie dough cheesecake

Crust

1 (17.5 ounce) pouch peanut butter cookie dough mix and the ingredients to make them

1/2 cup mini M&Ms

1/2 cup mini semi sweet chocolate chips

3/4 cup quick-cooking oats

Filling

5 (8-ounce) packages cream cheese, softened to room temperature

3/4 cup white sugar

3/4 cup brown sugar

3/4 cup creamy peanut butter

2 teaspoons vanilla

3 eggs, room temperature

  1. Preheat oven to 350°. For a 9-inch springform pan, grease the springform pan with baking or cooking spray.
  2. Make cookie dough according to package directions. Add the mini M&Ms, mini chocolate chips, and quick oats. Press a layer of cookie dough into the springform pan, approximately 1 cup of the dough. Bake for 5 minutes.
  3. Take 1 cup of the dough and roll into tiny balls, about the size of a nickel, and set aside.
  4. For the remaining dough, break into pieces and put on a baking sheet. Bake for about 5 minutes, just until you can use them as cookie crumbs to top the cheesecake slices.
  5. In a large mixing bowl, beat cream cheese until smooth. Add white and brown sugars, beating until light and fluffy. Add peanut butter and vanilla; mix well. Add eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition. Do not over beat.
  6. Pour 1/2 of the cheesecake batter into pan. Scatter the cookie dough balls into the pan and then cover with the remaining cheesecake batter.
  7. Bake in 9-inch pan for 50-55 minutes or until the top starts to turn a light brown and the center still looks a little shiny.
  8. Remove from oven and cool 2 hours. Refrigerate at least 12 hours before serving. Top with reserved cookie crumbs when ready to serve.

Give one of these a try and then come back and let me know how you did. I’ll be your cheesecake cheerleader! Friends don’t let friends eat store-bought cheesecake.

Sweet and not-so-scary-cheesecake wishes,

Staci

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Call off the Department of Social Services. The kids don’t actually drink tequila in this story. For the third year in a row, I had the tremendous honor of making dessert for the East Central Court Appointed Special Advocates (CASA) Fire & Ice gala in Brookings, S.D. The fundraising event benefits children who have been victims of abuse and neglect.

The menu description for my Key Lime Cheesecake with Patrón Sauce: Like a margarita sitting in the sand, tart Key lime filling nestles into a graham and vanilla crust. The cheesecake is topped with whipped cream and served with juicy Key lime cream spiked with Patrón Silver 100% Blue Agave Tequila.

Key lime cheesecake with Patron Sauce

Two years ago for Fire & Ice I made raspberry white chocolate truffle cheesecakes, and last year I made Italian Tuxedo Parfaits stacked full of amaretto brownies, silky white chocolate cream and fresh strawberries. This year we went tropical and from what I could tell, these babies were a hit. It might have something to do with the pre-gala Bel Brands VIP Reception — it added an extra hour of wine drinking before the meal. *Wink. Wink*

On the other hand, how often do you eat cheesecake with a shot of juicy Key lime Patrón sauce drizzled over the top?

Shot of Patron Sauce

The sauce is simple to make — a sweet mix of sour cream, sugar, Key lime juice, lime zest, and tequila.

Patron sauce ingredients

People often ask me how I make baby cheesecakes. The cuteness comes from these Chicago Metallic pans

mini cheesecake pans

The first 50 or so didn’t turn out so well. I believe weather can sometimes affect your baking. This happened…

the ones that sunk

…because this happened on baking day:

April snow storm

So to ease my frustration, I went outside and took pictures of a female woodpecker that knocked herself into a no-fly zone after hitting her head on our French doors. The pesky robin kept photobombing the picture!

woodpecker with photobombing robin

And then I went back in the house and baked more than 260 beautiful baby cheesecakes.

I want to give a shout out to Mike, Ben, Chris, and Evan at the Hy-Vee grocery store in Brookings. Mike (not pictured) is the produce manager and for the last three years, he has hooked me up with fresh, juicy raspberries, strawberries, and Key limes for my Fire & Ice desserts. When I went to pick up my limes this year, Mike was gone and Chris, Evan, and Ben (pictured from left to right) made sure I had the best-looking bunch of Key limes. So I took their picture – the best looking bunch in the produce section. You know the tune, “Where there’s a helpful smile in every aisle.”

Chris Evan and Ben at HyVee

I had so many limes leftover that we ate Lime Chicken Street Tacos for a few days and now we’re crunching through a batch of our favorite Chicken Black Bean Salsa.

Thank you also to the Brookings High School Honor Society and the event staff from SDSU Catering. The kitchen was a harmonious frenzy that night and you helped pull off the dessert presentation and service with swift and gracious style.

Lastly but most importantly, to Julie Wermers, Executive Director East Central CASA, and Darilyn Odegaard, President East Central CASA, and to the East Central CASA Board of Directors, staff, volunteers and Fire & Ice committee — thank you for giving a voice to children who would otherwise be unheard, and for giving them hope for the future.

Save the date for 2014

Key Lime Cheesecake with Patrón Sauce

A 9-inch springform pan will give you 12 slices. If you are using the mini cheesecake pans, this recipe will make 24 babies. 

Crust

3/4 cup vanilla wafer crumbs

3/4 cup graham cracker crumbs

3 tablespoons sugar

5 tablespoons butter, melted

Cheesecake

3 packages (8 ounces each) cream cheese, softened to room temperature

3/4 cup sugar

5 tablespoons sour cream

5 teaspoons flour

4 eggs, room temperature

1 egg yolk, room temperature

1/2 cup frozen limeade concentrate, thawed to room temperature

1/3 cup Key lime juice, either fresh or bottled – I use Nellie and Joe’s

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Key limes for garnish

whipped cream for garnish

Key Lime Patrón Sauce

1 cup sour cream

1 tablespoon sugar

2 tablespoons Key lime juice

1 teaspoon lime zest

1 to 2 teaspoons Patrón Silver 100% Blue Agave Tequila, or tequila of your choice (optional)

Preheat oven to 350°. Mix crushed wafer and graham cracker crumbs with sugar and melted butter. Stir until well combined. Spray a 9-inch springform pan or two mini cheesecake pans. Press crust evenly into pan(s). For 9-inch pan, bake for 10 minutes. For mini cheesecake pans, bake 5 minutes. Remove from oven and let cool.

If you are using mini cheesecake pans, reduce the oven temperature to 250°.

In a large mixing bowl, beat the cream cheese until soft and smooth, making sure there are no lumps. Add the sugar and sour cream, beating until smooth. Beat in the flour. At this point, make sure the cheesecake filling is smooth because once you add the eggs, you don’t want to beat it too hard.

With the mixer on low speed, beat in the eggs and egg yolk, one at a time, scraping down the sides after each one.

Add the limeade concentrate, Key lime juice, and vanilla. Mix well.

Pour the filling into the cheesecake pan(s).

For 9-inch cheesecake: bake at 350° for 15 minutes and then turn the heat down to 200° and bake for another 60-70 minutes. The center should be a little jiggly, but it shouldn’t look wet.

For mini cheesecakes: bake at 250° for approximately 25 minutes or until the tops just begin to look done.

For all cheesecakes, cool on wire rack for at least 1- 1/2 hours. Place in refrigerator in the pan. After a few hours, you can remove the cheesecake from the pan and cut into slices but it should chill again in the refrigerator for at least 12 hours for the best flavor. Cheesecake is actually best a couple days after it’s made. When ready to serve, remove from the refrigerator about 1/2 an hour before eating.

Serve with tequila sauce on the side or drizzled over the top. To make the sauce, simply stir together the sour cream, sugar, Key lime juice, lime zest, and tequila. Top with whipped cream and tiny slices of Key limes. They are even prettier with a little lime zest sprinkled over the top. You can find the 1-ounce shot glasses at most party supply stores.

Store any leftovers in the refrigerator for up to two weeks. Cheesecake can also be frozen for up to three months. Thaw in the refrigerator a day or two before serving.

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