Archive | December, 2011

New York Style Cheesecake

29 Dec

It’s tradition in my family to have a cheesecake for Christmas Day dessert. This year, my mom passed the torch on to me, giving me dominion over the family cake. I chose a simple, elegant, and classic New York style cheesecake which tastes even better than if it came from a certain Factory.

New York Style Cheesecake

Adapted from We Choose Organic

Printable Recipe

Crust

11-14 graham crackers

6 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted

2 tablespoons sugar

pinch of salt

Cheesecake

3 1/2 pounds cream cheese, softened (7 8oz. packages)

2 1/4 cups sugar

1/2 cup all purpose flour

1 cup sour cream

2 teaspoons vanilla extract

5 eggs

Preheat oven to 350°. Butter the sides and bottom of a 10″-11″ springform pan and, if you’re feeling cautious, wrap the bottom in aluminum foil.

Place the graham crackers in a food processor and pulse until they are finely chopped. Mix the crumbs, butter, sugar, and salt together and press the mixture into the bottom of the prepared pan. I find the bottom of glass wrapped in plastic wrap helps compact it nicely. Refrigerate the crust for about 15 minutes, until it is set. Bake the crust for about 15 minutes. Let cool.

In the meantime, beat the cream cheese on medium speed until it is fluffy–about 3 minutes. Beating 3 1/2 pounds of cream cheese is not without its challenges, but I promise all the effort will be worth it in the end. I find cream cheese to be one of the worst culprits when it comes to sticking to the sides of the bowl so make sure to scrape down the sides now and then.

Add in the sugar and flour and beat together until incorporated. Mix in the sour cream and vanilla extract until smooth. Add the eggs one at a time, beating until just combined.

Pour the filling into the cooled graham cracker crust and place the springform in a large roasting pan. Speaking from experience, it’s probably best to determine whether you have a roasting pan large enough to accommodate your cake pan before you are ready to bake. Thank goodness I’ve seen McGyver.

Carefully pour boiling water in the roasting pan around the springform. The water bath will keep the cheesecake from cracking. Put the whole rig in the oven and bake at 350° for 45 minutes. Then, reduce the temperature to 325° and continue baking for about 30 minutes–or until the cake is starting to brown on top but is still a little wobbly in the middle. Turn off the oven but let the cake rest inside with the door open a little for about an hour.

Let the cake cool completely on a wire rack at room temperature and then refrigerate overnight. Run a knife along the outside of the cake and remove the ring of the springform before serving.

This cheesecake is rich and delicious by itself but would take well to strawberries or cherries on top. Enjoy!

Candy Cane Macarons

28 Dec

The holiday rush has come to an end, which means I have a chance now to mention all my holiday baking! I’ve been admiring French macarons from afar for quite some time: I’m always amazed at how perfect they look in photographs and how many flavor combinations there are to use. But I was intimidated by “aged egg whites” and the fact that everything was measured in grams. And I had heard rumors that this was a “finicky” cookie–a rumor which I proved to be true, with a previous less than successful attempt–a lemon macaron that did taste delicious (I must give credit where credit is due) but left something to be desired in the looks category.

However, I wanted something for a co-worker gift that would impress and amaze–so I laid it all on the line and went for it. The night before I wanted to deliver my goodies. With no plan B. So, I had left my macarons no choice but to turn out beautifully. Otherwise it was a handful of Hershey’s Kisses for all, and honestly that’s a mighty poor showing for someone who calls herself a baker.

A brief warning or two: these cookies are not for the faint of heart. They are not hard, but you must sally forth with confidence into the world of macarons. Based on my experience, I think it’s fair to say they can sense fear. Also, I did age my egg whites uncovered overnight at room temperature (the amount of planning that went into these treats was insane) but then at the last minute added three more un-aged whites to double the recipe (sooo…not that much planning after all).

Candy Cane Macarons

Adapted from Cake & Allie

Printable Recipe

220 grams almond flour

6 egg whites (aged 3-5 days, covered, in the fridge or overnight, uncovered, at room temperature)

50 grams granulated sugar

400 grams powdered sugar

Sift together almond flour and powdered sugar in a medium bowl and set aside. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper. I traced a 1 1/2″ circle in pencil on one side of the parchment and then turned the sheet over so I would have a consistent cookie size–but if you’re confident in your eyeballing abilities, this step is not necessary.

Using a mixer, beat egg whites to a foam. Once it starts to look like a bubble bath, add the granulated sugar and continue beating until stiff peaks are just beginning to form. Check it often so it does not become over-mixed.

Carefully add the almond / powdered sugar mixture to the egg whites and fold to combine. The combining should not take more than 50 strokes with the spatula. You want the mixture to be thick enough to pipe (without running all over the place) but thin enough to flatten out on its own. You can test the batter by spooning a small amount on to a plate–if it melts into itself its ready, if it doesn’t give it a few more stirs.

Place the batter into a large pastry bag fitted with a large round tip and pipe small circles (1″-1 1/2″ in diameter) onto the prepared baking sheets. Lift each baking sheet about 6″ off the work surface and let it drop. This is what helps the characteristic “feet” form. Let the macarons rest for 45 minutes to an hour to let a hard shell develop.

Meanwhile, preheat your oven to 300°. Bake each baking sheet separately for 9-11 minutes or until the macarons are set but not browned. Let cool completely before filling.

Peppermint Buttercream Filling

2 egg whites

1/2 cup sugar

1/8 teaspoon salt

12 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened

1/4 teaspoon peppermint extract

Whisk together egg whites, sugar, and salt in the top of a double boiler. Set the bowl over simmering water and whisk constantly until the sugar is dissolved. Once you can no longer hear the sound of the sugar against the bowl when you whisk, remove from heat and transfer to a mixing bowl. Beat the hot egg whites until stiff peaks form–about 10 minutes.

With the mixer set at medium speed, add the butter one tablespoon at a time, letting it mix in completely before adding another piece. Turn the mixer up to medium-high and mix until the buttercream comes together. Once it is smooth, add the peppermint extract and mix on low speed until it is incorporated. Place the buttercream into a pastry bag and pipe a small amount onto a macaron shell. Top it with another shell and squeeze together gently. Roll the edges in crushed candy cane to garnish.

I put four in a treat box and then tied them up with Christmas-y ribbon to give as gifts.

Cinnamon Chip Scones

13 Dec

I have to confess: I went back to the King Arthur store. I’m considering pitching a tent and wintering there. Eventually I did build up the chutzpah to leave, and obviously I came away with some great finds–including some cute little cinnamon chips that I decided to mix into scones for a warming breakfast treat.

I had only ever made scones once before in my life, and suffice to say they were not an overwhelming success. So, while the idea of cinnamon chip scones sounded delicious and perfect, I was not confident in my ability to pull them off. But, I think you’ll agree, they turned out quite beautifully.

Cinnamon Chip Scones

Adapted from Big, Bold, Beautiful Food

Printable Recipe

2 cups flour

1/2 cup and 2 tablespoons sugar, divided

2 1/2 teaspoon baking powder

1/2 teaspoon salt

6 tablespoons cold butter

3/4 cup and 2 tablespoons heavy cream, divided

1/4 sour cream

3/4 cup cinnamon chips

Preheat oven to 425°. Sift together the flour, 1/2 cup sugar, baking powder, and salt in a large bowl. Measure the heavy cream and sour cream and put both back in the fridge so they remain cold. Measure the cinnamon chips and place those in the fridge too.

Cut the butter into small pieces, and using a pasty cutter or a fork mix the butter into the flour mixture until the flour resembles a coarse meal. (You could also use a food processor–pulse the two together until the consistency is right.)

Mix in the cinnamon chips. Add the heavy cream and sour cream and mix together as well as you can. The dough will be very crumbly and only vaguely resemble a dough, but press on. Dump the dough out on a lightly floured work surface and shape the dough into a circle, pressing it together so it holds its shape.  Pat it flat, or use a rolling pin. Cut the circle into eight wedges and transfer to a baking sheet. Brush the tops with the rest of the heavy cream and spinkle with remaining sugar. Bake 15-20 minutes or until golden brown.

Brown Sugar Shortbread

10 Dec

As a general rule, I’m not one who enjoys making a certain recipe more than once. I’m also not a person who enjoys making things that require multiple batches in and out of the oven. That being said, I have to confess that I am breaking both of those rules in the name of shortbread.

Shortbread is made mainly out of butter and sugar, which is why it makes me want to break these rules. Add a little vanilla extract and some flour and you have a tender, flaky cookie that’s practically begging for you to eat it for breakfast. (Shortbread and I have loose boundaries.)

Brown Sugar Shortbread

Adapted from Bakergirl

Printable Recipe

1 pound butter, softened

1 cup packed brown sugar

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

3 cups flour

In a mixer, cream butter and sugar together until the butter turns light yellow. Add vanilla extract. Mix in flour one cup at a time until a soft dough has formed. Wrap dough in plastic wrap and chill for about 30 minutes. Preheat oven to 325°. Remove dough from refrigerator and turn out onto a floured countertop. Knead the dough briefly, incorporating enough flour to make it not sticky. Using a rolling pin, roll dough to about a 1/2″ thickness and slice into cookies about 1″ x 3″. Place on an ungreased cookie sheet and about 20-25 minutes, until they are just turning brown.

These cookies really could not be any easier. Four ingredients (which I bet are already in your house somewhere), some mixing, chilling, and baking–and these little babies are ready for a dunk in your coffee. Or as lunch dessert. Or as an after school snack. Orrr as an appetizer. The shortbread possibilities are endless.

Gingerbread Cake with Cinnamon Whipped Cream

5 Dec

I was in the mood for some really good cake. And when you’re in such a mood it is a terrible thing to be denied. So I made a warm and comforting treat which is synonymous with the holidays. (It is December anyway–why not enjoy all the holiday flavors while we can?) This gingerbread cake is tender and spicy and the cinnamon whipped cream is a light balance with a surprising spiciness that complements the cake–they’re a great pair!

Gingerbread Cake

Adapted from cafe cherie

Printable Recipe

2 1/2 cups flour

1 1/2 teaspoon baking soda

2 teaspoons ground cinnamon

2 teaspoons ground ginger

1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg

1/4 teaspoon salt

1/2 cup butter, softened

3/4 cups sugar

1 egg

1 cup molasses

1 cup hot water

Preheat oven to 350°. Grease a 9″ x 13″ baking dish. Sift together flour, baking soda, cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg, and salt. Cream together butter, sugar, and egg. If you are baking on a whim (like me) you can soften your butter quickly by popping it in the microwave on defrost for about 15 seconds. While the mixer is working–combine the molasses and hot water. This will make it easier to get all the molasses into the cake. With the mixer running on low, alternate adding the flour mixture and the molasses. Mix until smooth. Pour batter into prepared pan and bake 35-40 minutes until a toothpick inserted in the middle comes out clean. Let cake cool while you a) finish your post about it or b) make the whipped cream. Your choice.

Cinnamon Whipped Cream

1 cup cold heavy whipping cream

4 tablespoons powdered sugar

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

In a chilled bowl, whip all ingredients until the cream stands up in peaks. Top slightly warm cake with whipping cream.

Baked Vanilla Bean Donuts

2 Dec

To celebrate Friday, I wanted to make something that didn’t have to set overnight–something that could be enjoyed (almost) right away. I recently visited the King Arthur Flour Store in Norwich, Vermont. It is a place that I could happily live (From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler-style) for probably the rest of my life. They have so many flours, gadgets, and baking supplies a girl could just go nuts. The true find of the trip, though, was a donut pan. Fried donuts seem intimidating due mostly to their dangerous nature, but the oven I can handle so I snatched it right up. It’s turning out to be quite the investment–turns out baked donuts are super easy to make and even easier to eat! And the bonus–they’re ready in less than an hour! This recipe is pretty sweet, so they’d go perfectly with a cup of coffee–and I never say no to that!

Baked Vanilla Donuts

Adapted from Love Veggies and Yoga

Printable Recipe

2 cups all-purpose flour

3/4 cups sugar

2 teaspoons baking soda

about 2 teaspoons cinnamon

1 teaspoon salt

3/4 cup buttermilk

2 eggs

2 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted

1 generous teaspoon vanilla extract

1 vanilla bean (optional)

Heat the oven to 325 and grease the donut pan with cooking spray. Combine the flour, sugar, baking soda, cinnamon, and salt. Whisk to remove any lumps in the flour. Add the buttermilk, eggs, butter, vanilla extract, and the seeds scraped from the inside of the vanilla bean. Using a wooden spoon mix by hand until the ingredients are just combined, about 50 strokes. Don’t mix too much or you’ll have tough donuts. Transfer the batter to a pastry bag fitted with a large round tip (or in a pinch cut the corner off a plastic kitchen bag) pipe the batter into the pan, filling each mold about 2/3 of the way full. Bake for 10-12 minutes. My donuts took a full 12 minutes–but every oven is different. I would start checking every two minutes after the 8 minute mark. I tend to undercook my donuts just a little bit to keep them moist–I take them out before they start to brown, when tops still look a little wet but springs back when you touch it. Let the donuts cool completely.

Vanilla Bean Glaze

A donut is not a donut without frosting!

1 cup powdered sugar

2-3 tablespoons milk

1 teaspoon (or more) vanilla extract

seeds of 1 vanilla bean (optional)

Combine all ingredients in a small bowl, stirring until all the powdered sugar has been mixed in.  Dip the cooled donut tops into the glaze, allowing any excess to drizzle off. And here’s the best part–you donuts are ready to enjoy right now!