Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Easter Dessert: A Tale of Two Cheesecakes

The occasion: Easter.  My mission: dessert.  The obvious choice? Cheesecake!  I have never made anything more complicated than Jello brand No-Bake-Cheesecake before, so it was quite an endeavor I was embarking on to actually make not one, but TWO completely from scratch.

I choose to make one chocolate cheesecake and one regular cheesecake for versatility.  For the chocolate cheesecake (recipe found here) I decided to top it with caramel pecan topping and for the plain cheesecake (recipe found here) I choose blueberry topping.  Did I also mention I was making the toppings from scratch too?  I definitely had my work cut out for me!

As they say, hindsight is 20-20 and my number one tip before starting the undertaking of baking cheese cake is read the recipe in its entirety.  Not just scan the ingredients as I did.  Let’s just say that the plain cheesecake from the Barefoot Contesssa baked at a high temperature for 15 minutes, then you turned down the heat and baked for an additional 75 minutes, and THEN you turned the oven off, opened the door, and let it sit for another half hour.  And, don’t you dare put it in the refrigerator after you take it out of the oven, it needs to sit at room temperature for another 2-3 hours.  The chocolate cheesecake from all recipes was a lot easier – just baking at one temperature for 65 minutes.       

Both of my tops on my cheesecakes cracked, but I wasn’t too worried because all of the topping goodness would cover up my mistakes.  After some research regarding where I went terribly wrong in my cheesecake process to cause cracking, I found that cracking is pretty common.  It can be caused by the cheesecake becoming too hot, by shrinkage when cooling, or over baking.  I guess I won’t beat myself up too bad over this.

Also, these recipes call for a springform pan, which I do not have. So I just used a pie plate.  That worked fine for me, expect I had a lot of batter left over!  You could always make “mini cheesecakes” from the leftover batter in cupcake tins, or you could just use a springform pan like a normal person! 

In another kitchen across the state I prepared my toppings - which turned out to be pretty easy.  These are versatile toppings you can use for your favorite cheesecake recipe! (or try one from above!)

Caramel Pecan Topping Recipe:

1 5 oz can evaporated milk
1 package of caramels (14 oz)
1 cup chopped pecans

For the caramel pecan topping I just threw everything into a nonstick pot and cooked it over low heat until all the caramels melted and incorporated with the evaporated milk.  I used a nonstick pan because anything sticky, ie caramel, will slide conveniently down the sides and onto your dessert rather than cling to the sides of your pot for dear life.

It took around 10 minutes to fully melt and incorporate.  I had plenty for the cheesecake with some leftover.  This would be great to leave out for people who want more of the good stuff, or to use later for another dessert or over your ice cream. 

Blueberry Topping Recipe:

3 cups fresh blueberries
3/4 cup sugar
2 tablespoons lemon juice
1 tablespoon cornstarch

For the blueberry topping, from Martha Stewart, I again dumped everything into a nonstick pan.  I simmered for several minutes per the instructions. 

The sauce looked kind of thin, so at this point I added more cornstarch.  Bad idea! The cornstarch formed little hard lumps (I am assuming from being sealed by the heat of the blueberry mixture) which I then proceeded to pick out of the topping by hand.  Not fun. 

So, I’ll sum up for you the lessons I learned on this baking endeavor:

  1. Read all the instructions fully before deciding to make a dessert – this saves you from a cheesecake with a 2 hour-multi-step bake time.
  2. The cheesecake with less baking time turned out just as good as the cheesecake with complex and long baking time.
  3. Don’t just go tossing cornstarch wherever you want to whenever you want to.  This could result in weird white lumps in your dessert!
  4. Don’t beat yourself up if your tops crack – it happens – just cover it with topping goodness and nobody will notice.

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