Sunday, January 31, 2010

8 (no, make that 5)-hour cheesecake

Welcome to my new, improved kitchen in Pontlevoy! Just a couple of blocks away from the old place, but oh so much better in terms of space and modern conveniences! Yes, it's messy, but have a look:

Big kitchen table for prepping and eating at.

Gas stove and electric oven. Lots of appliances. Even a dishwasher! Not much counter space, but whatever.
So my first Maida dessert in this kitchen was the 8-hour cheesecake. By the way, Maida's seeing a bit of a revival: David Lebovitz did a nice tribute to her in his blog today (and please, whatever you do, make those popovers!! They are super easy and irresistible.). And I found through his blog that another woman blogged through Maida's cookie book from 2005-7. Very fun.
OK, so the cheesecake. This is a recipe that Maida adapted from a recipe written by Andrew Schloss, and it involves baking your cheesecake at a very low temperature (200 F or 95 C) for a very long time. I was worried about it because I wasn't sure yet how reliable my oven was going to be or how this all would work out. And how would I know it was done, aside from the 8-hour cooking time? Through an Internet search, I found that some people put their cheesecakes in the oven, went to bed, and woke up the next morning to a brown and rubbery disk. Their advice: bake the cheesecake during the day and check on it after 4 hours or so; it will be done at about 180 F.
This turned out to be an excellent suggestion: I put my cheesecake in the oven at 2 and it was ready at about 7. Which was perfect because I actually needed the oven to prepare dinner. And you'll see that it's white and creamy and mostly everything a cheesecake should be.

OK, here are the ingredients. You see that this is a pretty straightforward recipe, aside from the baking technique. The French make this stuff called "fromage à tartiner" (spreadable cheese) which is pretty much cream cheese. I got 5 packs of it and still needed to add about 2 oz. of crème fraîche to get to the 2 lbs. of cream cheese required. The vanilla is not pictured here. And that bottle of Cognac was empty when the cheesecake went in the oven, and I don't drink Cognac...

Here's the cheesecake on a pretty cake plate. Note its firm white creaminess. When I say it's almost everything a cheesecake should be, I mean that it's crustless. I like a little crunchiness with my cheesecake. Fortunately, I had some crunchy spice cookies in my purse (they come with coffee here), which Julia and I crumbled up and used as ersatz crust. That made a perfect cheesecake experience.

Mmmm...cheesecake on a plate, ready to be eaten. This is about how much is left, less than 24 hours after I first served it.

Here's the recipe. Plan your day around it!

8-hour cheesecake

2 lbs. cream cheese, room temp
1 heaping c. (7.5 oz.) sugar (in a strange twist, I felt that this recipe needed more sugar than called for!)
2 T. (1 oz.) vanilla extract (yes, that's right!)
2 T. (1 oz.) brandy
2 T. (1 oz.) dark rum
5 eggs, room temp
Graham cracker/cookie crumbs

Heat your oven to 200. Get out a one-piece cheesecake pan or a deep cake pan or a soufflé dish and butter it. You'll also need a large roasting or sheet pan to put the cheesecake pan in. Beat the cream cheese until it's smooth and fluffy, scraping the bowl and beaters to be sure. Then add the sugar, vanilla, brandy, and rum and beat until incorporated. Now add the eggs, one at a time, beating until each is incorporated. Pour this mixture into the cheesecake pan. Put the cheesecake pan into the roasting pan and carefully pour hot water into the roasting pan until you have a couple inches of water. Then carefully put all of this into the oven and set the timer for about 4 hours. Go about your business. When 4 hours have gone by, assess your cheesecake. Does it look dry on top? Is it not too jiggly? Is its temp 180? Does the thermometer come out clean? If you can answer yes to all these questions, your cheesecake is probably ready. If not, let it go another hour or so, checking every once in a while.
Once you feel good about the doneness of the cheesecake, take it out of the roasting pan and let it sit at room temperature for a while until it is completely cool. Then unmold it onto a plate and refrigerate it for a few hours or overnight. Serve with or without cookie crumbs sprinkled on top. This should serve at least 8, unless one of your guests is Claire, in which maybe 5 is a better bet.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Miami Beach Sour Cream Cake

One of the first things I knew I would need for my kitchen in France was a mixer. There are a lot of baked goods you can make successfully with your bare hands, a wooden spoon, and a good bit of elbow grease, but I just don't have the elbow grease for certain items coming down the pike. And this cake, the Miami Beach Sour Cream Cake, was one of those things. So I ordered a mixer.
Has anyone ever mentioned that Europe, and probably France in particular, is expensive? It is. There are some things, like wine and flowers and "gourmet" ingredients that are normal here, that are cheaper here. But in general, more expensive. And electric appliances are up there. A Kitchenaid is 500 Euros, which I guess is about $750. That's obviously not happening. So I looked for a decent hand mixer and found a nice Siemens for about $60 on Amazon. I was so excited about my new, expensive purchase!

But right after I got the mixer, I found out that we're going to move to a different house next month! A house with a big kitchen and lots of equipment! Including a mixer, or so I was told. And I could borrow some stuff now, if I wanted. I wanted. I went and got the "mixer," which was a beater attachment on a stick blender. Well, I thought, this could still work. And I could send back my mixer, which I hadn't even opened.
Wrong! That mixer could maybe beat eggs, but working through even relatively soft butter and almond paste was a big chore for it. I started to smell hot motor. And I realized that I was going to have to bite the bullet and get out the expensive machine if this cake was going to work.
Long story short: mixer works well, but it's still definitely no Kitchenaid. I beat and beat until my arms were sore, but I still didn't achieve the light fluffiness I thought I should have. Nevertheless, this is a delicious cake. Though mine isn't fluffy, it's not heavy either: it's moist and tender and has a delicious almond taste. I served it for dessert last night after Julia arrived from Paris, and about half is gone less than 24 hours later. Worth $60? Well, not for one cake. But I hope that the cost will seem like less as I use the mixer over time.

Thought I'd do a "cast of characters" photo like Pioneer Woman (please ignore how much prettier her pictures are) with my French ingredients. Quick: can you find the American import?

Golden brown and delicious.

Rental house oddities: no mixer, but a very nice cake stand!

Tender, not fluffy. Yum!
Here's the recipe. If you have a heavy-duty mixer, give it a special thank-you pat as you make this:

Miami Beach Sour Cream Cake

About 2/3 c. almonds, ground to a powder
8 oz. (2 sticks) butter, room temperature
1/4 t. baking soda
1/4 t. salt
3-1/2 oz. almond paste (this usually comes in a little tube from Odense)
1/2 t. almond extract
Grated rind of 1 lemon
2-1/3 c. (I used 2 c., or 14 oz.) sugar
6 eggs, separated (put whites in a medium bowl)
1 c. (8 oz.) sour cream (I used crème fraîche)
3 cups (10 oz.) "twice-sifted" cake flour (I have to say I only sifted once all together.)

Heat the oven to 300. Butter a tube pan (I used a Bundt pan because that's what I had) even if it's nonstick, and coat the butter thickly with the powdered almonds. Beat the butter with the baking soda, salt, and almond paste until fluffy. Then add the almond extract and lemon zest and beat a bit more. Gradually add in the sugar and beat a couple minutes more. Then add the egg yolks and beat that a couple of minutes more. Thank your mixer. On low speed, or by hand, mix in half the sour cream, then sift in half the flour, then repeat. In a clean bowl with clean beaters, whip the egg whites until they're stiff. Be careful because apparently egg whites without any sugar or anything overbeat easily. Fold the egg whites into the cake dough in about 3 additions--the batter is very stiff. Spoon into the prepared pan, tap or twist it to remove the air bubbles, and put it in the oven. Bake for 90 minutes (check after an hour--mine was done in 1 hour 10 minutes) or until a tester comes out clean. Let stand for 20 minutes, then invert onto a cake plate. Well, really, you should invert onto a rack, but I just put it on the cake plate and there was no harm done. Serve and enjoy as is.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Aren't you supposed to bake during the holidays?

I just looked back, and realized the last time I posted anything to this blog was in November. That's pretty sad. It is even more sad to realize that during that period of time, I have only made two items that I can even blog about! I can blame many factors, but the primary culprits are: 1) my diet; and 2) my time constraints. But probably mostly my diet.
I didn't have to move to France right after Thanksgiving, so I really don't have very much to complain about. But the holidays bring their own form of craziness, which I cannot even begin to replicate in writing. We did find time during the holidays to bake cookies -- but we didn't use Maida's recipes. Since we were only making 4 types of cookies (one for each of us) we were looking for very traditional Christmas cookies -- sugar cookies, peanut butter kisses, shortbread, and a very sad (but tasty) experiment in lace cookies.
I did, however, get a chance during the holiday rush to make the Red Beet Cake. I don't even want to go back to figure out how long ago it was that Maria made the Red Beet Cake. I made it for Natalie's "birthday party," which was really a fun-filled trip to LA. I made the Red Beet Cake on December 11, to be exact.
I don't have any pictures. I was hoping for video (which I will write about in a minute), but it has not come through. The cake was very simple, although the can of beets was a little short in the weight department. I think Maria mentioned that. I didn't do anything to make up for it. I made the cake in a transportable rectangular cake pan I have on Friday night. I didn't make the frosting until Saturday morning. I slapped the frosting on the cake, stuck the cake into the carrier, threw in an ice pack (because the cake is supposed to be refrigerated), and we went on our trip to LA.
We did have a lot of fun in LA for Natalie's birthday. It was pouring rain. I mean pouring. All of our planned activities involved being outside. Lunch at a sidewalk cafe (only sprinkling at that point). Cupcakes at Sprinkles (raining pretty good -- and Sprinkles' has virtually non-existent indoor seating/standing room). 3 hour scavenger hunt along Rodeo Drive (pouring -- we looked like we had jumped into a pool and then started roaming around Rodeo Drive). Dinner at Ashton Kucher's restaurant, which we had to walk to (still raining, and no Ashton in sight). Movies -- which we also had to walk to (raining on the way/no rain on the way back). With all the food and rain -- we never cut into the cake. Or put it into the refrigerator at the hotel.
Next day -- brunch at the Magic Castle. Of course this day we had no outdoor activities planned and it was beautiful and sunny. Typical. Very late brunch followed by a magic show. Still not hungry for cake and didn't get back to SD until late afternoon. So we never actually cut into that cake. I left it with Maddy to take to school.
On Monday, Maddy forgot about the cake. I don't know if it ever even got put into the refrigerator. But Monday afternoon, Maddy brought some friends home for a school project -- filming a "how to" video about how to bake a cake. Apparently, the boy in charge of this project decided to make the cake recipe on the back of the Hershey's Cocoa can. I wasn't there, so do not know about all the mistakes he made. But I can assure you, there were many because I saw the finished project. The finished cake was about 1/2 inch high, light in color with dark colored specks throughout. It didn't even look fully cooked, and was really pretty nasty looking. This is not, however, the cake which appears in the video as the finished project. As in most cooking shows, the film depicts another cake for the finished project -- my Red Beet Cake. I asked for the video. If I ever get a copy, I'll post it.
After filming the cake, the girls ate some of it. They declared it delicious. Maddy said that the frosting was "the best frosting I've ever tasted." Pretty good for 3 day old, non-refrigerated frosting. Maddy took the remainder of the cake to school on Tuesday, where it was polished off. I never tasted it at all -- except for the frosting, which really is pretty amazing.
It's January now. I have the best of intentions. Training for Kilimanjaro in September, 3-Day Breast Cancer walk in November, Half Dome in June or July, and maybe the Grand Canyon or Zion Narrows in April. I should be able to burn off the calories . . .

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

New York State Apple Cobbler

Welcome to my new kitchen in Pontlevoy, France! This is where I'll be attempting to produce American desserts for the next 6 months or so. It won't be quite as easy as it was in Mississippi. Take a look at my (already messy) kitchen.

See the shelf over the microwave (which doesn't work)? That's my pantry. A far cry from my walk-in pantry. Also note that under the microwave is the fridge. Rather tiny by American standards. It's already full of yummy stuff--cheese and yogurt and such.

See the foot of space between the stove and sink, where the boiler and coffee maker are? That's my counter space. I'll have to get creative. But at least the oven works well. However, this is an old house with "creative" wiring. That means that when I use the oven, I have to turn off the heat and perhaps also the lights so that I don't blow a fuse.
But why am I complaining? I'm living the dream--cooking in my own kitchen in France, using all those fabulous French ingredients. There's a producer of chèvre a 10-minute walk from our house, and a winemaker 2 minutes away. I can join an organic CSA, buy chicken and eggs from the local chicken lady, and go to the weekly market. I have crème fraîche in my fridge! Life is good.

Look! Local butter. Yum.

I love this picture. It's a preview of the recipe to come. The first dessert I made here was one of the desserts in the book I feared. Maybe the picture will tell you why.
My grandfather, Grandpete, was from upstate New York. Most of the time I knew him, he was suffering from early Alzheimer's, but he was a kind and gentle man who enjoyed his apricot orchard and being bossed around by my grandmother. One of my last memories of him was one I didn't even experience. It was a story told by my grandmother, who had just been to visit him at the hospital. He wasn't very verbal by that point, and he couldn't really recognize his visitors. But for some reason she said to him, "Apple pie without the cheese..." and he mumbled, " like a kiss without a squeeze." Funny what you remember.
Thus the New York State Apple Cobbler. Apple cobbler with cheese in the crust. I was skeptical. I like fruit with cheese--apples and cheddar are awesome together--but I wasn't sure how this dessert would go over. My husband believes that apple pie without the cheese is like a kiss without a slap. Sweet and savory do not go together, in his opinion. To top it off, we were having a French-American couple over for dinner and I was serving this for dessert. The pressure was on.
But it was OK. First, this was a great dessert to start with because it involved no special equipment. I don't have a mixer or anything at this point, though I'm hoping to expand my equipent soon. I could mix this with my bare hands, which have been quite reliable for many dishes lately.
Second, everyone loved this dessert! They ate almost the whole thing, and Claire ate the rest for breakfast this morning. They called it a "crumble," which has become a popular dessert in France. I kept my mouth shut about the cheese thing, and no-one seemed to notice it. I noticed a slight cheesy edge to the topping, but it was pretty much overwhelmed by the spices and apple filling. I think that if you don't fear the apple/cheese combo (and I know Natalie loves it), you want to go with a really sharp Cheddar. Cheddar is a cheese that's hard to find in France, so I went with something called Mimolette, a Dutch cheese that looks like Cheddar but tastes pretty mild. Also, I recommend serving this with ice cream. I really dislike French industrial ice cream, so I made a custard sauce to go with this, which turned out well, if a bit liquidy. But if I had the option, it would be good vanilla ice cream all the way.

Here's the oven-ready crumble. I didn't take a picture of the finished product, because it looks weird to take pictures of your food in front of guests. At least I think so...

Here's the recipe:
New York State Apple Cobbler

6 oz. Cheddar, grated
4 oz. butter, room temperature
1 c. (4 oz.) sifted flour
1/2 c. (3.5 oz.) brown sugar

Mix the cheese and butter with an electric mixer (I cut the butter into small pieces and smooshed it together with my hands). Then add the flour and sugar and mix into a crumbly mass. Set that aside while you get the apples ready.

2.5-3 lbs. tart apples (I didn't have enough, so I threw a pear in there as well), peeled and sliced
1/2 c. (3.5 oz.) brown sugar
1/2 t. cinnamon
3/4 t. grated nutmeg
2 T. bourbon or brandy

Heat the oven to 350 (or if you want to assemble the cobbler ahead, don't.). Get out a 2-quart baking dish and butter it. Put the apples in the dish and sprinkle them with the sugar, cinnamon, nutmeg, and booze. Toss all that together with your hands. Then sprinkle the apples with the cheese crumble mixture. Press down on the crumble to make it nice and flat and even. You can let the cobbler sit on the counter for a while until you're ready to bake it. Just remember to preheat the oven. So, now or later, bake the cobbler for 45 minutes or until the apples are bubbly and the topping is golden-brown and crisp. Serve warm with ice cream. Serves 6-8.