Eggnog Cheesecake with Gingersnap Crust

I know, I’m getting way ahead of myself. I should be making pumpkin pies and complaining about the crust not turning out as flaky as I’d like it to, stuffing the bird, and pondering ways to upgrade the forever boring green bean casserole. And I am or will be doing that – with the exception of pumpkin pie, which nobody at our house is too fond of. I know, that’s so un-American… and rather surprising, too, because I literally adore everything pumpkin, soups, muffins, cakes, all but the actual pumpkin pie. I find it too wet and overly sweet, honestly a waste of the great pumpkin, which could be used in hundreds of other delicious ways. And since I’m in a confession mode – even our Thanksgiving will be very low-key. Yes, there will be cooking, because, well, with three constantly hungry men in the house there really isn’t a way to get out of that, but cooking aside, Thanksgiving to us is just another Thursday – with more food that is. And we sure are grateful for that 🙂

Mr. Photographer found the recipe for this cheesecake somewhere on the internet, and when I saw it, I immediately decided to heck with rules, I’m definitely not going to wait another month to make this beauty. Frankly, it might be a week before Thanksgiving, but when you look around in the stores, it’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas anyway. And with everything that’s been going on in the world around us lately, a little (or a lot!) of eggnog could go a long way to help us cope. Everyone fights his own way… my superpower is to bring people together with food, so that’s what I plan on continuing to do.

Making homemade eggnog is the easiest task of all… at least eggnog the Slovak way, which doesn’t require cooking. You simply whisk egg yolks with sweetened condensed milk and vanilla, and pour in a good rum. Done. The hardest part is the waiting afterwards, because it’s best to bottle the eggnog and let it sit for two weeks before serving. It thickens, the flavors will have chance to marry, and it’ll be absolutely delicious. Please don’t leave me over the irresponsible practice of consuming raw egg yolks – according to some statistics I found, if I eat three raw egg yolks a day (which I don’t), it would take me more than 27 years before I’d actually run across one with salmonella. I’ve decided the best things are worth the risk, and have been happily sipping on homemade eggnog for years. And in any case, we’ll be pouring the eggnog into the cheesecake filling and baking it, so any potential danger will be eliminated… along with the alcohol content unfortunately 🙂

So keep calm and have some eggnog – first in the cheesecake, of course, but don’t forget to pour yourself some in a glass, too. It might help you stay sane during the upcoming busy holiday season 🙂

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Eggnog Cheesecake with Gingersnap Crust

(adapted from http://www.rosebakes.com)

Homemade Eggnog:
  • 2 cans (396 g, 14 oz. each) sweetened condensed milk
  • 5 egg yolks
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 500 ml (2 cups, 16 oz.) good quality rum
Gingersnap Crust:
  • 340 g (12 oz.) gingersnap cookies (I used gluten-free ones)
  • 6 tablespoons (85 g, 3 oz.) unsalted butter, softened
  • ¼ cup (55 g, scant 2 oz.) granulated white sugar
  • ¼ teaspoon cinnamon
Cheesecake Filling:
  • 4 bricks (8 oz., 225 g each) cream cheese, softened
  • 4 eggs, room temperature
  • 1¼ cups granulated white sugar
  • 1¼ cups eggnog, see Note
  • 3 tablespoons all-purpose flour (I used gluten-free flour mix)
  • 1 teaspoon rum (or rum flavoring)
  • ½ – 1 teaspoon cinnamon (to taste)

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Method:
  1. To make the eggnog, whisk together sweetened condensed milk, the egg yolks, and vanilla. Pour in the rum and combine. (It is best to make the eggnog in advance and let it sit for 2 weeks so that it has time to thicken.)
  2. To make the crust, line a 25 cm (10 inch) springform pan with parchment paper and lightly butter the sides. Crush the cookies in a food processor and transfer them to a bowl. Add in the remaining ingredients and mix until the mixture is sticky and holds together. Press the cookie mixture on the bottom and up the sides of your pan. (I use a glass for this task – the crust looks nicer and “cleaner” this way). Set aside. Preheat the oven to 325 °F (162 °C) and place a pan with water on the bottom rack.
  3. Make the filling: In a large bowl, mix the cream cheese until light and fluffy. One by one, add in the eggs, mixing well after each addition. Pour in the eggnog and mix until smooth. Add the remaining ingredients and combine.
  4. Pour the filling onto the crust in your pan and smooth out the top. Bake the cheesecake for 1 hour and then turn the oven off and crack the oven door. Let the cheesecake in the oven for 1 additional hour and then take it out and let it cool completely before chilling for at least 6 hours.
  5. Decorate the cheesecake with whipped cream, ground cinnamon, chocolate shavings or fruit and serve.
Note:

My eggnog was not as thick as I would have liked, so I reduced its amount to 1 cup only, and it worked well. See how thick/thin your filling is and make adjustments as needed.

Try not to overmix the cheese filling – if you do, there will be too many air bubbles in the filling, and the cake puffs up too much when baking and then falls when it cools. The dreaded cracks might also develop on the surface. The water in another pan in the oven as well as gradual cooling of the cheesecake in the oven might help to prevent them, but if you end up with cracks in your cheesecake, don’t lose heart: you can repair it with hot water and an offset spatula, and there are many ways to cover them too – you may mix up some dark chocolate ganache glaze and pour it over the top, or just pile up fresh fruit on the cheesecake. Cracks or no cracks, the cheesecake is going to be delicious!

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Cheesecake Bars with Strawberry Glaze

I’m sorry if I won’t be my usual talkative self today. I’m tired. I just endured a teenage boy sleepover, which meant a sleepless night the likes of which I hadn’t experienced since my boys were infants, and boy, can I feel it! I don’t even know when we moved from “Can you have your mom to call my mom to see if you could come over?” to “Dude, do you want to hang out today?” but here we are. Parenting teens is awesome and terrible and everything in between. You don’t have to haul them places anymore; they can stay home by themselves. They can feed themselves, they sleep through the night, and are able to get into the car without help. On the other hand, their vocabulary shrinks to pitiful five phrases: “yes”, “no”, “fine”, “I guess”, and “I’m starving”, their sense of smell gets seriously impaired (why else would they be completely happy in a room that stinks like gym socks and wet dog combined?), and, oh yes, they can get into the car without help. And drive off. Anywhere they want. And you can’t do anything but bite your nails waiting till they finally decide to come back. Because they’re starving, of course.

When you get to this stage, you’ll hear your parents coming out of your mouth a lot. The phrasing, intonation, the whole deal. The first couple times it might surprise you, but you’ll get used to it pretty quickly, and there will be moments when you’ll just be glad to have something memorized that you can use in a time of need. Because you know that otherwise you’d yell out utter something much-much worse. (And just in case you’re wondering, when presented with the “Everybody’s doing it!” challenge, you will counter with that hated jumping-off-the-cliff phrase you’ve promised yourself to never use with your kids.)

Anyway. On Saturday three big-footed, voice-cracking and pizza-loving almost men stormed into my house, and after about an hour I was ready for a vacation somewhere far-far away 🙂 But since that wasn’t feasible, I did the next best thing, and barricaded myself in the kitchen. And this is the result: Sweet and creamy cheesecake bars with bright strawberry glaze. I love this recipe for cheesecake bars – they are extremely easy to make (no need to bake them in water bath, so you don’t need to worry about wrapping the pan in tin foil and obsess about water ruining your cheesecake), they’ve never-ever cracked up on me, are easy to cut into perfect portions (just the right amount of cheesecake without the guilt!), and you can totally make them gluten free if you buy gluten-free cookies for the crust. You can also vary them by the seasons, and pour either chocolate or caramel over the top – do whatever you feel like, and they will be delicious every time. I picked fresh strawberries from the market, added some lemon juice and lemon zest in the batter, and made lip-smackingly good strawberry glaze to pour over the top. A couple teaspoons of gelatin helped the glaze to firm up so I was able to get a nice clean cut for the pictures, but if you don’t care about that, you could just use a store-bought strawberry jam. Either way, to me strawberries say spring, and the combination of a chocolate crust, lemon and vanilla scented white cheesecake and the red strawberry glaze is a definite winner. A perfect little spring dessert!

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 Cheesecake Bars with Strawberry Glaze

(cheesecake bars recipe adapted from http://www.bakerella.com)

Crust:
  • 1½ cups ground up cookies (vanilla wafers, chocolate cookies, or graham crackers; I used Mary’s gone crackers GF chocolate cookies)
  • 4 tablespoons brown sugar
  • 6 tablespoons (85 g, 3 oz.) unsalted butter, melted
Cheese Filling:
  • 3 packages (226 g, 8 oz.each) full-fat cream cheese, softened
  • 1 cup (200 g, 7 oz.) granulated sugar
  • 1 tablespoon fresh lemon zest
  • 3 tablespoons lemon juce
  • 1 tablespoon vanilla
  • 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour (I used Bob’s Red Mill Cup-for-cup gluten-free baking mix)
  • 3 eggs, room temperature
  • 225 g (8 oz.) sour cream
Strawberry Glaze:
  • 2 cups fresh strawberries, sliced
  • ¼ cup (50 g, 1.7 oz.) granulated sugar
  • 1/8 cup lemon juice
  • 1 tablespoon raspberry liqueur
  •  1 tablespoon + 2 teaspoons Knox powdered gelatin
  • ¼ cup water
  • red food coloring (I used freshly pressed beet juice; it’ll give you a nice rich color, and you won’t be able to taste the beets at all)

+ ½ cup powdered sugar mixed with 3 teaspoons milk – for the swirl decoration (optional)

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Method:
  1. To make the crust, combine ground up cookies, melted butter, and brown sugar. Line a 13 x 9 inch (33 x 23 cm) baking pan (or oblong springform pan) with parchment paper, and press the mixture evenly into the pan. Set aside.
  2. To make the cheese filling, mix the cream cheese with sugar, flour, vanilla, lemon juice, and lemon zest until fluffy. One by one, add in the eggs, mixing well after each addition. Lastly add in the sour cream and mix just until combined. Pour the filling onto the crust and bake at 325 °F (162 °C) for about 30 – 40 minutes until the center jiggles just a bit. (I put another pan with water on the lower rack to have moisture in the oven).
  3. Remove the cheesecake from the oven and let it cool completely. (It may puff up a bit during baking, but it should settle back down as it cools.)
  4. To make the glaze, combine gelatin with water; set aside for about 10 minutes to let the gelatin absorb the water.
  5. Process strawberries, sugar, and lemon juice until smooth. Transfer the berry mixture into a saucepan and bring it to the boil. Cook the mixture until slightly reduced (to about 2 cups). Remove from heat, add in the liqueur and the bloomed gelatin (do not cook, or the gelatin won’t set.) Stir until the gelatin dissolves and then let the glaze cool to lukewarm/room temp, stirring occasionally.
  6. Just before setting, pour the glaze over the cooled cheesecake in the pan. (The cheesecake should have risen edges; do not pour the glaze over them.) Distribute the glaze evenly over the cheesecake and put the cheesecake into the fridge for about 2 hours to let the glaze set. Just before serving cut the cheesecake into bars.
  7. To make the sugar glaze, combine powdered sugar with milk to make a thick mixture. Transfer the sugar glaze into a sandwich bag, snip off the corner and decorate the bars.
  8. Refrigerate the bars, covered, for up to 3 days. I haven’t tried it, but I don’t think freezing them would work well – the gelatin desserts tend to get “wet” when defrosted.

Coeur a la Crème with Raspberry Coulis

With the Valentine’s Day just around the corner we’re bombarded left and right with links and articles about love, relationships and marriage. Seven keys to finding the love you want. How to find your perfect mate. Secrets of happy couples. 15 ways to improve your marriage. Everybody is an expert and offers you a surefire way to a satisfying relationship we all long for, and most of the psychologists and therapists base a successful relationship on a mix of love, respect, common goals, communication, and willingness to work as a team.

We’ve got the teamwork down pretty early on – I guess there is no way around it when it’s just the two of you plus a kid (or two) in a world of strangers. When you are an expat that left all family behind, there is no mom to call when you’re sick as a dog and would appreciate a bowl of good old chicken soup, or if you just dream of an hour of non-mommy time. (I remember that even the time in a dentist’s chair getting my teeth cleaned used to feel like a vacation!) You learn quickly to pull your fair share and do what you can so that your life would run as smoothly as possible.

The thing is, life is busy, and in trying to meet all the responsibilities it keeps throwing at you it can easily start to feel like you are just two people leading separate lives next to each other. And when that happens, it all starts going south: The warm and fuzzy feelings all but disappear, and all you see around are problems. Yet you don’t have time nor energy to deal with them, and you don’t have anyone who’d figure them out with you, either, because your plus one is running in his own hamster wheel.

Heck, I tried. I made Mr. Photographer stay up till the ungodly hours, talking about anything and everything I perceived at that moment as a road block in our relationship. In reality it meant that I was talking and he was talked at and quiet. The more I talked, the more worked up and loud I was getting, and the more clammed up he was in return. Which put another extra problem on top of the first one, because what all the experts say is one of the keys of a good relationship? Communication, right?! 🙂

It took me a good long while to figure out that in moments like this I didn’t need to try to solve the problem(s) I suddenly saw booming in front of me. They were there and probably always will be on this side of the ground. What I really needed was to get off the squeaky wheel (even if I felt I couldn’t afford to!) and take a break from all the busyness – find time to just be together. Life is serious enough as it is, and regular doses of fun do more for a relationship than heated “problem solving” till three in the morning.

So that’s what we’ll be doing as this post is going up! I can’t wait to leave behind the everyday – report cards, laundry, and sticky kitchen floor, and going away for just a bit to recharge. But before I go, here is my last Valentine’s day recipe: Coeur a la Crème – creamy heart in a pool of tart raspberry coulis. You’ll still have time to make it on Saturday night, and surprise your sweetie with it on Sunday morning. Coeur a la Crème is made in a special heart mold, which is perforated, so that the creamy mixture can drain and firm up overnight. You should be able to find it in a specialty kitchen stores at this time of year, but if you don’t care for the heart shape all that much, you can make this dessert also in a colander lined with cheesecloth. The taste will be the same of course – it’ll be sweet and creamy with hints of citrus and vanilla, and the tart raspberry sauce pooled around it complements it so well. (I actually doubled the sauce, and I don’t think it harmed anything!) I love how it turned out, and I especially like the texture that the cheesecloth imprinted on the heart. Please give it a try, whether you’re celebrating the V-day or you’re just planning to enjoy a nice relaxing Sunday with those you love.

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Coeur a la Crème with Raspberry Coulis

(Barefoot Contessa’s recipe, adapted from http://www.foodnetwork.com)

For the heart:
  • 12 oz (340 g) full-fat cream cheese, softened
  • 1 cup (125 g) powdered sugar
  • 2 ½ cups (750 ml) heavy whipping cream
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • ¼ teaspoon fresh lemon zest
Raspberry Coulis:
  • 6 oz. (170 g) fresh raspberries
  • ½ cup granulated sugar
  • ¼ cup water
  • 1 cup seedless raspberry jam
  • 2 tablespoons orange liqueur (I used Grand Marnier)

+ extra raspberries/strawberries/pomegranate seeds for decoration

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Method:
  1. To make the Coeur a la Crème: Line a 7-inch (18 cm) Coeur de la Crème mold (or a sieve) with cheesecloth or paper towels, so that the ends drape over the sides of the mold. It helps to moisten the cheesecloth or paper towels with water so that they adapt better to the form of the mold. Suspend the mold over a bowl, making sure there is space between the bottom of the mold and the bowl for the liquid to drain.
  2. Place the cream cheese and powdered sugar in a bowl of a electric mixer fitted with a paddle; mix on medium speed until light and fluffy, about 2 minutes. Scrape down the bowl and the paddle with a spatula, and change the paddle for a whisk.
  3. With the mixer on low speed, pour in the heavy cream, vanilla, and add the lemon zest. Whisk on high until the mixture is very thick and resembles whipped cream.
  4. Transfer the mixture into the lined mold, fold the cheesecloth over and let it drain in the refrigerator overnight.
  5. To make the Raspberry Coulis: Place raspberries, sugar, and water in a small saucepan, and cook for about 4 – 5 minutes until the mixture thickens slightly. Transfer the raspberry mixture together with all the remaining ingredients into a bowl of your food processor fitted with an S – blade, and process until smooth. Take out the seeds if desired, and chill the sauce until needed.
  6. When ready to serve, unmold the dessert on a serving plate and carefully pour raspberry sauce around the base.

 

 

 

Blackberry Cheesecake

Local is the new black: It seems that everybody is talking about shopping where you live, and the need to build the local economy by supporting local merchants today. These days thanks to the Internet we shoppers don’t  need to get off our butt at all –  we can shop anytime day and night, and everything we can think of arrives right to our doorstep. It sure can’t be any easier than that, but I still prefer to shop for groceries at farmers markets and tiny local stores.  I like knowing my grocer by name, and enjoy chatting with him about his plans for the weekend. He knows I’m there every Friday and remembers we have special dietary requirements in the family. Many times he’s able to recommend me new products I wouldn’t notice otherwise, and from time to time slips an extra peach or bag of chips   in my bag just because.  It’s a win-win: I like knowing I’m getting a good deal on a fresh, quality food, and he likes having me as his regular weekly customer.

But for blackberries for this cheesecake I didn’t even need to go to the farmers’ market. I’m blessed to have tons of blackberry bushes in the woods behind my backyard, and take advantage of the abundance they offer me every Summer. It doesn’t get any more local and price – efficient than that! And if I can bribe my teenagers with the promise of a cheesecake and get them to do the prickly picking for me, all the better.

This post is a part of my “Is there a fruit that doesn’t work in a cheesecake?” quest.  I try hard to do my research and find an honest answer to said question, but  so far it looks like I’m going to have to say no, meaning no, there simply isn’t: I haven’t tasted any fruit cheesecake I wouldn’t like, and most cheesecakes with fruit are downright delectable. As I found, blackberries are no exception. I love all the contrasts going on in this dessert: the visual contrast of dark blackberry swirl on a white filling, the contrast of sweet cream cheese and somewhat tart berries, and even contrast in texture, when I find a tiny blackberry seed forgotten in otherwise perfectly smooth filling.

You can’t buy happiness, but you can make this cheesecake, and that’s kind of the same thing: Happiness on a plate, made right in your kitchen, with just the freshest fruit, picked almost out of your window. How easy is that?

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Blackberry Cheesecake

Chocolate Crust:
  •  3 cups chocolate wafers, finely ground (for gluten-free cheesecake, find wafers/cookies that are gluten-free)
  • 4 oz. (114 g, 8 tablespoons, 1 stick) unsalted butter, melted
  • small egg, beaten
Cheese crème:
  •  3 packages (8 oz., 226 g each) cream cheese
  • 1 cup white sugar
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 3 eggs
  • ½ cup sour cream (or vanilla yogurt)
Blackberry swirl:
  •  1 cup blackberries, fresh or frozen
  • 1 tablespoon raspberry balsamic vinegar
  • 2 tablespoons sugar

+ fresh berries and mint leaves for decoration

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Method:
  1. For the chocolate base, butter a 9-inch (22 cm) round springform pan. Combine ground chocolate wafers, melted butter, and an egg.
  2. Press the chocolate mixture on the bottom and up the sides of the springform pan. Preheat the oven to 350 °F (175°C). Prebake the crust for 15 minutes until firm. Let cool completely.
  3. While the crust is cooling, make the blackberry swirl: Puree the blackberries in a blender. Transfer the blackberry mixture into a pan, add sugar and raspberry balsamic vinegar, and cook until slightly thickened, about 3 – 4 minutes. Let cool.
  4. Preheat the oven to 325 °F (160 °C).
  5. For the cheese filling, mix cream cheese with sugar. Gradually add eggs, mixing well after each addition. Add vanilla extract and sour cream and combine.
  6. Pour half of the cream cheese filling into the cooled crust in the pan. With a teaspoon, drop blackberry puree onto batter, using about half of the blackberry mixture. With a toothpick, swirl the two fillings together.
  7. Repeat with the other half of the cream cheese and blackberry mixture.
  8. Place a pan with hot water on the lower rack in the oven. Tap the pan with the cheesecake on the counter lightly to release air bubbles in the filling, put the cheesecake in the oven and bake for about 45 – 50 minutes, until the edges are just firm and the center is still jiggly. Turn the oven off, and let the cheesecake cool in the oven for 1 hour, with the oven door slightly ajar.
  9. After an hour, remove the cheesecake from the oven and let cool completely. Chill for at least 4 – 6 hours before running a knife along the edges and carefully removing the cheesecake from the springform pan.
  10. Decorate with fresh berries and mint leaves and serve.

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Apricot Cheesecake Tart

I have yet to taste a cheesecake I wouldn’t like. The creamy sweet cheese filling simply works no matter what you pair it with. White cheesecake with hint of vanilla is a classic. Chocolate? Everything is better with chocolate, and cheesecake is no exception. How about fruit? Pretty much any fruit is delicious on a bed of fluffy cheese – you can go for strawberries, raspberries, blueberries, apples in the fall or cranberries in winter, and your cheesecake will be a winner every time.

The dessert I’m offering to you today is not your typical cheesecake though. It’s more like its distant relative – first of all, there is only a small amount of cream cheese in the filling compared to cheesecake as we know it, and second, I’ve decided to forgo the graham cracker/cookie crumb base and poured the filling into a flaky tart shell. The additional cream cheese you’d normally see in the filling is actually hiding in the crust, and makes it very rich and tender. (Bonus: this crust is also very easy to roll out, as long as you give it time to properly chill in the fridge.) This cheesecake tart is my last tribute to my beloved apricots this year. Apricots are always the first fruit to announce the coming of the summer season, and also the first one to go. I’ve been wanting to try this recipe for weeks, and when I finally decided  to give it a go this weekend, I had a really hard time finding them. It seemed last week they were everywhere, and now, only couple of days later, they just disappeared from the face of the Earth. It took a lot of driving around and many smiles at guys in produce departments – but as you can see, in the end I brought home what seemed to be the last two pounds of apricots in the Pacific Northwest, and put them to a good use 🙂

This tart is not a high-end dessert by any means; it’s simple and somewhat homey looking, but that doesn’t take away from its appeal at all. I think it’s very cheerful and the orange apricots waggishly poking out of white cheese filling kind of look like eggs sunny side up 🙂 And the taste is superb:  the subtle tartness of the apricots balances out the sweetness of the filling, and the jelly glaze gives it shine and accentuates the fruity apricot flavor. A perfect way to say farewell to apricots in my book. Put your best smile on and run to your nearest greengrocer or farmers market – if you’re lucky, you might still be able to find some apricots, and if you won’t eat them all on your way home as I usually do, I promise this tart is the second best way to use them!

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Apricot Cheesecake Tart

(adapted from Rose Levy Beranbaum’s The Pie and Pastry Bible)

Cream Cheese Tart Shell:
  • ½ cup (113 g, 4 oz.) unsalted butter, chilled and cubed
  • a little over 1 1/3 cups (185 g, 6.5 oz.) unbleached all-purpose flour (for gluten-free tart see Note)
  • pinch salt
  • 1/8 teaspoon baking powder
  • 85 g (3 oz.) cream cheese, chilled and cubed
  • 2 tablespoons heavy cream, cold
  • 1 teaspoon vinegar
Cream Cheese Filling:
  • 1 egg, separated, + 1 egg white
  • 57 g (2 oz.) cream cheese, softened
  • 2 – 3 tablespoons white sugar (to taste)
  • pinch cinnamon
  • pinch nutmeg
  • 3/4 cup (175 g,  6 oz.) heavy cream

+ 1 egg white, for brushing the tart shell
approx. 1 kg (2 lbs.) fresh apricots, stoned and halved
1 cup apricot preserves, divided
1 tablespoon + 1 teaspoon Grand Marnier (or other orange liqueur), divided

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Method:
  1. To make the pastry shell, place the flour mixed with salt and baking powder into the bowl of your food processor. Add the cubed cream cheese and pulse until the mixture resembles coarse meal. Add butter and pulse again until the butter is the size of peas. Lastly, add vinegar and cold cream, and mix just until the dough comes together in a ball. Wrap the dough and chill for at least 30 minutes before proceeding.
  2. Roll the dough between two sheets of parchment paper until it’s a little bigger than your 10 inch (25 cm) tart pan with removable bottom. Chill the rolled out dough for about 15 minutes, so it’s easier to transfer to the pan. Lightly butter the pan and ease the dough into it, pressing it firmly against the sides. Dock the dough with a fork and put the tart pan in the freezer while you preheat the oven to 425 °F (218 °C).
  3. When the oven is preheated, place the tart pan onto a baking sheet, and place a sheet of parchment paper on the surface of the dough. Fill the parchment with dry beans/rice, and prebake the tart shell for about 15 – 20 minutes. Remove the parchment paper with the beans/rice/pie weights, prick the dough again, and bake for 5 – 10 minutes longer, until pale golden brown. (If the edges brown too quickly, cover them with aluminum foil). While still hot, brush the tart shell with an egg white. Let the tart shell cool slightly while you prep the filling and fruit.
  4. To make the cheesecake filling, process the cream cheese, sugar, and spices in the food processor until smooth. Add egg yolks, egg white, cream, and 1 teaspoon of Grand Marnier and pulse to combine. (There still might be pieces of cream cheese in the mixture.) Set the filling aside.
  5. Preheat the oven to 375 °F (190 °C).
  6. In a small saucepan, heat 1 cup of apricot preserves with 1 tablespoon of Grand Marnier until hot. Strain the preserves into a small bowl.
  7. To assemble the tart: Brush about 2 tablespoons of apricot preserves on the bottom of partially cooled tart shell. Pour about half of the filling into the tart. Arrange apricot halves on top of the filling, and carefully pour the rest of the filling around them, taking care not to pour the filling on top of the fruit.
  8. Bake the tart for 30 – 35 minutes, or until the filling is puffy and slightly browned. (Cover the edges with aluminum foil to prevent burning.)
  9. Let the tart cool slightly. Reheat the rest of the apricot jelly and spoon it evenly on the top of the tart, both apricots and filling. Chill the tart for at least 1 hour before unmolding and serving.
Note:

I subbed Bob’s Red Mill Pie Crust flour mix with good results, but I imagine you could use any gluten-free flour mix and the tart will turn out well.

White Chocolate Cranberry Cheesecake

Do you tend to see things in black and white? Are you all-or-nothing kind of a person? I know I am. I come from a family of high achievers, where anything but perfection was frowned upon. It taught me to focus and work hard, but also made it hard for me to just let go and relax. Having high expectations of yourself is fine. However, if those same expectations keep you from trying new things, and essentially keep you from having fun in life, that’s another story. There are so many things I wouldn’t even touch in the past, because, well, if I couldn’t be the best, then what’s the point in trying? So many perfectly good cakes ended up in the trash, just because they weren’t pretty enough! For years now, I’ve been trying to overcome these patterns, and intentionally look for all the (fifty) shades between black and white. I like to refer to myself as a recovering perfectionist/aspiring good-enoughist these days. Good-enoughist is most likely not even a word, and as a linguist it pains me to see it typed, but I’m going to leave it, because it expresses so well the struggle we recovering perfectionists go through 🙂

Cheesecake has always been my stumbling block in baking. I love everything about cheesecake – it’s quick to whip up, can be (even has to be!) made ahead, and most of all, it tastes wonderful – so rich, creamy, and decadent. The thing is, I’ve rarely been able to make it without cracking. I’ve tried countless recipes and many different baking methods, I even consulted pastry chefs, but more often than not, the little stinker still cracks up on me. If not during baking, then while it cools.

I know cranberries in a cheesecake are a little strange this time of year. It’s something to be served around Thanksgiving! But when I stumbled upon this recipe, it was a love at first sight, and there was no way I’d be able to wait seven more months to make it. I was just thankful I still had a bag of cranberries from the last Fall in the freezer 🙂 I really like how the tartness of cranberries balances out the sweet taste of chocolate, but if you want to make the cheesecake a little more season-appropriate, I’m sure raspberries or cherries in place of cranberries would be just as delicious!

So today I proudly present to you my beautifully cracked masterpiece. I had fun with the swirl pattern, and can’t wait to play with it more in the future. The consistency is excellent, and the taste is just right and not too sweet. And the crack? I like to think it adds a little character and says the cake is definitely homemade. Maybe I’ll learn to bake perfect cheesecakes when I grow up. And maybe not. Perfection is overrated anyway. Let’s just play with flavors and textures, create wonderful smells in the kitchen, lick our fingers and have fun doing so!

White chocolate Cranberry Cheesecake

White Chocolate Cranberry Cheesecake

adapted from http://bethcakes.com

Crust:
  • 1½ cups graham cracker crumbs (I used gluten-free version)
  • ½  cups pecans, chopped
  • ½ unsalted butter, melted
  • ¾ teaspoon cinnamon
Filling:
  • 2 packages (8 oz., 226 g each) full-fat cream cheese, room temperature
  • ¾ cup white sugar
  • 6 oz. (226 g) vanilla yogurt (or sour cream)
  • 1 cup white chocolate chips
  • 2 eggs + 2 extra egg yolks
  • 3 tablespoons all-purpose flour (I used gluten-free flour, and since GF flours tend to be lighter, I used a little more)
Cranberry swirl:
  • 2 cups cranberries, fresh or frozen
  • ½ cup white sugar
  • ½ cup water (+ more for pureeing)

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Method:
  1. To make the crust: Mix all the ingredients in your food processor, and press the mixture into a standard springform pan with removable bottom.
  2. Prebake at 350 °F (175 °C) for about 10 minutes and let cool completely.
  3. For the cranberry swirl layer, cook all the ingredients over a medium heat for about 10 – 15 minutes, until the cranberries burst open and the mixture thickens. Let cool slightly, and then process the mixture in a blender/food processor until smooth (I needed to add a little water). The cranberry puree should be somewhat thick, but still pourable. Set aside.
  4. For the chocolate – cheese layer: Preheat the oven to 350 °F (175 °C). Put small pan with water on the lower rack in the oven. Mix cream cheese with sugar until smooth. Add the yogurt and melted chocolate, combine. One by one add the eggs and the egg yolks. Lastly, add the flour and mix until combined.
  5. Pour the chocolate – cream cheese filling into a cooled crust. Tap the springform pan couple of times on the counter to release the air bubbles. Place the springform pan on a big baking sheet. Swirl the cranberry mixture into the chocolate – cream cheese layer. Bake for about 45 minutes until still a little wobbly. Turn the oven off, open the door slightly, and let the cheesecake sit in the oven for an hour. Remove the cheesecake from the oven, let cool, and refrigerate.

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Chocolate wrapped cake with white chocolate – cream cheese frosting

In addition to birthdays, people back home in Slovakia celebrate so called “name days”. Every day of the year, all the people with a certain name have a name day, and get to have a little celebration with a cake and presents, much like a birthday. Last week was the day to celebrate all the Slovak girls and ladies named Veronika, which also happens to be my sister’s name. I’d love to storm into her apartment with balloons, gifts, and flowers right now, but alas, that’s just not possible. So I’ve decided to do the next best thing, and bake a cake in her honor. I know it’s kind of silly, because of course she won’t get to have a bite of it. But it helps me to feel closer to her, and at least this way, all the butter and sugar won’t go straight to her hips and thighs, so I’m actually doing her a favor. At least, that’s what I keep telling myself.

I’ve been wanting to try my hand at chocolate piped wraps for a long time. I’m familiar with various chocolate decorations, but this project has always seemed like a little too much. Melted chocolate is much more fluid than royal icing, and I was worried I’d end up with a huge mess and chocolate smeared everywhere, so I kept putting it off. This weekend I finally bit the bullet. Yes, my hands were shaky, but it there is a first time for everything! I decided to bake a simple 6-inch chocolate cake and frost it with white icing, which provided a nice contrast to the dark chocolate lacy wrap. The project was fairly time-consuming (it took me nearly half an hour just to pipe the pattern on the parchment), and with all the baking, frosting, chilling and wrapping it ate away a substantial part of my Sunday. But it was so much fun, and I learned a lot (like, for example, that you shouldn’t forget to flip the parchment paper with your pattern before piping the chocolate, otherwise your pen marks will show up on the wrap :-)) It seems obvious, and I wanted to do it, but then forgot anyway. It is not such a big problem when working with dark chocolate, but it would be much more visible on a white chocolate wrap.)

All in all, a nice little project for a rainy and gloomy Sunday afternoon. I’m already dreaming of all the other things I could try with melted chocolate.

Happy belated name day, Veronika. I wish we could stuff our faces with the cake together ❤

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Chocolate-wrapped cake with white chocolate-cream cheese frosting

Cake (for each layer of the 6-inch cake):
  • 8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter, softened
  • 12 tablespoons of granulated sugar
  • 1 large egg, room temperature
  • 8 tablespoons of milk
  • 12 tablespoons of all-purpose flour
  • 6 tablespoons of dark cocoa
  • 2 teaspoons of baking powder
White chocolate – cream cheese frosting:
  • 2 cups white chocolate chips
  • 2 packages (8 oz. each) full-fat cream cheese, softened
  • ½ cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, softened
  • 5 cups powdered sugar

+ 3 tablespoons of strong coffee or coffee/cocoa liqueur to moisten the cake layers (optional; I used Crème de Cocoa)
1 bar (4 oz.) semisweet baking chocolate for the wrap (more or less depending on a pattern you choose)

Method:
  1. Preheat the oven to 350 °F. Line a 6-inch cake pan with parchment paper and butter/flour the sides.
  2. In a bowl, whisk together all the dry ingredients for the cake. Set aside.
  3. Beat the butter and sugar until creamy. Beat in the egg and milk. Add dry ingredients and mix just until combined.
  4. Pour the batter into a lined pan, smooth out the top, and bake for about 35 minutes, until the cake springs back to the touch. Let cool in a pan for a couple of minutes, and then invert the cake on a cooling rack and let cool completely. (I baked each layer separately, but you could make a higher cake and then cut it into two layers, of course).
  5. While the cake is cooling, make the frosting: Microwave white chocolate morsels in a microwave-safe bowl at a medium power for 1 minute. Stir. Microwave again at 15 seconds intervals until melted. Let cool slightly.
  6. In a bowl of an electric mixer, beat the softened butter and cream cheese until fluffy. Add melted chocolate, combining well. Gradually add powdered sugar until desired spreading consistency. Set aside.
  7. Place one cooled cake layer on a turntable or a working surface. Sprinkle with coffee/liqueur if using. Mound a portion of the filling in the center, and using an icing spatula, spread it to the edge.
  8. Place the second layer onto the filling and push it gently into place. Brush the top layer with coffee/liqueur if using.
  9. Before frosting the cake, make a crumb coating (a thin layer of frosting that helps the crumbs to adhere to the cake, so they don’t mar the finish). Refrigerate for 30 minutes until firm.
  10. Frost the top and sides of the cake; the top should be flat and the sides straight on the finished cake. (The straighter the sides, the easier it will be to wrap the cake with chocolate at the end.) Put the frosted cake on a cake stand you plan to serve it on and place it in a fridge to chill.
  11. The chocolate wrap: Cut a strip of parchment paper you’ll be piping on. First calculate its length, which should be the diameter of your cake x 3.14, plus couple more inches for overlap. (My cake was 6 inches, multiplied by 3.14 = 18.84; the entire strip was under 22 inches long.) You also need to measure the height of  your cake, which will be the width of your paper strip (I added about ½ an inch here as well). In addition, you’ll need to extend the width by about an inch more – that way you’ll have a clear strip of paper at the top to hold the strip without risking that you will ruin the freshly piped pattern.
  12. You can make a free-hand pattern if you’re feeling brave, or you can draw a pattern on the parchment and trace it with chocolate (if you decide to draw a pattern, don’t forget to flip the paper before piping as I did :-)) Put your paper strip on a large baking sheet to make it easier to move it in and out of the refrigerator as needed.
  13. In either a microwave or a water bath, melt the chocolate, and fill a decorating bag no more than 2/3 full. After piping the pattern, place the paper strip on the sheet in the refrigerator to partially set (it only takes a couple of minutes, depending on the temperature in your fridge. Watch it, so it doesn’t harden too much, as it will be harder to wrap it around the cake. You need it to still be pliable.)
  14. Remove the cake from the refrigerator. Carefully lift the strip with the piped pattern off the baking sheet. Anchoring one end, slowly wrap the paper around your cake, gently pressing it into place. Chill well, and then carefully remove the parchment paper from the back of your chocolate wrap. (Keep the cake in the refrigerator until serving; because you weren’t using tempered chocolate for the wrap, it will soften faster at a room temp.)