Monday, April 27, 2009

Daring Bakers: The Cheesecake Challenge

I have been following a group called the Daring Bakers for several months now on various food blogs that I read weekly. I enjoyed reading about them so much, that I thought "hey, I should join this and be part of this great group"--so I did. This month is the first challenge I've participated in and going forward, I will be sharing each monthly challenge here at Jillicious Discoveries.

Here's the information about how they started; and they just recently renamed the main group The Daring Kitchen, as now there are two groups--The Daring Bakers and The Daring Cooks.

The Daring Bakers: A History

"In November 2006, Lisa of La Mia Cucina and Ivonne of Cream Puffs in Venice decided to challenge themselves to bake pretzels for the very first time using the same recipe. They each went ahead and posted about it on November 18, 2006.

Having enjoyed that experience tremendously, they decided to try it again the next month, this time choosing to bake biscotti. And to make matters even better, they were joined by a few more food bloggers.

As the months went by, their baking group continued to grow, until it was finally decided that this "little baking group" had to have a name and The Daring Bakers were born!
Today, The Daring Bakers span the world as bakers of all nationalities come together once a month to try something new in the kitchen!"

(Click here to read more information on this fabulous group)

From the day that the challenge information was posted, I knew that I wanted to do something with mangoes. There was no hesitation, no wondering what flavor to go with--the decision was quick and solid and so I began the creative process. The main reasons I wanted to make a mango cheesecake, is because I don't currently have anything mango on my menu and also the fact that I love most all tropical fruits and here in Oregon, you just don't see enough of them in desserts. I used to live in Hawaii and I was very spoiled with the availability of fresh mangoes and I guess you could say that this challenge grew from sentimental reasons as well. I've documented the entire baking process with pictures (something I'm trying to be better at) because usually I take a picture of the completed dessert and that's it.

This recipe was a good one to really be creative. I found that the flavors you could make with this one recipe are endless, but I had to stay with the Mango Tropical Delight Cheesecake I had envisioned, since I read the word "cheesecake".

The April 2009 challenge is hosted by Jenny from Jenny Bakes. She has chosen Abbey's Infamous Cheesecake as the challenge.

*Jill's Baking Notes: I used a Coconut-Macadamia Nut Crumb Crust, instead of the graham cracker crust. Also, I baked the cheesecake at a lower temperature in a convection oven for a bit longer and used a 10-inch cake pan, rather than a 8 or 9-inch springform pan.

Abbey's Infamous Cheesecake

2 cups / 180 g graham cracker crumbs
1 stick / 4 oz butter, melted
2 tbsp. / 24 g sugar1 tsp. vanilla extract

3 sticks of cream cheese, 8 oz each (total of 24 oz) room temperature
1 cup / 210 g sugar
3 large eggs
1 cup / 8 oz heavy cream
1 tbsp. lemon juice
1 tbsp. vanilla extract (or the innards of a vanilla bean)
1 tbsp liqueur, optional, but choose what will work well with your cheesecake

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F (Gas Mark 4 = 180C = Moderate heat). Begin to boil a large pot of water for the water bath.
2. Mix together the crust ingredients and press into your preferred pan. You can press the crust just into the bottom, or up the sides of the pan too - baker's choice. Set crust aside.
3. Combine cream cheese and sugar in the bowl of a stand-mixer (or in a large bowl if using a hand-mixer) and cream together until smooth. Add eggs, one at a time, fully incorporating each before adding the next. Make sure to scrape down the bowl in between each egg. Add heavy cream, vanilla, lemon juice, and alcohol and blend until smooth and creamy.
4. Pour batter into prepared crust and tap the pan on the counter a few times to bring all air bubbles to the surface. Place pan into a larger pan and pour boiling water into the larger pan until halfway up the side of the cheesecake pan. If cheesecake pan is not airtight, cover bottom securely with foil before adding water.
5. Bake 45 to 55 minutes, until it is almost done - this can be hard to judge, but you're looking for the cake to hold together, but still have a lot of jiggle to it in the center. You don't want it to be completely firm at this stage. Close the oven door, turn the heat off, and let rest in the cooling oven for one hour. This lets the cake finish cooking and cool down gently enough so that it won't crack on the top. After one hour, remove cheesecake from oven and lift carefully out of water bath. Let it finish cooling on the counter, and then cover and put in the fridge to chill. Once fully chilled, it is ready to serve.

Pan note: The creator of this recipe used to use a springform pan, but no matter how well she wrapped the thing in tin foil, water would always seep in and make the crust soggy. Now she uses one of those 1-use foil "casserole" shaped pans from the grocery store. They're 8 or 9 inches wide and really deep, and best of all, water-tight. When it comes time to serve, just cut the foil away.

Prep notes: While the actual making of this cheesecake is a minimal time commitment, it does need to bake for almost an hour, cool in the oven for an hour, and chill overnight before it is served. Please plan accordingly!

*Jillicious Variations:

I really wanted to use fresh mango in this recipe, rather than just a mango flavoring. I made a mango fruit puree following these directions:
  • 3 ripe mangoes (peeled and cut into small pieces)
  • lemon juice of 1/2 a lemon
  • 1/4 to 1/3 cup of sugar (add to taste)
  • fresh ground nutmeg (just a dash)
  • cinnamon (just a pinch)
Put all ingredients in a saucepan and cook over medium heat, stirring frequently to prevent it from sticking to the bottom of the pan.

When the fruit mixture is soft, remove from heat and transfer mixture to a food processor.

Remove from food processor when smooth and transfer to a bowl and refrigerate till chilled before using. This step can be done a day ahead of time, which is helpful and then you have less to do prepare when making the cheesecake.

*Jillicious Tip:

Next time I make this cheesecake I would add another step before putting it into the refrigerator. I would suggest pressing the mango mixture through a sieve to really get the puree as smooth as possible. I noticed that there were some "mango fibers" that were in the texture of the cheesecake, which really didn't bother me, but if you didn't know what they were, it might cause you to wonder about that little bit of extra texture.

I made the above cheesecake recipe and after mixing the last ingredients, I folded in the mango puree' and spread it in a 10-inch cake pan. I still had some of the mango mixture left over and so I carefully swirled some on the top, for extra flavor.

As I noted above, I did bake this cheesecake in a convection oven (if you ever get the chance to have a convection oven, I highly recommend it--baking is wonderful in these ovens), at 300 degrees f. for over an hour in a water bath. A water bath allows the cheesecake to bake uniformly and remain at a low-even heat and this prevents the cheesecake from cracking. I turned off the oven and left the cheesecake in the oven for another 30 minutes, then transferred it to a rack to finish cooling. After it had completely cooled, I placed it in the freezer till I needed it a few days later. I find that freezing a cheesecake really helps it set up nicely and it tastes even better when served.

To get the cheesecake out of the pan, after being frozen, is actually easier than it sounds. I warm up the bottom of the cheesecake pan on a stove top burner and after a few seconds I remove it from the heat and take a knife and carefully move it around the sides of the cake to loosen it. Then I flip the pan upside down onto a cutting board and then use my cake board on the bottom (after removing the parchment paper) and flip it back right side up like this:

I finished the cheesecake with a sweetened whipped cream and fresh fruits (strawberries, mango, kiwi, starfruit, raspberries, grapes, blueberries and blackberries).

When I served the cheesecake I drizzled some of the fresh mango puree' sauce on the cheesecake plate for that little zing of mango flavor. We had a small gathering of ten friends and family and everyone agreed it was a winner!

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Welcome to the Jillicious Kitchen

I really like my work space. No, let me say how I really mean it--I LOVE my work space. Since moving back home to Oregon and starting Jillicious Desserts, I am so glad to have such a great kitchen to work in. Yes, I work out of my domestic licensed home kitchen and for me it even rivals the professional kitchens that I've worked in.

I haven't always been in a kitchen with lots of space. In fact, when I lived in Palo Alto, California, I could literally stand in one spot in the kitchen and reach most all the cupboards, the sink, the stove and the refrigerator. Here's a picture of this very kitchen where I made my first official Jillicious Desserts several years ago.

Jillicious Desserts Kitchen Beginnings:
(Very small, only one-person-in-the-kitchen-at-a-time, kind of space)

The stove was smaller than a regular one and I could actually see the top of the refrigerator without standing on a stool (I'm only 5' 2") so yes, it was a short and very small refrigerator. It was very difficult to make more than a couple dozen cookies or even a cake, because my counters would be filled with only a few items and I would have to keep my refrigerator close to empty, if I had any orders that needed to be kept in there.

The Jillicious Desserts kitchen today:

This is where I spend the majority of my time for business and even after hours. Even on the busiest of days, I really love being a pastry chef. Every dessert is baked fresh to order and it all happens right here in the Jillicious Desserts kitchen. If you want to come and see it in person, when you come to pick up your dessert order, give me a call and I'll schedule you in.