This week’s obsession: The Simple Things
I know that I tend to create off the wall desserts (Spicy Chocolate, anyone?) and try out designs that I think are unique more than I create classic flavors and designs, so you might not really believe that I’m the type of person who enjoys “simple and uncomplicated”, but at the end of the day the things that make me happiest are in fact very simple.
For instance, I’m composing this blog post at 6:15am while sipping coffee on my lanai. It’s quiet, there is no breeze blowing, and the sun isn’t quite shining yet so it’s nice and cool. It’s that feeling of the whole day slowly waking up to unfold before you. It’s simple. It’s easy. It’s perfect.
Also I’m flying back to the mainland for a family wedding this week, and as I was about to go shopping for a dress my mother sent me a photo of all of the shoes I left at her house (that’s right, I didn’t spring for a storage unit when I moved here. My crap is scattered between my parents’ house and my sister’s house and everywhere in between. I also didn’t bother to catalogue it so I can’t even remember what went where and will probably never get it back. Except for the shoes. Those are important.) and offered to bring them to the wedding for me to wear. All day long I stared at that photo of shoes and smiled. I even showed them off to a few coworkers for them to admire (ok now I totally get how parents feel when they shove photos of their kids in my face all the time!). See? It really is the simple things that can make you happy!
Believe it or not, my favorite dessert is the plain old chocolate chip cookie. Give me one fresh out of the oven any day with a wide mouth glass of (lactose free) milk and I will be in absolute heaven! That doesn’t mean that I don’t dress it up from time to time, though – once I even made a 5 layer stack of cake sized chocolate chip cookies that I glued together with multi-colored cream cheese frosting and called it my birthday cake. And rarely will you find that I make chocolate chip cookies without a dusting of coarse grain sea salt anymore, but I make them frequently because they are simple and delicious and evidently people like them as much as I do! I promise, things don’t have to be complicated in order for them to be terrific :D
Cheesecake, too, can be extremely rudimentary if you want it to be, but its simplicity also allows for a lot of creative license, which is why I happen to love them so very very much. Not all cheesecakes have to have a tri-colored cookie crust with a fudge and butterscotch ripple throughout topped with a warm berry compote and bourbon whipped cream (oh! I think I just gave myself an idea for what to bake next!)! I think it’s a combination of the creamy texture with the slight tang of the cream cheese (and in my recipe the sour cream, too) that really makes me crave cheesecake with relative frequency. So when a friend invited me over for dinner and (surprise!) asked me to bring a dessert that featured either strawberries or lemon, I seized the opportunity to make a cheesecake (most people in my life either don’t eat dairy or don’t like cheesecake for whatever reason, so I don’t get to do this often) and got to work!
As I was making it, I thought back on how most people have told me that they envision baking a cheesecake to be an extremely complex process, so I want to share some tips with you to make it into a very uncomplicated procedure so you’ll actually make cheesecakes from time to time!
For starters, you need to get yourself a good, leakproof springform pan. I used my new springform pan for the first time with this cheesecake, and as I was par baking the graham cracker crust (par baking is a method of baking the crust for a few minutes without any filling which ensures that the crust isn’t doughy or under-baked once the filling is finished baking), I noticed a few drops of butter dripping onto the bottom of the oven, which prompted me to wrap the bottom of the pan in foil before I baked it with the filling, because I definitely did not want any more drips to happen.
The second thing I want to make sure you’re doing is using a water bath. This is basically just a brownie pan or a casserole dish that you fill with water and place in the oven. As the oven heats up, this will create a humid, almost steamy environment for the cheesecake and will allow the top of the cheesecake to remain unbroken. Now, most people think that you HAVE to put your cheesecake into the water bath, but as I mentioned before some springform pans leak which means that if you submerge the bottom of the pan into the water, it will seep into your cake batter and ruin it. Tip #2 is to fill your brownie pan with water and place it on the very bottom rack of the oven while you preheat it, and leave it there as your cheesecake bakes.
My last tip about cheesecakes is: don't bake them all the way. Once your cheesecake is solid enough that it’s not an obvious liquid but the center “half” still wobbles a lot when you jiggle it, turn your oven off and keep it closed. When your cheesecake cools too quickly it will develop cracks and crevices in the top. In order to prevent this, make sure that the cheesecake cools gradually. While it’s still warm it will continue to set through to the middle, but your oven will gradually cool. You can crack open the door of your oven after a few minutes to let the heat start escaping a bit faster, but not so fast that the temperature plummets and the top of the cake cracks. Keep your cheesecake in the oven until it's completely cool.
Here’s an extra bonus tip for those of you who are like me and don’t want to wait patiently while your cake bakes. True story: when I set the 40 minute timer for my cheesecake in the oven, I immediately put on some headphones and wandered out of my kitchen while it baked. Of course I got swept away by the music, cranked up the volume, and started doing some cardio (and by cardio I mean I was shaking my money maker in the full length mirror to some old school Nelly [Country Grammar is such a classic!] until I got all sweaty.) Not sure how long I was doing that for, but at some point when the song was fading out I heard a reminder beep from my oven timer. And that’s when I remembered with horror and panic that I was baking something and needed to go check on it since the timer had already gone off and I was now getting reminders about it! My heart sank when I opened the oven door and realized that my cheesecake was almost completely set. I immediately turned off the oven and tried to walk that fine line of cooling the cheesecake off fast enough so that it wouldn’t toughen up from overbaking, but slow enough that cracks wouldn’t form on the top... It cracked anyway.
So here’s my tip for what to do when your killer dance moves prevent you from timing your cheesecake just right and it develops some cracks in the top: whip up some dark chocolate ganache, make a batch of whipped cream, or slice some fresh fruit to cover the top and no one will notice anyway!
Happy baking, y’all!