Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Cheesecake Cravings


It has been a while since I had my cheesecake fix. Since there are two blocks of  philly cream cheese sitting in my refrigerator, I thought I would do a cheesecake today.

Without much planning, I headed for the supermarket to purchase the ingredients needed - lemons and digestive biscuit. All ingredients were ready and I eagerly proceeded to weigh them. While unwrapping my second block of cream cheese, something was amiss. The texture was crumbly and kind of powdery instead of creamy. That was not the case for the other block. I checked through the expiry date and it was 2 months before the date was up. These two blocks of cream cheese were bought while on sale sometime back.

I struggled for a moment before deciding that I would not let this mishap mar the ideal texture of my beloved cheesecake. Dragging my heavy feet along, I hurriedly made a second trip to the supermart to get a fresh new block of cream cheese. Lesson learnt. Never stock up on cream cheese again. It is just not worth the cost savings. In the end I suffered a lost instead. Argh! How unfortunate....



Aside from the little misadventure, everything else went fine. It was a breeze getting the Mcvities to fine crumbs using my food processor, which serves it purpose mainly for my baking escapades. I tweaked the recipe a little and omitted the flour. To me, the ideal cheesecake should be dense yet creamy and flourless. With that being said, I baked the cheesecake even longer this time round for two solid hours, making sure that the cheesecake would be dense to my liking.

Even after baking for 2 hours, the cheesecake was only moderately dense. Perhaps I would increase my baking temp to 160 degrees C next time and decrease the amount of cream used. Nevertheless, I am glad I omitted the flour. Cheers to no flour! 

Blueberry Cheesecake (recipe adapted from Cheesecake Seduction by Catherine Lau)
Serving size: 10 to 12 slices
Equipment and materials:
1) Stand electric beater/ handheld electric beater
2) 9 inch round springform tin
3) Baking tray large enough to contain springfrom tin
4) Food processor or rolling pin
5) Grater with fine holes
6) Measuring spoon set
7) Spatula
8) Mixing bowl
9) Wire rack
10) Aluminium foil

Biscuit Base:
200g digestive biscuits
2 1/2 tbs brown sugar
90g butter, melted

Cheesecake Filling:
500g cream cheese, preferably philadelphia cream cheese
140g sugar
40g butter, softened
finely grated zest of 1 lemon
4 tbs lemon juice, (about 1 1/2 lemons)
250ml whipping cream, chilled
4 eggs, beaten ( at room temperature, 60g each)
200g blueberry pie filling

Blueberry Topping:
200g blueberry pie filling

Method:
1) Prepare biscuit base as mentioned in Preparing a Cheesecake Tin. Freeze prepared base for 10 minutes or until ready for use.
2) Preheat oven to 150 degrees C
3) Beat cream cheese,sugar and butter on medium speed until creamy.
4) Add in zest and lemon juice continue beating until smooth.
5) Add whipping cream to cream cheese mixture on low speed. Beat until smooth and incorporated. Do not overbeat else the cream may separate (due to excessive beating), resulting in a grainy batter.
6) Lastly, add the eggs and beat until combined on low speed.
7) Pour filling onto biscuit base. Spoon the blueberry filling randomly over the filling.
8) Wrap top and sides of spring form tin with aluminium foil as mentioned in Preparing a Cheesecake Tin. Bake at 150 degrees C for 2 hours in a water bath.
9) When baked, allow cheesecake to cool in the oven with oven door ajar for 30 minutes.
10) Remove the tin from the oven and allow to cool on a wire rack.
11) Place cooled cheesecake tin in the refrigerator and chill for 4-6 hours.
12) Once chilled, dislodge cheesecake from springform tin and discard the aluminum foil lining the base. Spread 200g blueberry topping evenly onto cheesecake and serve chilled.

Note:
1) To slice cheesecake nicely, wipe the knife after each slice with kitchen towel/s.
2) To smooth the sides of the cheesecake, dip a knife in hot water. Wipe the knife dry and run it around the perimeter of the cheesecake. Repeat the step if necessary.
  

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Cake project 2 - Puffy Strawberry Napolean Shortcake


My friend came over my place on 2 consecutive days this week to bake a cake for her mum's birthday.  She suggested baking a napolean cake. This is the first time I had heard of this cake.

The traditional Napolean cake is made of 3 layers of puff pastry sandwiched with layers of  pastry cream or sometimes whipped cream. However, that was not what we planned. She suggested including sponge cake layers along with the puff pastry. I felt confident doing the sponge layers but was unsure about working with puff pastry as it was something I have not tried working with. So, we decided to get ready made puff pastry.

So the grand plan was born. The idea is to construct a cake consisting of 3 layers of puffy pastry coupled with 2 sponge cake layers. In between the sponge cake layers and puff pastry layers will be vanilla whipped cream with fresh strawberries. 

On the first day, things went smoothly with the sponge cake. When it came to preparing the puff pastry, things seemed a little out place. It was difficult to roll the puff pastry to a uniform thickness and into a square. When the pastry was baked, it was a mix of flaky and doughy texture. As it was getting late, we had to carry on with the remaining tasks the next day. As for the baked puff pastry, I did not dump it into the bin but matched it with ice cream. The combination proved to be a good one - an ice-cream strudel, puffy and ice cold creamy.

The next day, we tried out a different brand of puff pastry. On the second attempt, the puff pastry is butter based as compared to the first which is made of margarine. The butter puff pastries were shaped nicely into squares of uniform thickness, saving us the time to roll them. After baking, the butter puff pastries turned out better in terms of texture and appearance - crispy and golden brown.


With the barrier overcame, assembling the cake was the final hurdle. First step of assembling involved trimming the 3 puff pastries layer to the same shape as the sponge cake. The sponge cake was evenly sliced into 2 layers with the aid of a wilton cake leveller,a trusty cake tool I keep around for assembling layered cakes. To make the vanilla cream, we simply added icing sugar and vanilla extract and whipped the cream till it peaked. Lastly, freshly bought dark red strawberries were sliced and set aside.

To complete the cake project, a layer of puff pastry was laid on the cake board. Strawberries were added and a layer of cream was spreaded evenly over the puff pastry. A sponge layer was adhered onto the layer of cream. Another layer of cream and strawberries was then added to the top of the sponge layer. The layering of cream and strawberries continued whenever a puff pastry layer or sponge layer was added. In total, the cake consists of 3 puff pastry layers, 2 sponge cake layers and 4 vanilla cream and strawberries layers.


I was pretty eager to know the verdict of the taste and texture of the cake. My friend commented that the puff pastry layer was not as crunchy as it was when we first baked it. Her mum enjoyed the cake though. Perhaps we were too generous with the cream, resulting in the puff pastry turning soggy. Looking at the pictures, the sponge layer looked somewhat a little thick. A shortcake that is nowhere short.

Puffy Strawberry Napolean Shortcake
Equipement: 8 inch square cake tin, cake leveller or large serrated knife longer than 8 inches, baking/cookie tray, 9 inch square cake board

Sponge Cake:
5 egg yolks
55g caster sugar
60g vegetable oil
60g water
110g cake flour
1/2 + 1/8 tsp baking powder
5 egg whites
55 sugar

Preparing Sponge cake:
1) Preheat oven to 160 degrees C
2) Place egg yolks, 55g caster sugar, oil and water in a large bowl. Beat with electric mixer on medium high speed until thickened and fluffy (ribbon stage), about 10 minutes. The batter should increase in volume about 4 times and when the beater is lifted, the falling batter will leave a visible trail on the rest of the batter. The falling batter will not level with the rest of the batter immediately.
3) Whisk flour and baking powder in a large bowl to combine. Sift the flour mixture into beaten egg yolks in 3 batches and fold each batch gently using a ballon whisk. The volume will decrease due to inflating of egg yolk batter. Be sure to fold gently to prevent excessive deflating. Use a spatula to scrape sides and bottom of the bowl to ensure flour mixture is evenly incorporated.
4) In a clean metal bowl, whisk egg whites on low speed. Increase speed slowly to medium and beat untill egg whites are foamy. Gradually increase speed to high and add the other 55g of sugar gradually. Beat untill egg whites are stiff but moist looking. This is when the beaters are lifted, the egg whites will form peaks that are upright and not drooping slightly. Egg whites will resemble whipped cream.The entire bowl of whites will not drop out when the bowl is overturned.
5) Using a ballon whisk, fold one third of beaten egg whites into egg yolk batter gently to lighten and combine. Fold in the rest of the beaten whites to combine in another 2 batches. Final batter should be foamy and uniform in colour with no streaks of egg white present. Folding egg whites gently using balloon whisk will prevent egg whites from deflating too much.
6) Pour batter into a greased and lined 8 inch square pan and bake at 160 degrees C for 30 - 35 minutes. Test doneness using a skewer or toothpick.
7) Unmould sponge cake and leave to cool on wire rack.
8) Slice of the part that has domed. Slice cake into 2 layers.

Puff pastry
3 square sheets of puff pastry larger than 8 x 8 inches
1 egg mixed with 1 tbs caster sugar

Preparing Puff Pastry:
1) Preheat oven to 180 degrees C
2) Brush egg wash over the surface of a puff pastry sheet.
3) Bake puff pastry on a lined cookie/baking tray for 15 -18 minutes until top is puffy and golden.
4) Remove puff pastry and allow to cool. The bottom will be oily and soggy
5) Flip the baked puff pastry and bake the bottom (now facing up) for another 15-18 minutes. Both sides should be crispy when properly baked. Leave to cool.
6) Repeat steps 2) to 5) for the other 2 puff pastries.
7) Place the 8 inch square baking tray on top of a puff pastry. Trim puff pastry to 8 x 8 inches following the outline of the tin using a sharp knife. Repeat for the other 2 puff pastry sheets.

Cream layer:
400ml chilled whipping cream (we used dairy whipping cream)
2 tbs icing sugar
1 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
350g ripe strawberries

Preparing Cream Layer:
1) Place chilled whipping cream in a mixing bowl. Add the sugar and vanilla extract.
2) Beat on low speed to combine sugar, whipping cream and vanilla extract. Add more sugar and/or vanilla if desired.
3) Continue beating on medium high speed till creamy and stiff. The cream should hold its shape well and the cream will not budge much when bowl is overturned. Do not overbeat else the cream will separate into butter and water.
4) Wash and remove leaves and stems from strawberries. Cut 2/3 of the strawberries into thin slices. Set aside the rest for decorations.

Assembly:
1) Place a layer of square puff pastry on a 9 inch square cake board.
2) Arrange a layer of strawberry slices on top of the puff pastry, leaving a small border at the edges.
3) Apply a thin layer of cream evenly over the strawberries, enough to cover them and filling the entire square.
4) Place a sponge cake layer over the strawberries and cream.
5) Repeat steps 2) and 3) on the 1st sponge cake layer.
6) Next, place a 2nd  layer of puff pastry over the cream layer.
7) Repeat steps 2) and 3) on the 2nd puff pastry layer.
8) Next, place a 2nd sponge cake layer over the strawberries and cream.
9) Repeat steps 2) and 3) on the 2nd sponge cake layer.
10) Next, place a 3rd layer of puff pastry over the cream layer. Cake is fully assembled.
11) Dust top of assembled cake with icing sugar and decorate with remaining strawberries.

Friday, June 11, 2010

Once Bitten, Twice Not Shy

 

When I first got hold of my Martha Stewart Cookies, I thought to myself that there would be lots of delicious cookies for me to look forward to. The book seem to promise delectable cookie recipes with mouth-watering pictures. Nah. I was proven wrong when I tried out my first Martha Stewart cookie. It ended up as a melted pool of buttery mess in the oven. I could not bear to dump them and so I tried to salvage them to the best of my ability.

The cookies ended up staying in the oven much longer to firm up. What I gathered from the experience was  the recipe had way too little flour to create a good structure. Taste-wise, there were too many elements, causing the cookie to lose it focus. As the saying goes, "too many cooks spoil the broth".


I thought of chucking the book aside after the horrid experience. Later, I thought I would give the book another chance, to prove that my purchase was not all in vain .


Browsing through the book, I decided upon a Milk Chocolate Cookie recipe. This time round, I checked the ingredient list to make sure that it is a safe recipe and not one that would spell disaster.

Thankfully, Martha Stewart did not disappoint this time round. The cookies were supremely rich, chewy and brownie-like. In fact, It would have made a good brownie recipe.

Do not let the wrinkled appearance of these round disks fool you. They certainly spell chocolate with a capital C.


On my visit to NTUC Xtra today, I picked up a book - 300 Best Chocolate Recipes, at a great bargain price of 12 SGD. It would have cost around 33 SGD elsewhere. The author Julie Hasson had caught my eye and without much consideration, I made the purchase.

Milk Chocolate Cookies ( recipe adapted from Martha Stewart Cookies )
Equipment: Cookie trays/ sheet, baking parchment/paper

Cookie Dough:
140g plain flour
40g dutch processed cocoa powder ( I used Varlhona)
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
220g milk chocolate, ( 110g coarsely chopped, more if desire and 110g finely chopped)
115g butter, cubed
200g caster sugar (try cutting down on this)
2 eggs (60g each including shell)
1 1/2 tsp vanilla extract

Method:
1) Preheat oven to 160 degrees C.
2) Line cookie pans with baking paper.
3) Sift dry ingredients into a large bowl and whisk together to ensure uniform distribution.
4) Place a heatproof bowl over a pan of simmering water without the bowl touching the water.This is known as a double boiler. Melt the finely chopped chocolate and butter. Stir to obtain a smooth mixture. Allow to cool.
5) In a large bowl, beat cooled chocolate mixture, sugar, eggs and vanilla on medium speed until well combined. Add in flour mixture in 3 batches and beat on low speed to obtain a smooth batter. Scrape bottom and sides of bowl with a spatula to incoorporate loose flour. The resulting batter is very thick.
6) Fold in coarsely chopped milk chocolate chunks.
7) Scoop out rounded (slightly heaped) tablespoons of dough onto lined trays. Bake for 15 minutes. When done, the cookies will look puffy and soft but will deflate into flat disks upon cooling. Allow to cool for 2 minutes on tray before transferring to wire racks to cool.

Note:
1) Do 2 cookies as a test batch to determine your baking time. Repeat if necessary.
2) Cookies will stick to baking paper. Use a spatula to scrape underneath the cookies slowly to release them.
3) Try cutting down on the sugar as cookies are quite sweet.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Chocolate Chip Cookies


It has been quite a while since I baked any cookies. Previously, my bakes were mainly in the area of tarts or cakes. Now its time to give more attention to my cookie recipes.

Cookies always warrant a satisfying treat for me whenever I am hungry or just itching for a munch. I could eat several of them in one go. This was the case for my one-day old chocolate chip cookies. I ate about 12 of the 16 cookies I baked and they were all gone the next day. I did have the intention to share it with some friends though, guess they just did not have the fortune to enjoy these snacks.


Baking chocolate chip cookies seems like a easy task. Getting the desired texture is another different story. Some people like it dense and chewy - supporters of the Subway cookie, others like it crunchy like the Famous Amos cookies. For me, I am alright with both the chewy and crunchy variations. Would prefer the Subway variation slightly better though.  


The recipe I referred to churned out cookies that were soft, cake-like and tender with crunchy crisp edges. These were unlike any cookies I have tasted. After a day of storage in non-airtight containers, they became slightly chewy. It was a good break from the usual chocolate chip cookies.


This is the first time that I am making giant 2-tablespoon sized cookies. Making these large cookies required less effort to shape the dough into mounds and scooping them onto the baking trays. However, I could only bake 3 to 4 such cookies in a batch due to the size of my baking trays.

Cakey Chocolate Chip Cookies ( recipe adapted from Chocolate Chocolate by Lisa Yockelson)
Serving size: 15 - 18 cookies
Equipment and materials: 
1) Stand electric beater/ handheld electric beater or wooden spoon
2) Measuring spoon set
3) Spatula
4) Mixing bowl
5) Wire rack
6) Cookie trays/Baking trays
7) Flour sieve
8) Parchment/baking paper
9) Weighing scale

Cookie Dough:
125g plain (all-purpose) flour
20g cake flour
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp salt
115g unsalted butter, softened
80g light brown sugar
50g caster sugar
1 egg (60g)
1 tsp vanilla extract
185g semisweet chocolate chips
extra chocolate chips (see notes)

Method:
Prepare Oven: Preheat oven to 180 degrees C.

Prepare dry ingredients: Sift dry ingredients into a large bowl. Use a balloon whisk to whisk the mixture well to ensure uniform distribution.

Making the batter: Beat the butter on medium low speed for about 3 minutes. Add in both sugars and beat for a further 3 minutes. The butter mixture should be light and fluffy. Notice that the volume of butter mixture will increase noticeably after beating. Next, add in the egg and beat until combined. Blend in the vanilla extract to ensure the flavour is evenly distributed.

Incorporating the flour and chips: Add the flour mixture into the butter mixture in 2 additions. Beat until just combined for each addition. This is when all flour particles are absorbed and there is no visible trail. Scrape down the sides and the bottom of the bowl with a spatula to ensure that the dough is evenly mixed. Lastly, fold in the chocolate chips.

Shaping the dough: Scoop 2-tablespoon-size dough onto the baking trays lined with baking paper. Leave some space between each cookie. The cookies will spread to about 3 inches during baking.

Ready to bake: Bake cookies for about 13 - 15 minutes. Cookie centers will be soft but will set upon cooling. Leave cookies to cool on baking sheets for 2 minutes before transferring to wire racks to cool completely.

Note:
1) Use one cookie dough as a test batch to determine the required baking time for your oven.

2) The last bit of cookie dough may have less chocolate chips. Fold in some extra chocolate chips.

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