Daring Bakers Challenge : Cheesecake

Brie and white chocolate cheesecake, pecans and celery

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

I guess I’ll start by being completely honest and saying that I’m not a huge fan of cheesecake. The only cheesecake I would ever pay money for, comes from Yellow Bistro in Potts Point. Other than that, I’ll eat it if placed in front of me (because I’ll try anything at least once), but only with great dismay at the thought of there being so many other delicious things I could be putting on my hips instead.

The idea for the Brie cheesecake came from a chance conversation with Lorraine about cheesecakes. Somehow the word “cheeseplate cheesecake” was thrown out there and at some point we even contemplated collaborating to create an entire platter of cheeseplate-themed cheesecakes. Unfortunately, time and busy lives prevented this from occuring.

I know it is a little cliched that I have decided to present this as a ‘deconstructed’ cheesecake. The idea has been done to death before, but I thought the presentation would really suit the cheeseplate theme. The Brie flavour in this cheesecake is actually quite subtle. If you eat it alone, you will find that the cream cheese and white chocolate flavours are dominant, while the Brie-ness is only more apparent at the finish. However, the flavour really comes to the fore when you take a bite with the accompanying candied (and slightly salty) celery.

Brie and white chocolate cheesecake, pecans and celery :
(This recipe is a combination of Abbey’s Infamous Cheesecake, and a Brie-white chocolate cheesecake from Pure Chocolate by Fran Biglow)

Brie and white chocolate cheesecake :
270g cream cheese
65g caster sugar
40g white chocolate
2 eggs
135g triple cream brie (weight after rind has been removed)
1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract

Preheat the oven to 150’C.

Melt the white chocolate in the microwave in a double boiler. Set aside to cool.

In a mixer with the paddle attachment, beat the cream cheese on medium-high speed until smooth, about 3 minutes. Transfer the cheese to a separate bowl and set aside.

In the same mixing bowl using the paddle attachment, beat the Brie until completely smooth. With the machine still going, gradually add the cream cheese to the Brie, scraping down the sides of the bowl. Add the sugar, then the eggs, one at a time. Pour in the melted white chocolate and continue to mix until well blended and smooth. Pour into a baking dish and bake it in a waterbath for about 55 minutes (it may take longer depending on the size of your dish). The cheesecake should have a slight jiggle to it. Remove from the oven and allow to cool completely in the waterbath, then cover and put in the fridge to chill.

Pecan ‘crust’ :
110g plain flour
3/4 teaspoon baking powder
70g unsalted butter
65g light brown sugar
30g pecans, roughly chopped

Combine the flour, baking powder in a bowl. Rub in the butter then add the brown sugar and pecans. Scatter this mixture on a lined tray and bake at 170’C for about 35 minutes until browned. Stir the mixture occasionally during the baking time, to ensure even cooking.

Celery confit :
(based on recipe in Wild Sweets by Dominique and Cindy Duby)
100g celery stalks
150ml sugar syrup
50ml water
1/4 teaspoon sea salt
1/2 teaspoon yuzu (or lemon) juice

Trim stalks and remove filaments with a paring knife. Using a potato peeler, shave long vertical strips the length of the stalk.

Bring the syrup, water, salt and yuzu to a boil. Taste and adjust with more salt if necessary. The salt is important to balance the sweetness. Add the celery and cook until soft and translucent, about 3 to 5 minutes. Remove from syrup and chill until required.

To assemble :
Spoon the baked cheesecake mixture into a food processor. Process briefly until smooth.

Place a teaspoonful of cranberry relish or jam on the plate (this is optional). Scatter the pecan crust over this. Arrange a spoonful of cheesecake mixture on top of the crust. Serve alongside the candied celery strips.

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Cookies and memories

(Tartine’s Lime-Oatmeal-Currant Cookies, Belinda Jeffery’s Salty Peanut Butter Cookies)

The other day, my mother asked me if I would make some cookies for the upcoming visit of my sister and her family. Of course, I said yes straight away.

My sister, if you must know, is the model child in our family. Not only did she graduate from University with an honours degree, but she’s now married, and she had a wedding, which my mother got to organise in its entirety. She also now has two lovely little girls (and because she lives in New Zealand, my mother can play Granny without having to babysit too often). Furthermore, her husband happens to be the son of one of my dad’s childhood friends.

Even though being different personality types meant that we quarrelled a lot as kids (later to be united in our irritation of our much younger brother .. whom I must stress that I also love, just in case he reads this), I am in great debt to her because she was the one who introduced me to all kinds of literature. From Enid Blyton to Ursula K. Le Guin, Neil Gaiman and William Gibson. Also, I still can’t imagine anyone else but my sister, who had no interest in my kind of music whatsoever, acquiescing to chaperone me to some extremely seedy pub in a dodgy location, just so that I could see a band I was obsessed with at the time.

When we were kids, we were rarely allowed to eat any kind of cookie beyond plain Marie biscuits or maybe homemade gingerbread. It was only during each Chinese New Year that there would be the unavoidable abundance of Chinese peanut cookies, love letters and tins of Danish butter cookies that at the time, we considered the ultimate luxury item.

I haven’t baked any cookies in awhile, so I guess I went a little bit overboard. This time, I have attempted a few new recipes, as well as some old favourites, like Alice Medrich’s Sesame Seed Coins. These cookies, which are quite similar in texture to Chinese Peanut Cookies, are incredibly tender and full of sesame flavour. In fact, you can even make them with peanut butter instead of tahini, but I think the original will always be the one I like best.

A good cookie, I believe, is like a celebration. A celebration of good ingredients, encapsulated in a few small bites. It connects me with the cup of tea I drink, the couch I’m slumped on, and the television I’m staring at, or a friend I’m celebrating the return of and the sister I’m looking forward to seeing again.

(Chocolate and Caramel Sandwich Cookies with Chestnut Jam)

(Alice Medrich’s Sesame Seed Coins)

(Alice Medrich’s Pecan Penuche Shortbread)

Pecan Penuche Shortbread with Rum :
(from Alice Medrich’s wonderful book, Pure Dessert)

170g unsalted butter, melted and still warm
99g firmly packed grated piloncillo sugar or light muscovado sugar
1 tablespoon dark rum
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
3/8 teaspoon salt
191g plain flour
73g pecans, coarsely chopped
Turbinado, Demerara, or granulated sugar for sprinkling

Line the bottom and four sides of an 8-inch square baking pan with foil. In a medium bowl, combine the melted butter with the sugar, rum, vanilla and salt. Add the flour and half of the pecans and mix just until incorporated. Pat and spread the dough evenly in the pan. Let stand for at least 2 hours, or overnight (no need to refrigerate).

Position a rack in the lower third of the oven and preheat the oven to 148’C.

Sprinkle the remaining pecans over the top of the shortbread and press them gently into the dough. Bake for 45 minutes. Remove the pan from the oven, leaving the oven on. Sprinkle the surface of the shortbread with pinches of the turbinado sugar. Let the shortbread cool for 10 minutes.

Using the foil, remove the shortbread from the pan, being careful to avoid breaking it. Use a thin sharp knife to cut it into squares. Place the pieces slightly apart on a baking sheet lined with parchment and return to the oven for 15 minutes to toast it lightly. Cool on a rack.

Shortbread keeps for several weeks in an airtight container.

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