Thursday, November 22, 2012

Pumpkin Cheesecake

Happy Thanksgiving! Have some pumpkin cheesecake. 

I wasn't always a fan of pumpkin cheesecake. I viewed it as the worst kind of excess,  combining ingredients just because they hadn't been combined before (like bacon and chocolate). Pumpkin and cheese just didn't seem to go together to me. I thought both flavors ended up losing and the resulting product was less interesting then the sum of it's parts. It was something I felt obliged to eat at a few too many Thanksgiving dinners. I liked my pumpkin in a pie, thank you very much, with pumpkin mousse swirled all over the top. That was a proper Thanksgiving dessert to me. 

So what happened? Why am I now sharing a pumpkin cheesecake recipe with you? How did I end up becoming a fan? I don't exactly know, but I suspect it has something to do with hazelnut praline and caramel. 

You can see what I mean, right? Everything is  better with caramel. And why stop there. Hazelnut praline, with it's sweet, nutty, amber grains is just one of the most beautiful and tasty things in the world. I mean they would make anything better, right? And they really do something special to a pumpkin cheesecake,  they transform it in to a real coveted dessert instead of an obligation. 

This cheesecake has an almost mousse like texture and a crunchy graham cracker crust. It's crowned with a layer of sweet, sticky caramel and glassy hazelnut praline powder. It's basically irresistible and the perfect end to your holiday feasting.

Pumpkin Cheesecake

I got this recipe from Vince who I think got it from Jean (who is now my sister-in-law), don't know where she got it but I'll ask her the next time I talk to her.

1 & 1/2 cups white sugar
1/2 cup heavy cream
1/2 cup butter, cut up
1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract

Heat the heavy cream (I usually use the microwave) just to take the chill off it and set aside. In a small heavy bottomed pot heat the sugar on medium high, swirling the pot occasionally. Keep an eye on it as the sugar melts. If you find that sugar crystals have collected on the side of the pot use a damp pastry brush to clean them off. You might have to help it along with a wooden spoon or a heat proof spatula but the less you touch it the better. 

Once the sugar melts it will start to turn a light golden color and than a bright amber and it will smell like creme brulee. I wish I could tell you what mark to look for on a candy thermometer, but honestly I've never make this with one.  Vince taught me to make this and he just went by the color!   Lower the heat to medium and add the butter. Whisk until the butter is mixed in, it's going to fight you but just keep whisking. Once the butter is incorporated add the heavy cream and stand back as the mixture will bubble up. Whisk again until all the cream is mixed in. Remove from the heat and add vanilla extract. Pour into a heat proof container and cool. Once cool it can be covered and stored in the fridge until ready to use. Makes about 2 cups of caramel, which is more than you need for the cheesecake but believe me you will have no problem finding ways to use it up- ice cream, apple pie, chocolate covered caramel pretzels...

hazelnut praline powder
Adapted from "The Pie and Pastry Bible" by Rose Levy Beranbaum

1 cup toasted hazelnuts
2/3 cup white sugar
1/4 cup water

Place toasted hazelnuts on a cookie sheet and set aside. In a small heavy bottomed pot combine sugar and water. Heat on medium high. Let the mixture boil undisturbed. Brush down any sugar crystals with a damp pastry brush. If you have a candy thermometer you're looking for the mixture to reach 380, if your going by color you want a dark amber color and as soon as you've reached your mark pull it off the heat and pour it directly over the hazelnuts. Once cool you can process in a food processor. Set aside until ready to use. Any left overs can be stored in a cool dry place, do not refrigerate. Makes about 1 & 1/2 cups, it's more than you need to top a cheesecake, but keeps for a couple of weeks in which time you will come up with other uses for it.


2 cup graham cracker crumbs
4 tablespoons white sugar
1 teaspoon cinnamon
2/3 cup melted butter

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Combine crumbs, sugar and cinnamon in a bowl and stir in melted butter. Press into the bottom and about an inch up the sides of a false bottom cheesecake pan. Bake for 10 to 12 minutes. Remove from oven and set aside. Enough for 1 large or 2 small cheesecakes.

pumpkin cheesecake batter
Adapted from "The Cake Bible" by Rose Levy Beranbaum

1 & 1/2 pounds cream cheese (at room temperature)
2 cups white sugar
4 eggs
2 cups canned pumpkin
2 cups sour cream
2 teaspoons pumpkin spice
2 teaspoons vanilla extract

Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Beat cream cheese in a stand mixer on medium speed until creamy, about 1 minute. Scrap down the sides of the bowl and add sugar; beat to combine, about another minute. Scrap the sides of the bowl again and add pumpkin, sour cream, pumpkin spice and vanilla. Beat on medium until everything is combined, scraping the bowl again if necessary. Add the eggs and beat on low just until everything is mix well. Do not over mix! 

Pour the batter into your prepared pan. Cut a piece of tin foil large enough to cover the outside bottom and sides of the pan. Tightly wrap the tin foil around the pan. Place pan into a baking dish and fill it with hot water until it reaches about 1 & 1/2 inches up the side of the pan. Bake for 1 hour or until cheesecake is firm but still bouncy. Leave the cheesecake in the oven but turn off the oven and let the cheesecake cool down completely for another hour. If the water hasn't all evaporated, take the cheesecake out of the water bath. Refrigerate for 4 hours or overnight. This is enough batter for 1 large or 2 small  cheesecakes, or 12 to 16 servings.


Once the cheesecake is totally chilled and firm, carefully remove it from the pan. Slide a decorating spatula or the bottom of a tart pan under the bottom and transfer to a serving plate. If the caramel is on the tight side you can pop it in the microwave for 20 or 30 seconds to get it to a pourable consistency. Spread caramel over the top of cheesecake and sprinkle liberally with hazelnut praline. 

Hope you had a great Holiday! What did you make for dessert?

Monday, November 19, 2012

Sourdough Cranberry Scones

Who knew you could make sourdough scones? The smart and savey bakers over at Sourdough Surprises, that's who. And not just scones; bagels, twists, pizza, donuts. Sourdough donuts? I need one right now!! Certainly I never knew, but I'm so glad I know now. I think soudough and I are going to be good friends, and that wasn't always the case. 

My last experience with sourdough went something like this. I got a job at a restaurant known for their handmade sourdough bread. I was more of a pastry chef so I thought this would be a great way to expand my repertoire. Hmmmm, not so much as it turns out. You see, sourdough starter is alive and it needs to be fed and these monsters, five 20 quart containers, needed me to feed them everyday. It was not fun, at least I didn't think so. It was cold, cause they were in the walk-in. It was messy, I remember being up to my shoulders in sourdough starter. And it was hard work to get those starters mixed just right. Needless to say I found another job ASAP.

This time around I'm having such a better experience. The starter is in a sweet glass jar perfectly sized to my proportions. And I'm only feeding it once a week as per many suggestions such as this and this. I mostly use white whole wheat flour (or whole wheat pastry flour) so that's what I used for the starter. I did cheat and used commerical yeast to start the starter. Also I must confess I was clueless about hydration rates, therefore my starter is a little runny. But it's a start!

I adapted my old tried and true scone recipe. I've been making these scones  for years, in fact we did a great wholesake business for a while. Every Wednesday was "Scone  Wednesday", the day we made and packaged  50 dozen scones of every possible flavor. Since there's a good amount of baking powder in this recipe, the starter is used more for flavor than for lifting the dough. (I do want to make these again and when I do I'll let the dough rise before baking and see what happens.) I took out some of the flour and some of the heavy cream and replaced it with the starter. I totally forget to add the egg but I didn't even notice till I was writing the recipe here. I would say it doesn't need it so I left it out of these instructions. 

I had my doubts about how they were going to turn out, but that's the fun of trying something new. Let me tell you they were fantastic!! The dough was easy to work with and smelled amazing. The end product was light, airy and tender with a pleasent, earthy sourdough tang. 

Sourdough Cranberry Scones

1 & 1/2 cups white whole wheat flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
2 tablespoons sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup cold butter, cut up
1 cup sourdough starter
1/4 cup heavy cream
1/4 cup dried cranberries
1 cup confectioners sugar
2 tablespoons milk

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. In a large bowl combine flour, baking powder, sugar and salt. Cut in cold butter and mix, by hand, until crumbly. Or use a food processor, just don't over mix. Add cranberries and toss to mix. Add heavy cream and starter; mix with a wooden spoon just to combine. Turn dough out on to a floured surface and give it a couple turns just until it all comes together. Dough will be sticky. Try not to handle it too much or get too much more flour worked into it. Pat the dough into an 8 or 9 inch circle and cut into six triangles. Cut each triangle in half to get 12 scones. Place scones on a parchment lined baking sheet. Bake for 12 minutes. Turn the tray and bake for another 10 to 12 minutes. Combine confectioners sugar and milk and spread on cooled scones.  Makes 12 scones. 

Did you think sourdough starter was just for bread? Let's hear your thoughts on the subject!

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Black Bean Soup

I have some good news and some bad news.

The bad news- I had to say good bye to a good friend. Yes, we had a hard frost last week and we lost the volunteer grape tomato. I picked as many tomatoes as I could, both red and green, before the cold shriveled the life out of it. It’s amazing that I could harvest tomatoes in November, not to mention how amazing it is that the plant showed up in the first place. Still, I was sad to see it go.

And for the good news- I found my recipe for Black Bean Soup and I'm totally over the tomato plant! Now that I found the recipe I can finally share it with you. I was going to wing it. I basically recalled all the items that went into it (well, except one). The recipe, if you could call it that, was just a list of ingredients anyway, some with no amounts. Still it was a thrill to find it ‘cause it meant I wasn’t going crazy and I did indeed write down a basic framework and put it in the book that I thought I had put it in but for some reason just could never find. 

I got this recipe from the guy who was the chef at the restaurant when I bought into it although he left shortly thereafter, providing me with my first big challenge as a restaurant owner- finding a chef. Well, this soup so makes up for that whole thing (imagine me waving my hands in front of me to convey the enormity of that whole thing). This soup is soooo out-of-this-world delicious! It’s like the lobster bisque of bean soups. No, it’s like the lobster of bean soups. It has a depth of flavor that elevates it above the rustic profile normally associated with soups of the bean nature. It’s good, let me tell you. I know this because Kenny likes it and he even asked for seconds, and he really doesn’t like black bean soup. Seconds from a guy who doesn't like it, it’s that good. And good for you, yes, black beans are so good for you. But you won’t think you’re eating health food, no, this soup tastes decadent. Even the vegan version (without chicken stock, sour cream or butter on your roll) is super charged with flavor.

Don't be intimidated by all the ingredients, some of which you may not have on hand. The first 11 ingredients are just a supped up (no pun intended) mirepoix. Go out and buy the Kitchen Bouquet. You’re going to need it when they beg you to please make that black bean soup again.

Black Bean Soup

1 cup finely chopped onion
1 cup finely chopped red pepper
1 cup finely chopped celery (I used organic)
1 cup finely chopped carrot
2 cloves garlic, peeled and finely chopped
¼ cup olive oil
1 teaspoon oregano
1 teaspoon thyme
1 teaspoon cumin
½ teaspoon chili powder
2 bay leaves
1 tablespoon flour
2-3 cups vegetable stock (or chicken stock)
2 cans black beans, drained and rinsed
½ cup cooking sherry
A dash or two Worcestershire sauce
2 tablespoons tomato paste
2 teaspoons Kitchen Bouquet
Salt and pepper to taste
sour cream (optional for garnish)

In a large pot add olive oil, onion, pepper, celery, carrot, garlic, all the spices and bay leaves. Cook on medium high, stirring occasionally, for 10 to 15 minutes or until the vegetables are tender but not mushy. Stir in flour and 1 cup of stock. Cook until mixture thickens. Add 1 more cup of stock and black beans and cook, stirring occasionally for 10 minutes. Remove bay leaves. Transfer 3 or 4 cups of soup to a food processor or blender and process until liquid; return to pot. Add Worcestershire, tomato paste, Kitchen Bouquet and salt and pepper to taste. Heat until warm and use remaining stock if soup gets too thick. Serve with sour cream and a dash of tabasco.

Have you ever lost a recipe and tried to wing it? I'd love to hear your story. Drop me an email or post a comment!

Saturday, November 10, 2012


I don't remember the first time I tried mandelbrot but I do remember the last time. My friend and fellow pastry chef had made them for a party. She's Chinese but grew up in Vietnam and I thought how strange/funny/great it was that she was making this Askenazi Jewish version of Italian biscotti. Did I just blow your mind with too many cultural references! Well, that's what baking is like. And when something is as good and as old as biscotti it's bound to make it around the world a few times. 

I never did get my friend's recipe; I recall them being hefty, crispy and  studded with nuts and dried fruits, also, not too sweet. I cobbled this one together from a few sources (there isn't a Bubbie out there who doesn't have a recipe for mandelbrot), but mostly this recipe which also has some great tips for successful outcomes that I am too lazy to write here. 

These are definitely cookies that you can make ahead and squirrel away in a tin on top of the fridge for whatever. And you certainly want to make sure you have a cup of hot something on hand in which to dunk them because they are meant to be crunchy. Although I did deploy my secret weapon, almond flour, making these cookies somewhat more tender then they are traditionally. I made them a little sweeter as well because life is short and cookies should be sweet. And they are fully loaded with yummy yums like white chocolate and dried cherries. 

Mandelbrot (adapted from this recipe)

3 eggs
1 cup vegetable oil
1 1/4 cups raw cane sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 1/2 cups white whole wheat flour (I used King Arthur)
1 cup almond flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 cups dried cherries, roughly chopped
2 cups sliced almonds
1 cup white chocolate, chopped into tiny pieces (I used Perugina)
1/4 cup sanding sugar for top (I used demerara)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Combine oil, eggs, sugar and vanilla in a mixer and beat on medium for about 5 minutes. In another bowl combine flour, almond flour, baking powder and salt. Add dry mix to eggs and mix on low. Add cherries, almonds and chocolate and mix just until everything comes together.

Divide dough into 4 equal portions. Make sure your hands are clean and a little damp, and quickly form each portion into a log roughly 9" by 2". Keep your hands clean otherwise the dough will stick to them and you'll have a devil of a time making nice neat logs. Place 2 logs on a sheet tray, keeping at least 2 inches between them, sprinkle tops with sanding sugar. Bake for 30 minutes. They won't be done all the way, but don't worry they get backed again. Remove trays from oven and lower it to 300 degrees.

After the logs have cooled for 10 minutes cut each into 3/4 inch slices and leave them on the trays. Return cookies to the oven and bake an additional 30 minutes or until they are lightly brown around the edges. Don't over bake them at this stage or they will be hard instead of crunchy. Makes about 36 to 40 cookies.

Monday, November 5, 2012

Transcendent Quiname Burgers

It's about time I did a post regarding  Meatless Monday. I've been sending out emails every Monday at work for over a year now, encouraging folks with ideas for alternative, meatless meals. In fact, it's kind of what got me thinking I could do a food blog in the first place.

I'm not a vegetarian by any stretch of the imagination but I do try to eat "a plant-based diet." Even the Government is on board with this philosophy as evidenced by their Chose My Plate campaign.

I must admit, I never ate a lot of beef. And when it comes to cooking I don't like handling dead flesh; sorry, but that's what it is. Luckily there are so many different ways to get the protein your body needs without resorting to carnavoreism that's it's silly not to do it at least one day a week. 

For instance, why would you indulge in a greasy, fatty cow burger when you can have a fresh, healthy veggie burger? The veggie burger is going to give you the same burger experience without the coronary disease and bad karma. Plus the added bonus of numerous other nutrients that aren't even in the meat! As far as I'm concerned, a veggie burger is going to transcend a cow burger any day of the week, not just Monday.

Edamame and red quinoa are my two best friends right now. They play together nice in this burger which I've dubbed 'Quiname' in honor of the two star ingredients. Rounding out the cast are almonds, raisins and whole wheat flour. It's all good, good, good stuff to nourish body and mind! When you have a burger this wholesome and fresh there's no way you're gonna use ketchup, which is basically high fructose corn syrup, so please check out the accompanying recipe for Susan's Tomato Jam. I picked this up at Terrain in Glen Mills. I missed Susan's demo but found the recipe in a glass Wrek jar I purchased!

Quiname Burgers

1 & 1/2 cups edamame
1 cup cooked quinoa (follow the package instructions)
1/4 cup ground almonds
1/4 cup raisins
1/4 cup boiling water
2 tablespoons whole wheat flour
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 ounces Farmhouse cheddar cheese, thinly sliced
Susan's Tomato Jam (recipe to follow)
Whole wheat rolls
your favorite burger fixins'

Pour boiling water over raisins and let stand for about 5 minutes to absorb water. Combine edamame, quinoa, almonds, soaked raisins and whole wheat flour in food processor. Blend until mixture comes together. Form into four round patties. Wrap and chill for about 30 minutes. Heat oil in a large skillet on medium high heat. Cook burgers for 3 to 4 minutes on each side. Turn down the heat and top each burger with cheese slices. Pour a little water in the pan and cover, cook for 1 more minute to melt cheese.  Makes 4 burgers. Serve on whole wheat rolls with Susan's Tomato Jam and your favorite burger toppings.

Susan's Tomato Jam
(adapted from original recipe)

1 pound (about 2 cups) homegrown tomatoes (I used my volunteer tomatoes, I'm sure you're sick of hearing me talk about them)
1/4 cup raw cane sugar
2 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
1/2 teaspoon pumpkin spice
pinch red pepper flakes

Cut tomatoes small pieces and combine with all other ingredients in a small, heavy bottomed pot. Cook on medium heat, stirring often until mixture jells and coats the back of a spoon, about 30 to 45 minutes. Susan's original recipe gave instructions for putting the jam up in jars. However, this is a much smaller quantity than the original, plus I don't feel qualified to instruct you on jarring. I just keep mine in a sealed container in the fridge. It's such a small amount that you will probably use it up before it can go bad in a week or two. If you know what you're doing and you feel comfortable jarring up the jam than go for it. Use on every and anything you would normally use ketchup.

Friday, November 2, 2012

Mini Lemon Meringue Cheesecakes

I was ready. 

I had the freezer packed with bags of ice. There was a flashlight in my pocket and extra water and peanut butter in the kitchen. I changed the batteries in the clock radio, charged the phone (several times), and put a toothbrush in my handbag. I had the harnesses on the dogs and a bag packed with family photos, the title to the car and emergency chocolate. Then I sat and waited for the worst to happen.

And it did.

Just not in my immediate vicinity.

Sandy passed by with little to show for it at our house. The lights flickered a couple of times but we never lost power. There wasn't even a drop of water in the basement. Only a couple of small branches fell from the trees, just what might come down in a normal rainstorm. Many others were not as fortunate. From Georgia to New England and over to the Great Lakes Sandy brought death and destruction with wind, water, fire and ice. My heart goes out to everyone who is struggling in the aftermath of this, as my sister would say, 'storm of biblical proportions'. Maybe I haven't seen the sun in a while or maybe I'm coming down from a serious stress high, but I'm craving some lemony goodness in my life right now.

Willow Bird Challenge #5, the Cheesecake Challenge, is giving me the opportunity to squeeze some lemons. This cheesecake is supposed to reflect our baking style or somehow relate something of ourselves. So why did I choose Lemon Cheesecake?

I might've chose Ricotta Cheesecake, I grew up on my Mom's humble yet flavorful version of this Italian dessert. Or maybe Munich Cheesecake, I had to make this for my first job as a baker. Or maybe Brownie Cheesecake, or Amaretto or Chocolate Chocolate Chip. I'm no stranger to cheesecake. But at the end of the day, or rather at the end of the week I choose Lemon Cheesecake. Whenever I found myself closing the restaurant on a Sunday night, after the last table finally left and the money was counted and the floor was swept and the pots were washed and the trash was taken out, a slice of Lemon Cheesecake was the treat I packed up for myself (and a couple of brownies and a diet coke for Kenny) to take home. I don't know why, but it just seemed like the right thing to do. 

I made them mini this time and added lemon curd and meringue just to put a twist on it. Cheesecake is something I just don't want to over eat and these little guys are the perfect size for an intimate, ethereal, sweet-tart indulgence. 

Mini Lemon Meringue Cheesecakes 

lemon curd

5 egg yolks
1/2 cup sugar
1/3 cup fresh lemon juice
1 teaspoon lemon rind
1 tablespoon butter

Mix all ingredients, except butter, in a medium metal bowl. Place bowl over a pot of simmering water, stirring occasionally, until mixture thickens and coats the back of a spoon. Remove from heat and whisk in the butter. Cover directly with plastic wrap and chill.

lemon cookie crust

1 cup lemon cookie crumbs (I used Pepperidge Farm Lemon cookies and a Cuisinart)
2 tablespoons melted butter

In a medium bowl stir melted butter into crumbs just to combine. Line a mini cupcake pan with cupcake papers and press about  1 & 1/2 teaspoons of crumbs in each cup. Makes enough for about 32-36 minis. Set aside.

lemon chiffon cheesecake 

1 pound cream cheese (at room temperature)
1 cup sugar
2 eggs
1 cup sour cream
1/2 teaspoon lemon rind
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

Preheat oven to 300 degrees. Cream the cream cheese and add the sugar. Beat on medium just until everything is combined, scraping the bowl as needed. Add the eggs and beat on low until incorporated. Add the sour cream, lemon rind and vanilla extract. Mix on low, scrapping the bowl as needed and just mix until everything is combined. Do not over mix! Scoop the cheesecake batter into the prepared cupcake pan, about a tablespoon in each one. Bake for 25 to 30 minutes. Cool at room temperature. When cool, top each with a teaspoon of lemon curd. Makes enough for 32-36 minis.


3 egg whites
1 cup sugar
1 teaspoon cream of tartar
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

You can easily toast the meringue with a propane torch. If you don't have that  preheat your oven to 450 degrees or use your broiler. Whip egg whites on medium and add sugar and cream of tartar. When everything is mixed beat on high until thick. Pipe meringue on top of cheesecakes and use your preferred method to brown the meringue.