Thursday, January 27, 2011

Helpful Hints for a Successful Cheesecake

Cheesecake can be incredibly intimidating but it is deceptively easy to make.  All you need is a lot of patience because cheesecake takes a lot of time.  I want to share with you a few tips with you that I learned along the way to help you become successful in making cheesecake in your own home.

1) Have all your ingredients at room temperature for approximately an hour or so before starting.  The reason why this is important is to prevent lumps in your batter; cold ingredients tend not to blend well.  Also, cold ingredients also require you to over-mix the batter in order to smooth out those lumps, which in turn causes you to beat more air into the batter.  During the baking process, the air will cause the cake to puff up and sink in the center.  Also, these air bubbles will eventually rise to the surface of the cheesecake and thereby aesthetically destroy the top surface.

2) Use an electric mixer (stand or hand), a food processor, or a powerful blender to combine the ingredients.  Unless you have the power to beat the crap out of cheese, then the use of such equipment makes life so much easier.  It's crucial to smooth out the batter without applying too much air and this is the most efficient and effective way of doing so.

Blackberry Cheesecake

3) Pre-bake your crust to dry out the moisture from the addition of butter to the cookie crumbs.   Otherwise it will not be crisp if you immediately add your cheesecake batter to it and bake.  The melted butter makes the crumbs stick to one another and the heat from the "pre-baking process" makes the water in the butter evaporate and thereby hardens the crust.  You know, for the longest time, I wondered why a majority of recipes required you to add sugar to your already sweet cookie crumbs for your crust.  I understood the purpose of the butter - it is the "glue" used to combine the crumbs together.   But the sugar?  Is that for *extra* sweetness?  I suppose one can argue that the sugar will reach its melting point in the oven and eventually caramelize to create the strong bond needed to connect the crumbs together.  Unnecessary I argue because you have the butter for that purpose.  That is unless you love sugar.  

4) You don't need a bain marie (water bath) to make a good cheesecake.  Many people may fight me to the death on this one.  Understandably.  Cheesecake is essentially a custard that needs to bake slowly and evenly.  The most effective way to do this is to bake it in a water bath.  And since water evaporates at a boiling point of 212F, the water bath will never get hotter than this despite whatever the oven temperature is.  This means that the outer edge of the cheesecake won't bake faster than the center, which can cause it to soufflĂ©, sink, and crack.  HOWEVER, you can still achieve the quintessential cheesecake without a bain marie.  The trick is simple.  Do not open the oven door during baking to ensure a constant temperature and don't bake at a high temperature.

5) Generously butter the cheesecake vessel.  The reason why a cheesecake may crack is because it is stuck to the sides of the pan.  For example, let's say we're using a 9-in spring form pan.  When the sides of the pan are not greased, the cheesecake will adhere to the sides and it will pull the cake towards it.  This causes it to crack in the center because the cake isn't completely solidified during the baking process (that's what refrigeration afterwards is for).

6) It doesn't matter what type of pan you use as long as you line pans with foil for easy removal.  But lining it will be unnecessary if you have a spring form pan.  If you cover a rectangular pan with foil, you can easily lift it out and slice.  And it'll be an easy clean-up!

Mini NY-Style Cheesecake in Cupcake Form

7) Baking times will vary depending on the size of the pan.  Most recipes will offer various baking times for different pan sizes, but most often, you won't see temperatures and times for mini cheesecakes (in cupcake form).  Well, I'll tell you straight-up.  No matter what the recipes says, bake at 275F for 35-40 minutes for mini cheesecakes (remember, the lower the temperature then the longer the baking time).  This has been tested and proven to be absolutely delicious, according to myself and Martha Stewart.

8) After the baking process has completed, turn off oven, keep the oven door open ajar, and walk away leaving the cake in the oven for at least 90 minutes but really up to 3 hours.  We don't want to disrupt the cake by moving it; it needs time to cool down at its own rate.

9) Refrigerate overnight.  Unfortunately this is not a dessert you can sample right away.  It needs to set completely in the fridge.

10) Slice the cake with a warm knife.  This will give you nice even and clean slices.  Dip your knife into warm water and wipe it clean with a towel then slice.  Repeat this step after each slice.

Bite-Sized Oreo Cheesecake Bars
I hope these hints will help you successfully bake your own cheesecake.  If you have any questions, please feel free to leave me a comment and I'll be more than happy to answer (or look up the answer)!

Friday, January 14, 2011

VLOG: the birthday cake

How to you like your birthday cake?  I prefer to have mine light and airy with a subtle sweetness, and paired with fresh fruit.  Sounds like an Asian-style birthday cake doesn't it?  The great thing about this cake recipe is that it is incredibly versatile.  Add whatever fruit and flavors you like.

I posted this video in July 2010 and later removed it from my blog despite the fact that I encouraged YouTube viewers to come stop by this blog for the written recipe and instructions. Well I'm finally going to provide that.  This was the very first vlog attempt and if you are a regular visitor to this blog, you will know how I have improved since.  

Friday, January 7, 2011

VLOG: the scarlet cupcake

After a long break, I'm ready to start twenty-eleven with a rapid fire succession of vlog and blog posts.  So I'ma gonna hit it off with these fantastically red velvet cupcakes.  Red velvet cake is neither a chocolate nor a vanilla cake.  It does however express an ever so subtle hint of chocolately goodness.  As a tremendous supporter of Hershey's chocolate cake recipe, I decided to try out their red velvet recipe.  I generally read hundreds of reviews on a recipe before attempting to recreate my own version, however, not many bloggers discussed the wonders of this specific recipe.  So this is my review of this recipe: it is a delicious moist and tender cake, and serves as a wonderful vehicle for a sweet cream cheese frosting.  So without further ado, I present my first video blog of 2011.  Happy Baking & Eating!  And as promised in the vlog, scroll down for a troubleshooting guide on cake baking.