19 hours ago
Tuesday, December 30, 2008
I find that sometimes I'll use a particular kitchen product for years and never realize that the product is lacking in any respect -- until the manufacturer introduces a newer, slicker, more task-specific version of the product, and ONLY THEN do I realize that I've been improperly equipped in the kitchen all along. Take, for example, Pam. I thought for years that Original Pam was sufficient for all of my spray oil needs. But then all of a sudden it seemed like every other time I went to the grocery store, a new Pam would appear on the shelves along with Original Pam. And if Baking Pam (with Flour) now exists, then, by implication, Original Pam must be inadequate for preparing my muffin pans, correct? And they would not be willing to sell me Grilling Pam if Original Pam could be counted on to prevent burger stickage (hey, we're not playing Scrabble -- I can make up words if I feel like it!) in high heat situations. Butter Pam? I never knew I needed it until it existed. Olive Oil Pam? Organic Canola Pam? Must be a good reason for them, that's what I say.
Similarly, I had never noticed the multitude of foil choices available to me until I started gearing up to make this Tall & Creamy Cheesecake. During the course of exchanging comments earlier in the month, Nancy of The Dogs Eat the Crumbs warned me about water infiltration into her springform pan, despite the fact that she double wrapped her pan. After reading her full account last week, and seeing how well wrapped her pan was, I became seriously worried -- if my talented and competent bloggy friends have trouble with this sort of thing, what chance do I stand? But by a pure stroke of good fortune (although it didn't seem that way as I set out on my fourth grocery trip of the day on 12/23!), I realized that I was out of foil when it was time to make the cheesecake, so I had to go back to the store for more. And once I got to the foil aisle, I realized that I had choices. Big time choices. There is regular old Reynolds, of course. Reynolds Nonstick. Reynolds Heavy Strength. Reynolds Super Strength. Reynolds Cheesecake Bathing Waterproof. Er, okay, so that last one was actually not available in my little city.
So it came down to Reynolds Heavy Strength and Reynolds Super Strength, but even after studying the packages I could see no real discernible difference between the two -- both are great for "lining," "grilling," and "freezing." The only difference that I could see is that Super Strength is also recommended for "tenting," whereas you don't even want to know what could happen if you try to tent with Heavy Strength. How to choose, how to choose? Oh, hell, I'll get them both. But I'm still worried. You don't understand, Reynolds. This cheesecake is to be THE Christmas dessert for the entire fam. My sister and her hubs endured nightmarish travel woes to be with us for Christmas. My cheesecake just can't be a waterlogged flop -- I don't have a plan B. This is one of my toughest situations. Can you handle it?
Alrighty then! I wrapped the pan in one layer of Reynolds Heavy Strength and one layer of Reynolds Super Strength, because nobody has ever accused me of being a Decider.
The Reynolds Heavy Strength/Super Strength tandem worked like a charm. I actually made this cheesecake twice, for two different family gatherings. The first time there was no water in the foil at all. The second time there was some water in the second layer of foil, but none in the first layer (the one actually wrapping the pan). Even though it didn't affect the cheesecake, the fact that a little water got into one of the layers one of the times I baked this will forever make the cheesecake water bath a frightening undertaking for me. Much like baking yeast breads, I think I'll always view it as kind of a crapshoot over which I have little real control.
Here is a peek of the cheesecake luxuriating in its water bath:
Just for an hour, I want to be a Tall & Creamy Cheesecake.
The first time I made this, the crust worried me a little -- I'm not sure if I used too many graham crackers or too little butter, but it seemed a little dry, and I had somewhat of a hard time pressing it into the pan. But it cooked up fine and tasted delicious.
The second time I made it, the graham cracker mixture seemed to have a better consistency. I thought the finished crust was even better the second time around.
The cheesecake mixture itself needs a lot of work to achieve a nice smooth consistency, but the Kitchen Aid handles most of it:
I felt like I had to add something every few minutes, but other than that I was pretty much free to go off and do other things, which really suited my non-focused personality. Add some sugar, go wrap a present, empty the dryer, beat in some vanilla, pull my 16 month old off the stairs, add an egg, pretend to be a kitty, flip through the thirty fourth Restoration Hardware catalog we've gotten since Thanksgiving, add another egg, check the mail, update my Facebook status to let everyone know I just got the mail, add another egg. This is my kind of kitchen project, and I loved how I didn't need to worry about overmixing or burning down the house like I do with most things I make. In fact, I think that getting distracted, forgetting about it, and letting it mix for a few extra minutes actually helps it attain that irresistible smooth & creamy texture. That's my story, anyway, and I'm sticking to it!
It should be obvious by now that I am no photographer, and I am usually just fine with that fact, but these pictures really bug me, because I thought the cheesecake(s) were really beautiful, and the pictures just really don't do them justice at all. The top of my first cheesecake (shown) was a little darker than the top of my second cheesecake, but not nearly as dark as the picture would indicate; it had a nice light golden brown color. Someday, I will learn how to take a decent picture.
This cheesecake was spectacular. I served it with Dorie's raspberry coulis from page 467 of Baking (I made it with frozen raspberries, because fresh raspberries were nowhere to be found in this town on Christmas Eve, and added a little bit of Chambord to it). I still can't believe I made something that tasted this good (twice!) I think David would tell you that this was the best dessert I've made so far. My sister had never had cheesecake before (???????????) and said that she had no idea what she'd been missing all these years. My mother said that this was the best cheesecake she'd ever had. And of course you can trust my mom's objectivity about my cheesecake, but just in case you didn't, I'll tell you that my mother-in-law loved it too! (Actually, that won't really give you any more objective information about this cheesecake, because I have the world's greatest MIL, and she is as likely as my own mother to think that some cheesecake I made is better than it actually is.) Anyway, David's mom raved about the "pure cheesecakey goodness," and I think that about sums up the essence of this cheesecake as well as anything.
I thought this was the perfect cheesecake. I know that there are hundreds of options for playing around with this, but I will have a really hard time deviating AT ALL from the recipe as written. This cheesecake is destined to become a go-to special occasion dessert for me.
I am not at all surprised that the wonderful and talented Anne Strawberry would treat her fellow TWD bakers to the perfect December pick. Anne's is one of the first food blogs I started reading, and she seems to have a special gift for choosing the perfect food for any occasion. Her creations are always beautiful, and her presentations are festive, elegant and stunning. Anne, I would not have made this if you hadn't picked it, and my family and I would have missed out on a really special Christmas dessert. I cannot thank you enough for this fabulous selection!