Wednesday, May 07, 2008

Thinking sweet thoughts to get me through finals!

Yep, it's that time again, folks. Finals are upon us, and I am pert near frazzled to death! I actually have been doing some interesting cooking and baking along the way to keep me sane; being in the kitchen is a great stress reliever for me, and an opportunity to to re-energize and get my creative juices flowing again when I'm overextended with work and other commitments. So I always make time for cooking and baking, even when I'm harried--I just don't have the time to blog about it! Hence, this post will be a bit of a catch-all and a catch-up. But there will be a unifying theme of sugary incentives to power you through this super-busy time right at the end of the semester.

First, I must share with you a recipe that I made from the April issue of Gourmet (see how behind I am, since the June issue is already on the newsstands?!). The issue was all about Italian cooking, and they had a recipe for a decadent chocolate hazelnut cheesecake (Nutella lovers, listen up!) that I just had to try. I did put my own spin on it, of course, but it came out absolutely delicious! It's dark and extremely dense and, in that European way, not overly-sweet. The changes I made were to make an Oreo crust, as I did not have any Wheatolos around (though I know they would be great for this recipe). Also, I used macadamia pieces instead of hazelnuts and doubled the amount called for (personal preference here--and any nut would do, I think, but only hazelnuts will give you that Nutella taste). And finally, though many people like that this cheesecake is not very sweet, I still think it needs a boost in that department. I served mine with a thick mantle of powdered sugar to compensate which worked fine, and that let people control their own level of sweetness. But personally, I would up the granulated sugar a little next time. Nevertheless, I highly recommend that you give this recipe a try. It's not difficult, it's elegant, and it's delicious--a chocoholic's dream!

Perugian-Style Chocolate Hazelnut Cheesecake (Torta di Cioccolata al Forno con Vaniglia e Nocciola--you do, and you'll clean it up!)
(Source: Gourmet, April 2008)

For crust:
1/4 pound wheatmeal crackers finely crushed (about 1 cup)--
I used crushed chocolate Famous Wafers
1 ounce fine-quality bittersweet chocolate (no more than 60% cacao if marked), grated--
I omitted this for my Oreo-type crust
1/2 stick unsalted butter, melted

For filling:
1/2 pound fine-quality bittersweet chocolate (no more than 60% cacao if marked), chopped--I used Ghiradelli bittersweet chips
1 stick unsalted butter, cut into pieces

1 pound 2 ounces cream cheese, at room temperature
1/2 cup sour cream
1/4 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
2 large eggs
2/3 cup superfine granulated sugar--
I used regular granulated sugar and it worked fine, though next time, I would up this to a full cup!
1 cup hazelnuts (4 1/2 ounces), toasted loose skins rubbed off in a kitchen towel while still warm, and nuts chopped--
I used 2 cups roasted and salted macadamia pieces

Accompaniment: lightly sweetened whipped cream--I garnished with powdered sugar

Combine all ingredients for the crust, then press onto bottom of a 10-inch springform pan. Preheat oven to 325°F with rack in middle.

Melt chocolate with butter, then remove from heat and whisk in cream cheese until smooth. Whisk in sour cream and vanilla. Whisk together eggs and sugar in a large bowl until mixture has a mousse-like consistency, then stir in chocolate mixture and nuts. Pour filling into crust and bake 1 1/2 hours. (Top will be slightly cracked.)

Cool to room temperature in pan on a rack, about 1 hour, then chill at least 1 hour. (Cake will sink slightly.)

Cooks' notes:
•Wheatmeal biscuits are British-style whole-wheat crackers. Look for Carr's (labeled "Whole Wheat Crackers" and found at most supermarkets) or McVitie's brand (found at some specialty foods shops).
•Chocolate hazelnut cheesecake can be chilled up to 1 day. Bring to room temperature before serving.

Secondly, I thought you might like to see the cake that I made to celebrate my friend Judy's 15th anniversary of teaching for the college where I work. At the recognition ceremony, she came down from the stage after receiving some token gift or another looking very vexed, muttering to herself, "15 years here, and I didn't even get a cake!" (She was kidding...kind of.) So of course, I took it upon myself to celebrate her properly in the manner that she desired. This had to be kind of a shortcut cake, as I decided on a whim to make it on a Thursday night to take to school on Friday. But I think it turned out very well. Judy loves citrus, as I discovered when I made a lemon and orange curd years ago and shared some with her. So that "sunshine curd" became the flavor inspiration for her 15 year cake. As I had done before with a similar lemon-blueberry cake, I simply zhooshed up a French vanilla mix with extra vanilla, lemon juice, both lemon and tangerine zest, and a soupçon of Fiori di Sicilia (which has a bit of a creamsicle quality to it). Then I split the layers and filled them with my homemade honeybell vanilla bean marmalade, and frosted the whole affair with a luscious cream cheese icing that I enlivened with a little lemon oil. Finally, just for fun, I topped the cake with a big, polka-dotted one and a five, and decorated it even more whimsically with some citrus candy slices. Cute, huh? Oh, and then her card read: "ORANGE you glad you've made it 15 years? We sure aren't LEMON-ting it! Survive another 15 years? PIECE OF CAKE!" I know...I am nothing if not clever and amusing, and I do so love a theme to play with! ;-)

But if you really are in the weeds and can't muster the time or strength to think up fruity puns or to make even a boxed cake mix, let alone a cheesecake from scratch, then I have one final recommendation. I realize that this is at the end of a long post, and therefore, likely to be overlooked. But gather around, my beautiful babies. Mama's got something important to say to you. As you know, I only offer product recommendations on this blog once in a blue moon, and only when something makes a real impression on me. For example, have you tried the McSkillet Burrito at McDonald's? I'm not a fan of fast food as a general rule, but their newest breakfast burrito is pretty tasty. And I would like to shake the hand of the genius from Mt. Olive who came up with the Kosher Dill Petites Pickle Pak! They give you a little fruit cup-size pack of teensy little cornichons, and I keep them chilled in the mini-fridge in my office to eat with sandwiches at my desk. Yum! But these items pale in comparison to my latest discovery of the greatest food product ever known to man or woman. My only hesitation in sharing this revelation with you is that all my fellow Plattsburghers may descend on our handful of grocery stores and deplete the local supply before I can buy more for myself! Friends, listen to me. Hear my words. Häagen-Dazs Reserve Fleur de Sel Caramel Ice Cream. I'm going to say it again. Häagen-Dazs Reserve Fleur de Sel Caramel Ice Cream! "Reserve" translates to "costs a dollar more," but this is one of the few products where the exorbitant price is more the justified in my mind. Indeed, I'm boldly declaring this the best ice cream in the history of humanity! The base is caramel, but not overbearingly so (I usually prefer a vanilla base for this kind of thing), and there are soft, swoopy (not sticky) swirls of salty caramel throughout. And just when you think it couldn't possibly get any better, it is also chock full of miniature dark chocolate-covered fleur de sel caramels! I was anticipating that the candy would be superfluous, but I was wrong...dead wrong. They actually remind me of the wonderful sea salt caramels that Trader Joe's carries around the holidays, but these are Lilliputian in scale. All in all, it is a SUBLIME, nay, even SURREAL combination! If you dig the sweet-salty thing like I do, this is going send you over into going crazy (name the movie...anyone?)! If you need something to live for, something to make getting out of bed worthwhile in these trying times, something to give you the energy to survive to the end of a long school year, this is just the ticket. Mark me well, friends. (And save me some at the stores!)


Randi said...

Is it real chocolate in the hagan daz? I just hate when a label says " chocolaty bits". I avoid those like the plague.

I'll have to look for that ice cream next time I go to MI.

Joy Bugaloo said...

Well, it does say "chocolatey coating," I'm afraid. But it is very creamy and tasty nonetheless. You must try's heaven on earth (if you're a sweet and salty gal like me)!


Randi said...

I looked for it today, but couldnt find it : (

Randi said...

speaking of sweet and salty, did you see the cookies anna made? The CI oatmeal cookies with white choc and fleur de sel? Smitten Kitchen made them too. I bet you'd like those.

Jessica "Su Good Sweets" said...

The chocolate hazelnut cake caught my eye, but there's so much butter and chocolate!