Sunday, December 11, 2011

Busy week/weekend!

This has been HELL WEEK! Besides it being "term paper week" at school (which is usually rougher than finals week, in my opinion), the Christmas choir concerts that I perform in each year were scheduled a week later than usual, creating a perfect storm of stress and little sleep. On top of all that, it was my roommate Cyd's birthday on Thursday, and my friend June also hosted a belated Thanksgiving (Thanksmas? Christgiving?) yesterday because her daughter and son-in-law couldn't come home in November. So add two baking projects to my never-ending list of things to accomplish this week! AAARRRGGGHHH! But I survived, and judging by my desserts, I'd say I thrived!

Ok, I cheated a little for Cyd's German chocolate birthday cake, but it turned out SO YUMMY that I would definitely take the same shortcuts again. Two things made my life easier: 1) I used a boxed mix for the cake (Duncan Hines' German chocolate cake, which was very good), and 2) I settled for a 9x13 cake rather than the more troublesome layer cake. Cyd is all about flavor and doesn't care much for fancy presentation anyway. I used the excellent King Arthur recipe for the little heart-shaped German chocolate cakes that I made for Valentine's Day a few years ago, but just made the bittersweet ganache icing and the pecan and coconut topping. SUPER-DELISH, and I don't even like coconut!

For June's party, I also volunteered to make a dessert. Around proper Thanksgiving time, I received an email newsletter from Panera, and they included a scrumptious-sounding recipe for a sweet potato cheesecake. Since I have yet to unearth one of my springform pans (yes, yes, there are still lots of unpacked boxes from the move two years ago--don't judge me!), I decided to make mini-cheesecakes in muffin tins. They turned out SO CUTE, and I topped them with some of the luscious and spicy habanero goat's milk cajeta from the Beekman 1802 Boys, and garnished the plates with a little leftover toasted coconut. YUM! Happy Thanksmas, everyone!

Sweet Potato Cheesecake with Toffee Nut Crust
(Source: Panera Bread)
Yield: 16 servings

2 Panera Bread Toffee Nut Cookies
1 tablespoon packed brown sugar
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
2 tablespoons melted butter

1 large (12-ounce) sweet potato, peeled and chopped
2 packages (8 ounces each) reduced-fat cream cheese spread, softened  (I used regular, full fat cream cheese!)
1 cup part-skim ricotta cheese
1 tablespoon flour
2 1/2 teaspoons pumpkin pie spice
1/2 cup packed brown sugar
1/2 cup granulated sugar
3 large eggs, at room temperature
*I added a teaspoon of vanilla because it seemed wrong not to!

For the crust:
Preheat oven to 350ºF. In food processor, pulverize cookies to fine crumbs (you should have 1 1/2 cups). Add brown sugar and cinnamon, and pulse briefly to mix. Turn machine on and, with machine running, drizzle melted butter through a feeding tube just until crumbs are evenly coated (mixture will not form a ball but remain crumbly).

Turn mixture out into a 9-inch springform pan. Using your fingers, evenly distribute crumbs over the bottom and up the sides of pan, gently pressing into an even thickness. Wrap foil around the outside of the bottom of the pan to help prevent any leaks from cheesecake. Bake on a rimmed baking sheet until lightly browned, 8 to 10 minutes. Cool on a rack. (I divided the crust mixture and pressed some into 16 muffin tins lined with cupcake papers--though in hindsight, I should have made a little extra and gone for 24 as I had a lot of filling leftover. The little muffin crusts needed less than eight minutes to bake--start checking at about six minutes.)

For the cheesecake:
Lower oven temperature to 250ºF. Put sweet potato in a microwavable container, cover with plastic wrap and microwave until very soft, 4 to 5 minutes. Measure out 1 1/4 cups packed.

In a clean food processor, combine the cream cheese, ricotta, flour, and pumpkin pie spice (cinnamon, ginger, and nutmeg). Puree, scraping down sides as necessary, until smooth (mixture will be fairly thick). Scrape mixture into a large bowl. In the processor (no need to clean it this time), combine 1 1/4 cups sweet potatoes, brown sugar, granulated sugar, eggs, and vanilla. Puree, scraping sides as necessary, until well blended. Add to bowl and whisk until completely smooth.

Pour into prepared crust(s) and set on a rimmed baking sheet, and then set on the center oven rack. Pour boiling water into baking sheet to about 1/2-inch up sides of cake pan. Bake until almost set (center will be slightly loose when jiggled), about 90 minutes*. Remove pan from water bath and cool completely in pan on a rack. When completely cool, cover with foil and refrigerate 6 hours or overnight.

*I did not use a water bath, just baked the mini-cheesecakes in muffin tins. And DANG IT, I forget how long I baked them...maybe 75 minutes? Start checking at an hour just to be safe. Cool the muffin tins on wire racks, then chill overnight in the fridge. Carefully remove the cupcake papers, top with cajeta or your favorite caramel sauce, and garnish with whipped cream and/or toasted coconut.

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