Monday, May 25, 2015

Pausing for Cheesecake

Cheesecake got me back in the kitchen. Sadly, I haven’t spent much time there lately other than to dash in for quick meals before rushing to the next task. But with Shavuot arriving, I had to take some time out to bake cheesecake. After all, it’s cheesecake!

Shavuot is a Jewish holiday that marks the day Moses received the Torah at Mount Sinai. Festive dairy dishes are traditionally served, which may be due to Shavuot falling in spring when sheep, goats and cows are producing an abundance of milk. Luscious treats such as cheese blintzes and cheesecake are happily eaten to celebrate. Our community in Seattle even hosts a cheesecake bake-off each year. I’d love to do that here in the Methow Valley some year!

I just got some new little spring form pans in at the store – so cute! – which inspired me to try making baby cheesecakes using a terrific recipe for New York style cheesecake that I’ve tweaked and baked countless times over the years. I prefer its classic, simple flavor, adorned only with a few berries.  Let me tell you, this one is dense and rich and creamy.

While the crust is usually made with graham crackers, any cookie crumbs can be used. Shortbread, ginger snaps or vanilla wafers made wonderful crusts, too. For these mini cheesecakes, I decided on chocolate wafers.

When making cheesecake, you really need to plan ahead. It’s important that all the ingredients are room temperature so that they blend together easily. Once baked, cheesecake must chill for at least six hours or preferably overnight. It’s a marvelous dessert to make ahead, especially since it will keep for a few days in the fridge. Something else I learned more recently is that you get the smoothest texture possible when the filling is whizzed in a food processor rather than using a mixer. I definitely recommend this method.

Being back in the kitchen baking was quite restorative and a welcome respite. Those tasks I mentioned earlier? More transition. We have decided it’s time to move our life here completely, which means packing up 20 years in Seattle and moving it to a house here in the valley. This house is over 100 years old and we are painting, pulling carpet, hanging drywall, ripping out cabinets and getting to know it inch by inch, making it our home. It’s by the river and the soothing sound of water rushing by is already familiar.

And there’s yet one more very big transition … Isaac graduates from high school next week! Which means 20 years of full time parenting is winding down. There are no words for all the emotions I’m feeling. I’m a proud mama with much to celebrate.

So I guess that’s all the big news. And I didn’t even mention them until the end of this post. I guess I’m still coming to terms. It’s been a whirlwind, many weeks counting down towards Isaac’s graduation, the end of an era, a new beginning, a new house. But I’m happy.

Cheesecakes with Chocolate Crust
Makes 6 – 4 ½ inch spring form pans or 1 – 9 inch spring form

1 ½ cups finely ground chocolate wafer crumbs
5 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
5 - 8 ounce packages cream cheese, room temperature
1 ½ cups sugar
3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
Juice of ¼ lemon
1 teaspoon vanilla
5 eggs, room temperature
2 egg yolks, room temperature

Preheat the oven to 300 degrees. Place the spring form pans on a rimmed baking sheet. In a medium sized bowl, stir together the chocolate wafer crumbs and butter until well mixed. Divide the crust mixture evenly between the pans and gently smooth onto the bottoms. Set aside.

Place the cream cheese, sugar, flour, lemon juice and vanilla in the bowl of a food processor and pulse until it begins to come together (the bowl will be very full). Add 3 eggs and pulse a few times. Add the remaining 2 eggs and egg yolks and pulse. Scrape the sides and bottom carefully with a spatula. At this point, turn the food processor on and blend until the batter is very smooth.

Divide the batter evenly between the 6 pans and smooth the tops. Place the baking sheet in the oven and bake for 40-45 minutes, until just set. Remove the baking sheet from the oven and let the cheesecakes cool.

Once cool, cover each one and pop into the fridge to chill for at least 6 hours. They will keep for up to one week. Serve with fresh berries.

If baking in a 9 inch spring form, increase the baking time to 1 hour.