Cheesecake: A year in the making

Last December (2011), I tried to make a cheesecake for my boyfriend’s birthday. After I started mixing together all the sugar and cream cheese, I felt unsure about the mixture and consistency. I left the bowl on the counter to take a look online for photos of what it was supposed to look like! As I scrolled through the recipe online, I heard a loud THUMP/CRASH. The entire bowl – with the mixer-  fell off the counter and into my dog’s water bowl. My roommate ran in when she heard my “Ooohhhh MAN!” and found me on the floor next to the water-cream cheese-sugar puddle trying to keep the dog from licking it all up. In the end, we settled for an instant cheesecake with a homemade crust.

Flash forward one year to December 2012, despite all my nervousness, I tried again. And the result was amazing! Cheers to Smitten Kitchen and to second-tries.

Cheesecake1 Cheesecake2 Cheesecake3 cheesecake4

New York Cheesecake (from Smitten Kitchen)

What You Need


  • 16 graham crackers/8 ounces – finely ground 
  • 8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter, melted
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt


  • 5 (8-ounce) packages cream cheese, softened
  • 1 3/4 cups sugar
  • 3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon finely grated lemon zest
  • 1 teaspoon finely grated orange zest
  • 5 large eggs
  • 2 large egg yolks
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla

Fruit topping

  • 10 ounces frozen fruit – I used blueberries but the recipe calls for cherries 
  • 2 tablespoons lemon juice
  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • 1 tablespoon cornstarch
  • 1/2 cup water

What You Do

  1. Stir together crust ingredients.
  2. Press crust onto bottom and up the sides, stopping one inch shy of the top rim, of a buttered 9 1/2-inch springform pan.
  3. Put pan into the freezer so it quickly sets.
  4. Preheat oven to 550 degrees (or as high as your oven will go).
  5. Beat together cream cheese, sugar, flour and zest with an electric mixer until smooth.
  6. Add vanilla, then eggs and yolks, one at a time, beating on low speed until each ingredient is incorporated.
  7. Scrape bowl down between additions.
  8. Put springform pan with crust in a shallow baking pan (to catch drips).
  9. Pour filling into crust (springform pan will be completely full) and baking in baking pan in the middle of the oven for 12 minutes or until puffed. (NOTE: Watch your cake because some ovens will top-brown very quickly and if yours does too fast, turn the oven down as soon as you catch it.)
  10. Reduce the temperature to 200 degrees and continue baking until cake is mostly firm (center will still be slightly wobbly when pan is gently shaken), about one hour more.
  11. Run a knife around the top edge of the cake to loosen it and cool the cake completely in springform on a rack, then chill it, loosely covered, at least 6 hours.
  12. Place all ingredients for the fruit topping together in a medium saucepan.
  13. Bring to a boil.
  14. Once it is boiling, cook it for an additional one to two minutes then remove from heat.
  15. Cool completely.
  16. Remove side of pan and transfer cake to a plate.
  17. Spread topping over chilled cheesecake. 
  18. Enjoy the fruits of your labor 🙂  It is hard work, but worth it!

What Spring Means to Me: Strawberries, Rhubarb, and Asparagus

I love the spring. Farmers markets are starting back up and/or extending their hours. The days are longer. The semester is nearing its end. And you can eat strawberries, rhubarb, and asparagus.

Here is a wonderful recipe from my roommate’s family arsenal.

Rhubarb and Strawberry Cake with Pie Crumb Topping

What You Need
– 1 egg
– 1 cup plain yogurt
– 1 cup sugar
– 1 1/4 cups flour
– 1 teaspoon baking soda
– 1/2 teaspoon salt
– 2 cups rhubarb, chopped
– 1-2 cups strawberries, chopped
– 1/2 cup flour
– 1/2 cup oatmeal
– 1/2 cup brown sugar
– 1/4 cup butter, softened
– dash cinnamon
– small dash nutmeg

What You Do
1. Pre-heat oven to 350.
2. Mix together egg, yogurt, sugar, flour, baking soda, and salt.
3. Fold in rhubarb and strawberries.
4. Pour mixture into a greased and floured pan.
5. Mix together remaining flour, oatmeal, brown sugar, and butter.
6. Add dash of cinnamon and nutmeg.
7. Sprinkle topping over the cake.
8. Bake for 50 minutes.

Yum. Celebrate the spring.

The Winning Birthday Cake

The winning birthday cake recipe was a combination of a couple that my roommate and I reviewed over the past few months. My roommate ended up making the Cocoa Layer Cake, previously posted to the blog. The major difference from the initial post was that the instead of using a layer of icing in the middle, she spread raspberry jam. Wow! What a fantastic combination. For the frosting, she used the frosting from the Chocolate-Red Wine Cake, which just involves 3/4 cup hot cream and 3/4 cup chocolate chips. This birthday cake was perfect and, of course, I enjoyed all the trial runs.

As you can see, I was a happy birthday girl.

Birthday Cake Audition

I am getting ready for my birthday one week from today. Most importantly, I need to plan the menu for my pre-birthday dinner party. In honor of birthday menu planning, my roommate and I held an audition for the chocolate cake in this month’s Bon Appetit magazine. While the recipe recommends baking the cake in 3 9-inch-diameter cake pans with 11/2-inch-high sides, we cut the recipe in half and used a sheet cake pan. We cut the cake in half before icing it and had only two layers.

Cocoa Layer Cake (from Bon Appetit)

What You Need
– 1/2 cup natural unsweetened cocoa powder (spooned into cup to measure, then leveled)
– 1 cup lukewarm water, divided
– 1/2 cup buttermilk
– 1 1/2 cups cake flour (spooned into cups to measure, then leveled)
– 3/4 teaspoon baking soda
– 1 cup sugar
– 1/2 cup (packed) golden brown sugar
– 1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, room temperature
– 2 large eggs, room temperature, beaten to blend

– 10 tablespoons (1 1/4 sticks) unsalted butter
– 1 1/3 cups (packed) golden brown sugar
– 1 cup natural unsweetened cocoa powder
– 2 teaspoons instant espresso powder (we didn’t have any- so we omitted it)
– 1 cup heavy whipping cream
– 2 teaspoons vanilla extract

What You Do

1. Position 1 rack in top third and 1 rack in bottom third of oven; preheat to 350°F.
2. Line the pan(s) with parchment paper and butter the parchment.
3. Whisk cocoa and 1/2 cup warm water in small bowl.
4. Whisk buttermilk and 1/2 cup water in another small bowl.
5. Sift flour, baking soda, and 1/4 teaspoon salt into medium bowl.
6. Using electric mixer, beat both sugars and butter in large bowl until pale yellow and fluffy (mixture will appear granular), about 5 minutes (you don’t really need that long).
7. With mixer running, gradually add beaten eggs, then beat until smooth and fluffy, about 15 seconds.
8. Add cocoa mixture; beat to blend.
9. Add flour mixture in 3 additions alternately with buttermilk mixture in 2 additions, beating to blend after each addition. Divide batter among pans (about 1 3/4 cups each).
10. Bake cakes until tester inserted into center comes out clean, reversing pans halfway through baking, about 18 minutes.
11. Cool completely in pans on racks.

1. Melt butter in medium saucepan over medium heat.
2. Stir in sugar, cocoa, espresso powder, and 1/2 teaspoon salt.
3. Gradually stir in cream.
4. Stir until mixture is very hot and just begins to simmer at edges (it should look amazing and yummy!).
5. Reduce heat to low; stir 1 minute to let flavors blend.
6. Transfer to medium bowl; stir in vanilla (frosting will resemble chocolate sauce).
7. Chill until just thickened, stirring occasionally, about 1 1/2 hours.
8. Let stand at room temperature.
9. Run knife around cake sides.
10. Carefully invert 1 cake onto plate (cake is very tender); peel off parchment.
11. Spread with 1/2 cup frosting.
12. Invert second cake onto palm of hand.
13. Position cake 2 inches above frosted cake layer.
14. Carefully slide cake onto first cake layer. Peel off parchment.
15. Spread cake with 1/2 cup frosting.
16. Repeat with third cake layer.
17. Spread remaining frosting over top and sides of cake.

Enjoy, whether it is your birthday or not.

Chocolate-Red Wine Cake

A very celebratory dessert. My roommate took the lead on this one, but it was too good not to share with you. This cake started with my roommate and I drooling over the cover of December’s Bon Appetit and the pictured Spiced Chocolate Torte Wrapped in Chocolate Ribbons. Go check out the link immediately and come back.


So, the torte was a bit elaborate for us pre-finals so I found an amazing alternative. We even went out to get a bundt pan for the occasion.

Chocolate-Red Wine Cake (adapted from Food and Wine and this one too)

What You Need
– 2 cups all-purpose flour
– 3/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
– 1 1/4 teaspoons baking soda
– 1/2 teaspoon salt
– 2 sticks unsalted butter, softened
– 1 3/4 cups sugar
– 2 large eggs
– 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
– 1 1/4 cups dry red wine
– 3/4 cup heavy cream
– 3/4 cup milk chocolate chips/chopped

Variation: The original recipe called the cake to be served with confectioner’s sugar (for dusting the finished cake) and whipped cream. We opted for a chocolate icing. Of course, the choice is yours depending on how luscious you are feeling.

What You Do
1.Preheat the oven to 350°.
2. Butter and flour a 12-cup bundt pan.
3. In a bowl, whisk the flour, cocoa powder, baking soda and salt.
4. In a large bowl, using a handheld electric mixer, beat the butter with the sugar at medium-high speed until fluffy, 4 minutes.
5. Add the eggs, one at a time, and beat until incorporated.
6. Add the vanilla and beat for 2 minutes longer.
7. Working in two batches, alternately fold in the dry ingredients and the wine, until just incorporated.
8. Scrape the batter into the prepared pan, and bake for 45 minutes, until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.
9. Meanwhile, in a medium saucepan, bring the cream to a simmer.
10. Put the chocolate in a heatproof bowl and pour the hot cream on top.
11. Let stand for 3 minutes, then whisk until smooth.
12. Let the frosting stand at room temperature, stirring occasionally, until thick enough to spread, about 1 hour.
13. Let the cake cool in the pan for 10 minutes, then turn it out onto a rack; let cool completely.
14. Spread the frosting on the cake!

Best Donuts Ever: A Family Tradition

Today is the fourth day of Hanukkah. It has been a wonderful holiday so far and we are only in the middle! Part of what has made this holiday so special has been the two wonderful parties attended this weekend. And, the homemade donuts I made with my roommate.

While planning for Friday’s Hanukkah Party, a friend of mine and I discussed important food groups to bring for the event, including Sufganiot (Hebrew for Jelly Donut). She asked, “Well, can you make them?” The idea had never crossed my mind. I figured I’d go to a bakery or Dunkin Donuts and pick some up. But, why, I wondered, was I so afraid of donuts?

I asked my roommate if she had any ideas. She said to me via email: “If you’d rather stick with a recipe you’ve already chosen, I totally understand, but below is my great grandmother’s donut recipe.”

How could you possibly go with another source if you have a family heirloom recipe?

We made them on Fri. night and again on Sat. Not only were they amazing (best donuts ever), they were a huge hit with all the guests at both parties and were surprisingly easy to make. Here is the recipe. Please try it! It is fun and a great way to impress friends and party-goers.

Best Donuts Ever (aka Annie Erie’s Donuts, from my roommate’s great-grandmother Annie Erie)

What You Need
– 1 yeast cake (we defined this as 1 tablespoon yeast)
– 2-3 tablespoons warm water
– 1 tablespoon sugar
– 1/2 cup sugar
– 1/4 teaspoon nutmeg (use a bit less)
– 1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
– 1 egg
– 1 1/4 cups scalded milk (just heat it up in a small pot until it starts to steam)
– 4 1/2 cups flour
– 3 tablespoons butter
– 1/4 teaspoon salt
– 1.5 pints peanut oil (for frying but Annie Erie says “deep fat”)
– 1/2 cup sugar for coating (add more as needed, you can also add a dash of cinnamon here too)

What You Do

1. Heat up the milk.
2. Dissolve the yeast and 1 tablespoon sugar in warm water.
3. When milk is steaming, remove from heat and add to bowl. Let cool until lukewarm (you don’t want to kill your yeast).
4. Add 1 1/2 cups flour and yeast mixture and beat well.
5. Let rise until bubbles burst on top (5 minutes). We didn’t see many bubbles burst but we moved ahead after 5 minutes.
6. In a separate bowl, cream butter and sugar.
7. Add cinnamon, nutmeg, salt, and egg and beat well.
8. Add the creamed mixture to the batter and beat well (again!)
9. Add remaining flour and knead for 2 minutes.
10. Let rise 1 hour.
11. Roll dough to about 1/2 inch thick.
12. Cut dough into desired size and shape. We used small wine glasses to cut out small circles. To make the jelly donuts we took two circles and put jelly on one and covered it up (making a jelly sandwich). We then pinched the sides to close the donut. With the remaining dough, we made small round balls (which turn into donut holes). You can play with this and actually made donuts with holes in them (move out of the way Dunkin Donuts!) by making a circle and cutting out a hole in the middle.

13. Let rise again for 30 minutes.
14. Heat up all the oil on medium heat in a small dutch oven.
15. “Fry in deep fat”. Which means add one or two donuts (when the oil gets really hot, you can add 3-4 at a time) into hot oil and then let them get golden brown on all sides. Sometimes they will turn over on their own, but you may have to move them around.

16. When golden, remove from oil and let drain on a cooling rack (wire-mesh rack). It’s a good idea to put something under the rack to catch the oil.
17. When cool(ish), shake in a bag of sugar (we used a plastic container). You can use powdered sugar, regular sugar, or a cinnamon and sugar mixture! We used regular sugar on the jelly donuts and a cinnamon and sugar mixture on the donut holes.

Share with friends and family this holiday season! Also, don’t forget to save your oil for another frying adventure.

Strawberry Rhubarb Pie

As you have probably guessed, I love the springtime. If only the weather here in DC would cooperate. At the farmer’s market last weekend, I picked up some of the first strawberrys of the season and two bunches of rhubarb. The result: a wonderful pie perfect when eaten with vanilla ice cream.

Strawberry Rhubarb Pie (adapted from PieChef)

What You Need
– 2 9” pie crusts
– 2 cups strawberries, hulled and sliced (I didn’t measure this out. I just used about double the rhubarb as I did strawberries)
– 4 cups rhubarb, sliced (again, I didn’t measure this. I just used the container of strawberries plus two bunches of rhubarb.)
– 1 cup sugar (I was very generous here)
– 1/2 cup flour
– Dash of cinnamon
– Dash of brown sugar

What You Do
1. Preheat oven to 425 degrees F.
2. Clean and slice fruit and combine in large bowl.
3. Mix sugar and flour in small bowl. Add cinnamon.
4. Add sugar and flour mixture to fruit and stir to mix. Let the fruit mixture sit for about 10 minutes so the juices release.
5. Pour the filling evenly into the crust.
6. Top with second crust and make a couple slits in the top.
7. Bake for 10 minutes at 425, then lower heat to 325 and bake for an additional 30-40 minutes. (I had to let it bake for a bit more time, until the crust looked nicely browned).

I forgot how delicious and easy this pie is. Please try it out!

Sweet Treats

After the Jambalaya was simmering, I got started with some chocolate chip cookies. This recipe was fantastic and I think I will be sticking with it for a long time. The cookies turned out soft and sweet! They were a great hit for the Superbowl yesterday as well.

Classic Chocolate Chip Cookies(from Bittman’s How to Cook Everything)

What You Need

-2 sticks butter
-3/4 cup brown sugar
-3/4 cup granulated sugar
-2 eggs
-2 cups flour
-1/2 tsp salt
-1/2 tsp baking soda
-1 tsp vanilla
-2 cups chocolate chips

What You Do

1. Preheat oven to 375 F
2. Using an electric mixer, cream together the butter and sugars; add the eggs one at a time and beat until well blended. (By the way, I hate using the electric mixer and only do so for a short time and then resorted to working by hand. It gets the butter and sugar everywhere!)
3. Combine the flour, baking soda, and salt in a bowl and add them to the batter by hand, stirring to blend. Stir in the vanilla and then the chocolate chips.
4. Drop by tablespoons onto ungreased baking sheets and bake until lightly browned about 10 minutes.

Share with friends, and eat with a glass of milk.

Holiday Candies

I made holiday caramel and toffee candies inspired by Food and Wine Magazine over the holiday. It was a fun adventure, as I never made candy before. I wrapped them up and will be giving them out as gifts to help people get through holiday withdrawal over the next week.

Chocolate-Almond Toffee (from Food and Wine)
What You Need:
– 2 sticks unsalted butter
– 1 1/2 cups sugar
– 2 tablespoons water
– 1 cup salted roasted almonds—3/4 cup coarsely chopped, 1/4 cup finely chopped
– 1 tablespoon vanilla extract
– 1 1/2 teaspoons coarse sea salt, crumbled
– 1/2 pound bittersweet chocolate, chopped

What You Do:
1. Line an 8-by-11-inch baking pan with foil.
2. Spray the foil with vegetable oil.
3. In a heavy saucepan, melt the butter.
4. Stir in the sugar and water and bring to a boil.
5. Cook over moderate heat, stirring with a wooden spoon, until a deeply golden caramel forms and the temperature reaches 300° on a candy thermometer, 15 minutes. Note: if the sugar and butter separate, stir vigorously to blend (this happened to me, pretty scary and not sure the toffee truly recovered!).
6. Remove from the heat and add the coarsely chopped almonds, vanilla and salt.
7. Scrape the toffee into the prepared pan; let cool for 10 minutes.
8. Sprinkle half of the chocolate over the toffee and let stand until melted.
9. Spread the chocolate over the toffee and sprinkle with half of the finely chopped almonds.
10. Freeze the toffee for 10 minutes.
11. Invert the toffee onto a foil-lined baking sheet and peel off the foil backing.
12. In a microwave safe bowl, melt the remaining chocolate.
13. Spread the melted chocolate over the top of the toffee and sprinkle with the remaining finely chopped almonds.
14. Let the toffee cool, then break into shards.

Chocolate-Dipped Vanilla Caramels (from Food and Wine)
What You Need:
– 2 sticks unsalted butter
– 2 1/2 cups granulated sugar
– 1 cup light corn syrup
– 1 cup heavy cream
– 1 vanilla bean, split and seeds scraped
– Coarse sea salt, crumbled
– 1 pound bittersweet chocolate, melted (optional)

What You Do:
1. Line a 9-by-13-inch pan with foil; spray it with vegetable oil.
2. In a heavy saucepan, melt the butter.
3. Add the sugar, corn syrup and cream and bring to a boil, stirring until the sugar dissolves.
4. Add the vanilla seeds. (They smell so good!)
5. Cook over moderately low heat, stirring, until a golden caramel forms and the temperature reaches 245° on a candy thermometer, 1 hour.
6. Stir in 1 tablespoon of salt and scrape the caramel into the prepared pan.
7. Let cool and set completely overnight.
8. Lightly oil a sheet of parchment paper and line 2 baking sheets with wax paper.
9. Invert the caramel onto the parchment and peel off the foil. (This is the easy part)
10. Using a sharp knife, cut the caramel into 1-inch-wide strips and then into 1-inch squares. (This is the hard part! It took me awhile to get these cut up!)
11. Dip the squares into the chocolate, tap off the excess and transfer to the wax paper on the baking sheets.
12. Sprinkle lightly with sea salt and refrigerate for 10 minutes.
11. Alternatively, wrap the plain caramel squares in wax paper and tie with thread.