Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Ricotta Cheesecake

When I was a kid my parents attended many a party hosted by members of the Apex Club. This was an exclusive club for men under the age of forty, and where we lived, there were loads of young dads in the club. The rules for these parties were simple: blokes bring the booze, ladies bring a "plate" and kids run amok until you pass out with exhaustion.

There would be tressle tables, sometimes in marquees, or maybe set up in the garage, covered with all sorts of culinary delights like cabanossi and cubes of cheese, pickled cocktail onions on tooth picks, slices of devon wrapped around mashed potato, and of course plenty of potato chips and a new concept in catering for a crowd - dip.

I remember the Apex party we went to on new year's eve, 1976, very clearly because I was sitting on my mum's lap at midnight. "There goes 1976!" she said, pointing to the night sky. I started crying because I didn't want the year to go. I don't think Mum expected that.

It was at one of these parties that I tasted my first cheesecake. It was a seventies classic with biscuit base made from over salted margarine, and a chill and mix filling. These cheesecakes have a very strong and distinct flavour, which I have to say was not that enrolling to my eight year old tastebuds. Skip forward to the day my sister acquired the America The Beautiful cookbook. Amongst its pages was the recipe for New York Cheesecake. This has been the definitive cheesecake for me ever since. But it is loaded with cream cheese and over the years I've tried different things to reduce the Philly factor. My latest attempt uses ricotta. See what you think.

1.5 cups plain flour
¼ cup sugar
1 tsp grated lemon zest
100g cold butter
1 egg yolk
¼ tsp vanilla extract

625g cream cheese
625g fine ricotta cheese
440g sugar
3 tblsp plain flour
1.5 tsp grated lemon zest
1 tsp vanilla extract
5 whole eggs
2 egg yolks extra

1. Combine flour, sugar and zest in a large bowl.
2. Cut in butter until mixture resembles course breadcrumbs.
3. Stir in the egg yolk and vanilla to form a soft dough. Add up to four teaspoons of milk if the dough does not come together. Just add one at a time, mix, see how the dough goes, then add another if you need to. Wrap in plastic in cling film and refrigerate for one hour.
4. Preheat the oven to 200 degrees celcius.
5. Roll the pastry on a floured board to 3mm thick. Cut the pastry to fit a 23cm springform pan.
6. Line the bottom of the pan with a piece of baking paper, snagging it out the sides of the pan to keep it taught across the bottom. Grease the sides of the pan. Line the pan with the rolled out pastry, ensuring you press it into the corners of the tin, but also leaving a little overhand at the top if you to combat shrinkage. Bake for 20 minutes or until golden and cool on a rack.
7. Beat both cheeses with sugar, flour, zest and vanilla in the large bowl of a mixer. If you like you can exchange the vanilla essence for the paste from two vanilla beans.
8. Add eggs and yolks one at a time. Beat thoroughly between additions.
9. Increase the oven temperature to 290 celcius. Quickly fill the pie crust with the cheese mixture. Bake for 12 minutes then reduce the temperature to 200 and continue to bake for another hour.
10. Cool on a rack in the tin and chill for two hours before serving.

Notes: The paper will become heated and give off a burning smell. At the same time, the very top edge of the pastry will brown a great deal and trick you into thinking it is burnt. But when you take off the springform you'll find it's nicely golden brown, so don't worry!

I served this cheesecake with a pile of raspberries seated on some whipped cream. I dusted it with icing sugar to make it look festive, since it was kind of for a pre-christmas lunch. It should keep in the fridge for at least a week.

BIG cake update II

Well this year I didn't shout it to the world, I suspect because I felt there were many flaws in my work that I couldn't come to terms with. But I keep going back and looking at the cake we created this year for my son's second birthday. And the more I look at it, the more I like it.

We rented the "2" shaped tin from a local cake decorating shop. We made the butter cake a week in advance and put it in the freezer. It needed to sit on a board until it was frozen because the neck of the two was so fragile. It was heaps of fun cutting the cake through the middle to fill it with white chocolate ganache, but worth it as it looked a picture when it was sliced.

My husband appointed himself maker of the racing cars - which was just as well as he did a brilliant job of it. I used my texture mat for fondant for the first time, and had to have two goes to get the imprint right. Note to anybody using a texture mat, use firm pressure when you roll, and only roll once!

It took quite a lot of work to get the white fondant to a suitable grey colour. Next time I'd probably buy pre-coloured black fondant and add white to take it back to grey, rather than use black food colouring to get from white to grey. It was just messy and took a really long time to get the colour right.

I wasn't going to put my son's name on the cake, but I felt it needed a colour lift. I'd made the orange stars and I had some orange pastilage left over, so I cut the letters out and was delighted when they fitted perfectly along the bottom of the "2".

On the day I was thrilled to see many little hands reaching out to snatch decorations from the cake before we'd even finished singing happy birthday! We made truck-shaped ginger bread biscuits decorated with either pink or blue icing as take home gifts for our party guests. And of course there was loads of cake leftover to share with colleagues at work the next day.

In all, this cake fed about 60 people. I can't wait to see what my son takes an interest in this coming year, so I can start dreaming up his next birthday cake!

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Poached Eggs

When my husband arrived in my life, I was surprised to find how much he loved poached eggs. We would go out for breakfast and he’d order Eggs Benedict with beautiful poached eggs enveloped in delicious hollandaise sauce.

At the time I was travelling a lot with work. One morning I found myself dining in a hotel that had the chef standing in the dining room at a table ready to cook eggs for me on the spot, exactly how I liked them. I noticed he had a pot of water gently simmering over a hot plate – clearly for poaching eggs. I asked him if he could show me how it’s done.

The chef told me the first and most important tip was to have very fresh eggs. He said eggs more than three days old just weren’t good enough for the job. Second, he said you needed to add a goodly amount of vinegar to the water. And finally, he said you needed to simmer the water just so. No rolling boil!

I went home a tried to cook poached eggs for my husband. The farm fresh eggs were not available at my supermarket – lets face it, we just don’t know how old the eggs we buy from the supermarket are. The vinegar part was no problem. Getting the water to simmer wasn’t too hard either. At the time I was using an electric stove, and I was very used to its personality quirks. I couldn’t, however, produce that beautiful teardrop shaped egg the chef produced without swirling the water. No big deal! It’s the end result that matters, right?

1 deep pot
2 tblsp white vinegar
1 very fresh egg
1 slotted spoon
1 digital timer (use your iPhone if you have one)

1. Pour the vinegar into the pot. Fill with water until it is about one inch from the top of the pot. Bring to a gentle simmer. This means the water steams and you can see lots of little bubbles on the bottom of the pot. But there are no big rolling bubbles.
2. Swirl the water quickly in a clockwise direction until you have a little bit of a whirlpool going.
3. Crack the egg on the side of the pot and carefully drop it into the swirling water. Put the egg shell in the bin, rinse any egg off your fingers and dry your hands. THEN start the timer.
4. Gently push the water with the slotted spoon to keep it circling, making sure your egg does not attach to the bottom. At this point it should be nicely formed and starting to float.
5. Continue to poach for three and a half minutes. Gently scoop the egg out of the water with the slotted spoon. Drain as much water as you can and carefully transfer it to a saucer. Hold the egg carefully and drain and excess water back into the pot. Let the egg sit for one minute, then serve!

I’ve given you lots of little tips here, as these are all my secrets to making poached eggs work. I really hope, if you haven’t been able to master this breakfast delight, that all my advice works. Happy eating!

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Pony cakes still looking good!

It's been over a year now since I wrote, designed and photographed the cupcakes for the My Little Pony Cute Cupcake Recipe Book. To my delight, the initial distribution for that book has gone much wider than originally anticipated, with copies available in many mass market retailers across Australia and New Zealand.

Last month I donated a My Little Pony Party Pack to my office's annual Pink Ribbon Day Raffle. The pack included a copy of the book, MLP plates, MLP serviettes, and a certificate for 24 MLP cupcakes. This week I had the pleasure of baking and delivering the cupcakes to the winner of the prize. She was invited to choose three of the cupcakes in the book. Her selection was Love (red velvet), Friendship (banana) and Sweetie Belle (vanilla).

I was delighted to find that the recipes hold up to everything that was published. In the book I stated each batch of cupcake batter would make 12 cupcakes. In fact, I got 15 out of each. I had no trouble finding all the decorations I'd chosen - they were still readily available in supermarkets, as was my original intention.
And of course, the cupcakes were delicious (since we had double what we needed to fill the order, my husband and I were each able to take a box of cupcakes to share with our colleagues at work).

If you'd like to order a copy of the book, it's available at many online booksellers. Here's one that's easy to find: