There really is a song,“If I Knew You Were Coming, I’d Have Baked a Cake,” and somewhere in my stacks, I even have the music for it. This chocolate cheesecake, which can be made gluten-free (Double Chocolate with a nut crust) or not (Triple Chocolate with a chocolate wafer cookie crust), is without a doubt the cake you’d bake were someone ultra-special about to knock on your door. The wonderful original recipe by well-known baker and writer Abigail Johnson Dodge (author of the fun new book SHEET CAKE) is one I found in FINE COOKING magazine — or on its website–a number of years ago. (The famous site is no longer available, more’s the pity, though another site does have the recipe. See TIPS below.) I’d make it for one person’s birthday and someone else would say, “Can I have that cake for my birthday?!” Or I’d carry it to a dinner party only for the host to pull me to the side and whisper in my ear, “I’d really love that recipe!” It’s just that kind of cake. Everyone craves it, especially chocolate lovers. Even fine fruit folk (my apple and cherry pie people) have been known to ask for an extra slice to take home.
A few weeks ago, my friend Jeanne’s niece, Julianne and her family, came to visit Colorado from Florida. Why didn’t we come for a cookout? wondered Jeanne. We have a long-standing tradition of eating my cheesecake sometime around husband Dave’s birthday and the 4th of July, so it only made sense to offer to bring it. Jeanne was thrilled, but allowed that as Julianne followed a gluten-free diet, would I make some GF cookies, too? Of course I would.
Baking at Thanksgiving. It’s a big deal to some people and a late afternoon stop at the grocery for others. Perhaps because often folks are cooks OR they’re bakers and rarely both. The pumpkin pie may have all the memories the turkey never garnered and the homemade yeast rolls and butter just might be why your grandson shows up. On the other hand, it could be all about the dressing, gravy or even the ham at your house where no one looks twice at dessert. I once brought turkey and dressing to a summer potluck, where a close friend refused to eat a bite. When I asked why, she said, “You didn’t make gravy. I don’t eat dressing without gravy.” She truly had some serious food traditions and it’s not unusual. Listen to your friends and family talk about Thanksgiving and you’ll see.
If you’ve looked at the dessert section in my cookbook, you’ll know I’m really fond of very fast and simple sweets. Don’t get me wrong, I love to bake; I’m my mother’s daughter. But there’s something fine and easy about a really good tiny after-dinner something or other that doesn’t take a couple of hours to concoct. To say nothing of being able to pawn off the dessert “chore” to children or the beauty of keeping the heat out of the kitchen on warm days. Peach pie always sounds so wonderful until the peaches are ripe, filling the bushel basket in the mudroom with dripping goodness, and it’s 90-frigging degrees outside. Who’s turning on that oven? Not me. Heat is not Alyce’s friend. On the other hand, I have a hub who adores a dessert and I like to make this guy happy. I make a big cheesecake for him every third of July at 0’dark early for his birthday and he doles it out for himself a bit at a time to make it last a long week or more. I have one small piece and that’s about it.
But what about the rest of the time?The days when there isn’t a three-hour time frame for mixing, baking, and cooling? Or for folks who are never going to make that big cake no matter what? Or for sweet addicts who really would eat the whole cake if there weren’t individual portions? Enter these tiny bites of fruit-topped goodness that are done before you can say, “What’s for dessert?” Mixed very quickly with a hand-held or standing electric mixer or food processor (my preference), the cakes come together easily, cook for a minute in the microwave, and cool in just a few minutes as they’re so small. Who doesn’t like individual desserts? Easy to serve or transport; there’s no cutting or plates. It’s just you and your fork or spoon. Try this: Continue reading →
By the time Christmas or New Year’s comes you might not have the energy for a dessert just for the holiday dinner. This especially if you’ve entertained or baked throughout the season and simply feel all the cookies and goodies you’ve gotten through the kitchen must certainly be enough. If that’s the case, and you’ve frozen a few of each of your favorites, pull them out and arrange them in loving fashion on your favorite platter and call it quits. If, however, you haven’t worn your dear baking self out by now, make my gorgeous cranberry compote cheesecake. Even if you’re not a baker at heart, this is a fairly easy endeavor as long as you have a 9-inch springform pan and said ingredients.
There’s no special skill needed to make a cheesecake. The filling can be made with a hand-held electric mixer, a standing mixer, or with my favorite machine, the food processor. If you’ve strong arms or can borrow some, and have your cream cheese truly at close to warm room temperature, you can make this with no machines at all. Imagine. (I went without an electric mixer for many years of my baking life, so I know wherein I speak.) You can crush the graham crackers in a bag with a rolling pin or a hammer. If you’ve any sauce pan at all, you can make the cranberry topping. So go ahead. Start now; it’s better really well-chilled and keeps for days and days. Baking blessings, friend.
Pagliacci’s New York Cheesecake–Made and photographed this year in St. Paul
I don’t double blog. Or if I do, I do it rarely.
This cake, however, belongs on both blogs. I’ve made it for Dave’s birthday since l984 and for lots of other occasions since. In different reincarnations. Chocolate, pumpkin, toffee, cranberry compote. You get the idea.
Pagliacci’s New York Cheesecake (adapted by More Time at the Table)
1 1/4cupsgraham wafer crumbs (I prefer vanilla wafer crumbs)
First: Mix crumbs, 1/4 cup sugar and butter and press into a 10″ spring form pan. Refrigerate until ready to use.
Preheat oven to 500º. Make sure your oven is clean before you start!
Beat cream cheese with electric mixer in large bowl until very smooth. Blend in lemon juice and vanilla. Sift sugar, flour and salt together and gradually beat into cheese. Beat until creamy, smooth and light, about 5 minutes. Beat in eggs and yolks one at a time, being careful to not over beat. Blend in cream. Pour into crust. Place filled pan on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper or foil.
Bake 12 minutes.
Reduce oven temperature to 300º. Continue baking for 45-55 minutes or until firm around outside, but still a little jiggly at center.
Run a sharp knife around the edge of the pan. Cool cake completely, wrap loosely, and refrigerate at least 24 hours before serving.