Food is a consummate communicator. When made from the heart, a special meal or sweet treat can say “I love you,” “Congratulations,” “I’m proud of you,” or “I appreciate all you do.” I decided to utilize this week’s SMS recipe, Lemon Blueberry Cheesecake with a Cornmeal Crumble Crust, to offer sincere thanks to my neighbors, Toby and Rebecca. A few weeks back we experienced a very close call when my puppy (and the love of my life), Bella, narrowly missed oncoming traffic while running across our street. Though both my Mom and I yelled for her to come, and tried desperately to catch her, our efforts proved futile. In all my fervor, I ended up tripping over my own two feet (yeah, I’m super coordinated like that!), eating the pavement, and acquiring open abrasions on my hip, palms, and knees. Bleeding, heart racing, and feeling scared-to-death, I stood up to find Bella safe and sound in the yard across the street, showering Toby and Rebecca with kisses. They had heard all the commotion and acted heroically and without hesitation, calling out to Bella and in effect, saving her life. In my mind, they were two angels that day, and I simply can’t thank them enough for being there in our moment of need. With the desire to express my deepest appreciation, my mind immediately went to food, and more specifically, cheesecake, Toby’s favorite dessert- it was the perfect choice to say “Thank you, thank you, thank you!”
A beloved dessert with different variations all over the world, cheesecake is said to date back to 776 BC, when the Greeks served it to the athletes at the first Olympic games. The Romans soon caught on, spreading recipes throughout Europe, and eventually the confection made its way along with immigrants to America. In 1872, while trying to duplicate the popular Neufchatel cheese of France, American dairymen developed a formula for an un-ripened cheese they named cream cheese, which was even richer and creamier than the original. As the main ingredient of the modern cheesecake, this breakthrough ushered in a new age of cheesecake baking. Today, while there are many different styles reflective of various regions, most Americans can agree that cheesecake holds a special place in our country’s heart.
Despite its popularity, cheesecake is one dessert that I’ve never attempted before. When my baking first started catching on, I quickly learned the individual tastes of my two best testers, Mom and Dad. Though very few things were outlawed on his account, my dad made clear that cheesecake was blacklisted in our house. I like to think of myself as a well-rounded baker, so I was giddy to find an excuse to end the cheesecake ban in my kitchen. I did a little research prior to my first baking foray, and quickly realized there are LOTS of things to consider when baking cheesecake. Here are some of the tips and tricks I picked up along the way:
*Use room temperature ingredients- It is much easier to whip softened cream cheese, and will help achieve the creamy and smooth consistency you want for your batter.
*Don’t over-beat the batter- If too much air is incorporated into the filling, the cheesecake will puff when baked and sink as it cools, and is also likely to crack. It is actually the eggs that will hold air in the batter, so add them last, and then mix as little as possible, only until combined.
*Bake the cheesecake gently using a water-bath- A long, slow bake allows for a more uniform internal temperature, and a water-bath, or bain-marie, keeps the oven moisture high and the heat gentle. Wrap the bottom of your springform pan in aluminum foil, place it in a larger pan, and pour hot water halfway up the outside of the springform pan- by using this technique, the cheesecake will cook more evenly.
*Don’t over-bake!– An over-baked cheesecake tends to crack and be dry, not creamy. The cheesecake is done when the top jiggles as a whole and the center two inches look softer and slightly moist. Remember, the cheesecake will continue to bake after it is removed from the oven, and the texture will smooth out as it cools.
*Loosen the cake from the edge of the pan after it comes out of the oven- Run the tip of a knife or narrow spatula between the top edge of the cake and the side of the pan, which allows it to pull away freely from the pan as it cools.
*And finally, chill, baby, chill- After the cake comes to room temperature, refrigerate at least 6 hours, but ideally, overnight. Chilling the cheesecake allows the cream cheese to sink into the crust and ensures the dessert is firm and easy to cut. It’s definitely worth the wait!
Thank you to Eliana of A Chica Bakes for choosing this great cheesecake recipe, and pushing me to expand my ever-growing baking repertoire. And of course, a big thanks to Toby and Rebecca for taking care of my little girl.