Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Collective Baking: Creamy Pumpkin Cheesecake with Ginger-Pecan Crust

I've developed a useful new blogging technique: I'm typing along, adding decadent pictures and describing, say, the perfect balance of sweet creaminess and spicy heat in my Creamy Pumpkin Cheesecake with Ginger-Pecan Crust, when I start to doubt the authenticity of my praise. Was it really that good, I wonder. I am thus required to trot over to the fridge, slice a wedge of cheesecake with the knife conveniently located there, and reassess...ah, yes, it is that good! This process (I call it "Requisite Taste Assessment," or "R.T.A.") repeats itself three or four times over the course of a post, for the most accurate of cheesecake portrayals. *smack smack*

My favorite Creampuff and I share a mutual reverence for a certain cookbook - The Cake Book by Tish Boyle. (My experience so far suggests The Cake Book's slight inferiority to Ms. Boyle's masterpiece The Good Cookie, but cake is better than cookies, so it all evens out.) Recently, Creampuff suggested that we make the same recipe from Ms. Boyle's collection and blog about our respective results. What an honor to blog alongside Creampuff - and when I discovered she'd invited two other talented bloggers, Peabody and Alpineberry, I was delighted. We jointly settled on a recipe and picked a date - today!

Despite the "two-slice" difficulty rating (out of a possible four) Boyle gave this recipe, making it was no piece of cake. General two-slice difficulty was abetted by my resolve to use a real pumpkin, rather than a can of pumpkin puree. I've had some of my first experiences with butternut squash this season, and they were very pleasant and successful, so why not a pumpkin?

First I had to learn about choosing a pumpkin. Any old jack-o-lantern, it turns out, won't do for pie - some pumpkin flesh is tough and stringy. Sugar pumpkins (also called "pie pumpkins") are best for pie, so I picked up a local organic sugar pumpkin at the Greenmarket on Sunday, and brought it home to make puree.

How to make your own pumpkin puree: break off the stem of your sugar pumpkin and cut the little guy in half. wrap the cut side of each half in aluminum foil and place them on a baking sheet, cut-side up. Roast in a 325-degree oven for one hour, or until tender. Remove foil and cool completely (or at least enough so you don't burn yourself!). Scrape pumpkin flesh into a large bowl; contents will be stringy. Puree in batches; strain puree through a chinois (or use a regular strainer and a rubber spatula).

Whew! So that's one ingredient... Seriously, though, I was really excited to have accomplished this part of the process. The pumpkin yielded more than twice as much puree as I needed, and I'm looking forward to putting the rest to another use (pumpkin ravioli, anyone?).

From there, making the cheesecake wasn't so difficult - and very rewarding! The crystallized ginger in the crust adds a beautiful dimension of flavor, and I added cloves and additional cinnamon for extra zing. The filling was light and creamy (none of that New York-style density), and the pumpkin flavor was freshly present without being overwhelming. Boyle suggests garnishing a slice with a dollop of freshly whipped cream, but I opted for a caramelized crust instead (after having such success with the delicious Apple Cheesecake Brulee from the same cookbook). Nothing makes you feel more like a real cook than using a butane torch! (In her post, Peabody also added a crunchy finish with a very elegant pumpkin seed brittle.)

A note about the cinnamon pumpkin seeds - Tish calls for hulled seeds (the green ones). But if you're using the seeds from your own pumpkin...then that would mean hulling them yourself. And that's absurd, if not totally impossible. And I like them better with the shells anyway.

Creamy Pumpkin Cheesecake with Ginger-Pecan Crust


1 cup all-purpose flour
1/4 cup firmly packed light brown sugar
1/8 teaspoon salt
1/3 cup (1.2 oz) pecans
1/4 cup (1.4 oz) chopped crystallized ginger
1/2 cup (1 stick) cold unsalted butter, diced
1 tablespoon cold water


1 cup pumpkin puree*
1/2 cup heavy cream
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 1/2 -2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/8 teaspoon ground cloves
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 1/4 lbs (567g) cream cheese, softened
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup firmly packed light brown sugar
1 tablespoon cornstarch
4 large eggs
Turbinado sugar (such as Sugar in the Raw)

Spiced Pumpkin Seeds

1/2 cup raw pumpkin seeds
1 egg white
pinch of salt
2 tablespoons granulated sugar
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon



Position oven rack in the center and preheat oven to 350F. Lightly grease the bottom and sides of a 9x3-inch springform pan. Wrap the outside of the pan in an 18-inch square piece of heavy-duty aluminum foil to protect leakage in the waterbath; if you don't have big enough sheets of foil, cinch two together by stacking the sheets and folding in one edge multiple times, then opening the two sheets and pressing the seam flat.

Finely grind pecans and crystallized ginger in food processor. If you have a large processor, add flour, sugar and salt and process until combined; add butter and pulse until the mixture forms coarse crumbs. If combining ingredients by hand, combine pecans and ginger with flour, sugar and salt in a medium-sized bowl; cut in the butter and rub it into the flour mixture by hand. Add the cold water slowly until the dough just comes together. Press the dough in an even layer into the bottom of prepared pan. Bake for 25-30 minutes until the crust just starts to brown. Cool completely on a wire rack.


Reduce oven temperature to 325F. In a medium bowl, whisk together pumpkin, heavy cream, vanilla, cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg, cloves, and salt. Set aside.

Beat the cream cheese with an electric mixer (using the paddle attachment if using a standing mixer) on medium-low speed until creamy, about 2 minutes. Gradually add the sugars, scraping down the sides of the bowl as necessary, and beat on low speed until well combined. Blend in the pumpkin mixture; add the cornstarch and mix just until blended. Add the eggs, one at a time, mixing after each addition, scraping down the sides of the bowl as necessary.

Pour batter into the cooled crust. Place the foiled springform pan in a large roasting pan or baking pan; carefully pour enough hot water into the large pan to come 1 inch up the sides. Bake for 70 to 80 minutes until the center is set but still a bit wobbly (the cake will set completely when chilled).

Remove cheesecake from water bath to a cooling rack. Carefully remove the foil and run a thin knife tip around the edge of the cake to prevent cracking. Cool completely at room temperature. Refrigerate for at least 4 hours before serving.

Immediately before serving (no more than one hour before), remove sides of springform pan and sprinkle turbinado sugar over the top of the cake in a thin, even layer. Caramelize the sugar using a butane kitchen torch, holding it about two inches from the surface of the cake and moving it slowly over the top until the sugar melts and turns golden brown (the sugar will not carmelize evenly, so be careful and patient).

Spiced Pumpkin Seeds:

Preheat oven to 325 degrees. lightly grease a baking sheet.

in a small bowl, whisk egg white just until frothy. add just enough of the egg white to the pumpkin seeds to coat them (it's not very much!). Add salt, sugar, and cinnamon, and toss to oat the seeds.

Spread in a single layer over the prepared baking sheet. Bake, shuffling them occasionally with a metal spatula, for 15 to 20 minutes, or until they are dry and beginning to color. Place the pan on a wire rack and cool completely.

With your fingers, separate clumps of seeds. Store in an airtight container for up to a week.

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Baking as a Feminist Act, Part II: Kiss the Cook

It seems I'm not the only one baking as a feminist act! On October 10th, political funnyman Stephen Colbert (of The Colbert Report) interviewed feminist activists Gloria Steinam and Jane Fonda - in the kitchen.

Steinam and Fonda appeared on the Colbert Report to advertise their new radio/telecast network for women, GreenStone Media, which arose in response to American womens' disinterest in regular talk radio. The name of the station comes from a short story by reknowned author Alice Walker titled "Finding the Greenstone," where "the green stone stays lit only as long as the owner is true to her authentic self" (GreenStone FAQ); the station describes itself as being "about honesty, fairness and ethics." GreenStone features female hosts, a women's news and media center, an online discussion forum, and coverage of issues ranging from world politics to child raising. Click below to watch Gloria and Jane get in the kitchen with Stephen Colbert and teach him that feminism is as American as apple pie.

After seeing this amazing clip, I couldn't resist baking my own Feminist Apple Pie with extra cinnamon! This is an easy pie for the modern woman (yes, I used pre-made pastry dough) full of tart and flavorful Honeycrisp apples that retain a pleasant crunch even after baking.

Feminist Apple Pie


Juice of 1 small lemon, plus apple juice to make 1/4 cup total liquid
1/2 cup brown sugar
4 tbsp butter at room temperature
4-5 large Honeycrisp apples, peeled, cored and thinly sliced into wedges
1/2 cup golden raisins
2 1/2 tablespoons cornstarch
1 1/2 teaspoons cinnamon
1/8 teaspoon nutmeg
1/8 teaspoon ground ginger
1/8 teaspoon ground cloves

2 refrigerated ready-made piecrusts
1 egg for brushing, lightly beaten
Sugar and "more cinnamon" for dusting


Preheat oven to 350°F. Soak raisins in just enough boiling water to cover them.

Combine lemon juice mixture, sugar, spices and butter in a bowl. Add cornstarch an mix thoroughly, breaking up any lumps. Pour mixture over apples and toss to coat.

Place one piecrust in a 9" pie pan and fill with mixture. Lay second crust over top of mixture; pinch edges to fasten to bottom crust. Brush top of pie with egg and sprinkle with sugar and cinnamon. Cut small vents in dough with a sharp knife. Bake 55 minutes or until golden brown, rotating pie halfway through baking.

Let cool at least 15 minutes before serving warm with a scoop of vanilla ice cream.

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Rainy Day Breakfast

Nothing like food that's not only delicious, but also adorable, to cheer you up on a gray morning.

Miniature Egg Souffles


2 eggs (preferably brown, organic, free-range), plus two additional egg shells (4 shells total)
1/2 cup heavy cream
1/4 cup grated gryuere cheese
1/8 cup fresh grated parmesan, plus additional cheese for dusting
1/8 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon finely chopped leeks or scallions
Pinch of nutmeg
Pinch of fresh grated black pepper

Special tools: egg stands, or build your own eggs stands out of aluminum foil.


Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Sit egg stands inside the cups of a muffin pan, to prevent spillage.

Gently tap small end of each egg against countertop; chip away shell one-quarter of the way down. Pour two of the four eggs into medium mixing bowl; reserve other two eggs for another use. Gently rinse out egg shells and shake dry.

Lightly spritz inside of egg with olive oil and dust with finely grated parmesan. Tap out any extra cheese. Set shells on egg stands.

Mix 2 eggs and all remaining ingredients in mixing bowl with electric mixer until light and thoroughly combined, about 2 minutes.

Pour mixture into shells, as full as they go. Carefully place muffin tin in oven on middle rack. Bake 20-25 minutes without opening oven door (souffle will fall), until mixture has doubled in size and has just begun to brown on top. Garnish with sea salt and herb of choice and serve immeidately with fresh bacon.

Today's WikiLesson: The Chicken or the Egg?

Friday, October 13, 2006

Macaroons and Applewood: Two Years of Love...and Great Food

Sweets for my sweet!

Yesterday, J and I celebrated two years of love and friendship together. What a fabulous time it's been! I arranged this lovely bouquet of organic flowers for him; he gave me a fancy bottle of organic, seasoned olive oil; he gave me a card painstakingly made on an 1890's printing press; I gave him a batch of homemade vanilla-coconut macaroons. Aren't we just perfect for each other?!

These little mouthfuls of decadence are sugar-crisp on the outside and tender as vanilla custard on the inside. They're a snap to throw together and make great autumn gifts.

Vanilla-Coconut Macaroons


2 large eggs
1 cup granulated sugar
1/8 teaspoon salt
1/3 cup all-purpose flour
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
3 cups (9 oz) sweetened shredded coconut


Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Lightly grease an insulated baking sheet with shortening (if you don't have an insulated baking sheet, stack two cookie sheets on top of one another).

Whisk together eggs, sugar, salt, flour, and vanilla until thoroughly mixed. Switch to a wooden spoon and stir in coconut until evenly coated with egg mixture.

Drop the dough in one-tablespoon mounds (Tish recommends using a melon baller; a regular spoon is fine, but be sure they pile high) 1-2 inches apart on greased baking sheet. Bake for 14-16 minutes, until the edges of each macaroon begin to brown along with the top few strands of coconut. Rotate sheet once in middle of baking time.

Allow macaroons to cool completely on the pan on a wire rack before carefully removing with spatula. Enjoy!

Makes about 25 macaroons.

Recipe adapted from The Good Cookie by Tish Boyle.

Last night he took me on a surprise date, too - to Applewood, a restaurant in Park Slope owned and run by a husband-wife team that features all local, organic foods, hormone- and antibiotic-free meat and poultry, and wild-caught local fish. Laura and David Shea are ardent devotees of the Slow Food movement and endeavor to put ethical eating first in their business.

Applewood's atmosphere aligns with its ethical tenets and farmer connections: a small, cozy-yellow room with shelves of ragged cookbooks and prints of blooming orchards (all taken by local photographers), sturdy maple tables, firewood neatly stacked out front, presumably to feed the central fireplace in the dining room. But the menu deviates from the anticipated straightforward, wholesome country meal - from biodynamic choices on the wine list to creamy lobster broth (which our server described as having "terroir of the sea") to house-churned honey ice cream for dessert, fine dining at Applewood was a unique, distinguished experience form start to finish.

I couldn't help but opt for the four-course tasting menu as I sipped my
spiced pear whiskey sour with cinnamon and pear purée. Chewy french bread began our meal along with a generous dish of French-whipped butter, paprika-lentil puree, and Long Island duck paté, which was aromatic and quite delicious. J started with the completely stupendous creamy lobster broth mentioned above (the soup differs from a bisque in that the shells are pureed into the broth, providing the aforementioned terroir), while my tasting began with an amuse bouche of whipped salted cod on a crostini and poached maine lobster, served cold tossed with crispy grated parsnip over fire-roasted patty pan squash. I thought the cilantro flavors in the dressing overpowered the lobster, which was served cold, but the squash was fantastic and very elegantly plated. Next we shared my rouget with mussels over bulgur - this dish was extremely salty, but the fish (which I'd never had before) was perfectly crispy, served atop a mound of steamed mussels out of the shell and tender bulgur aswim in the paprika-spiked mussel broth. For his entrée, J ordered seared arctic char with purple potatoes and garlic purée - an ideal dish for his palate! The salmon was cooked to perfection, garnished with glittery crystals of sea salt, and the potatoes were tender and flavorful. There was too much garlic puree on the plate for my taste, but J loved it and devoured every bit. I was served pork belly over pickled red cabbage and housemade pancetta. The cabbage was actually my favorite part of this dish - seasoned with the pancetta, it was sweet, savory, and tangy-tart. There wasn't enough pancetta on the plate, though (I ate one bite and realized there was no more left to share with J!). It was my first experience with pork belly, and though it was very flavorful and prepared well, the fatty parts were a little rich for me. Finally, I was brought a tempting taste of honey ice cream with poached plum and crumbled pastry - my favorite bite of the whole meal! Jeremy ordered an apple crisp with apple cider ice cream.

Overall, though not everything was prepared exactly to my tastes, I had a wonderful, romantic dining experience at Applewood - mostly due to their passionate devotion to sourcing organically, locally, and ethically. The freshness of the flavors in everything proved that Slow is the way to go!

Besides, they put anniversary candles on our desserts. =)
Applewood ($$$)
501 11th St., Brooklyn, NY 11215
(between 7th and 8th Ave.)