Saturday, September 17, 2011

Makers Mark Pecan Cheesecake

If there is one thing I know how to bake it is a cheesecake. I worked as a dessert chef at a restaurant that was known for its cheesecakes. I was trained well and now like to experiment with and modify the numerous cheesecakes options out there...They are endless and so are my ideas...I love to bake with bourbon and have used it in caramels, cookies and now it is time to put it in a cheesecake. I looked at a lot of recipes online and found one at that I used for my inspiration.

Yields 1 9" Cheesecake

Ingredients for the crust
9 whole graham crackers
2 tbs white sugar
4 tbs pecans
4 tbs butter, melted

Ingredients for the ganache
2 tbs heavy cream
1/2 cup chocolate chips

Ingredients for the filling
12 oz cream cheese (1.5 packages) softened
1/2 cup white sugar
2 eggs
1/2 cup heavy cream
1 tbs Makers Mark (or your favorite bourbon)
1 tbs vanilla extract

Ingredients for the topping
2 eggs
4 tsp white sugar
4 tsp brown sugar
4 tsp corn syrup
1 tbs Makers Mark
pinch of salt
1 tsp vanilla
chopped pecans (about 1/2 cups but you can use more or less)

Preheat oven to 350 F. Prepare your 9" spring form pan as follows: wrap the bottom and sides in tin foil to ensure no moisture gets into the pans seam while baking. Spray your pan with a vegetable oil spray. Line the bottom of the pan with a circle of parchment or waxed paper.

The Crust: Combine all dry ingredients into your food processor and process until everything is combined into a fine crumb. Place into a small mixing bowl and combine with your melted butter. Once the mixture is evenly combined dump into the bottom of your spring form pan. Press the mixture firmly into the bottom of the pan and about half way up the sides. Place into oven and bake for 7 minutes. Then remove and set aside.

The Ganache: Combine chocolate chips and heavy cream into a sauce pan and cook on low. Stir the entire time until the chocolate is melted and is smooth. Once the ganache is ready pour immediately onto the bottom of the crust, and spread carefully if needed.

The Filling: On medium speed combine your cream cheese and sugar for a few minutes. Stop and scrape the sides, and then beat some more. You want this to be as smooth as possible with no lumps. Next add your cream and eggs. Beat, scrape, beat, scrape. Finally add your bourbon and vanilla and beat again. If the mixture looks smooth with no lumps then it is ready. Pour the batter into the spring form covering both the crust and ganache.

The Topping: Sprinkle your pecans onto the top of the unbaked cheesecake. Combine all topping ingredients (eggs, brown sugar, white sugar, corn syrup, salt, vanilla, and bourbon) and pour over the pecans. Your cheesecake is now ready for the oven.

Before going into the oven

Place onto a baking sheet that will allow you to surround the spring form in a water bath. Place the sheet in the oven, then pour the water onto the baking sheet, so its not hard to move from the counter to the oven. Set your timer for 25 minutes and then check the water level. If more water is needed add it, if not leave it alone. The water helps to maintain moisture in the oven and in your cheesecake.

After checking the water set your time for 20 minutes. Once it goes off check it every 5 minutes thereafter until is is ready to come out of the oven. You will know its set when you move the pan and the cheesecake wobbles slightly and the edges seem browned. At this point you can take it out of the oven to cool. Let it cool for several hours until removing the spring form. You may need to use a sharp knife to loosen the top edge before removing the side of the pan.

Once the sides are removed place into your fridge to cool over night. The next day you will need to remove the bottom of the pan and the parchment paper before serving. I find the best way to do this is to heat the bottom of the spring form pan over an open flame briefly. I then place a cutting board or plate on the top of the cheesecake and then flip it over, exposing the bottom of the pan and the parchment. Remove both, and then place your serving plate onto the bottom of the cheesecake and flip over carefully. Trust me this is not for the fainthearted, but I have done it dozens of times and have yet to drop, crack, or break a cheesecake. They are firm and can handle a little movement once cooled.

This is now ready to slice and serve. A trick I use from my baking days is to place a large knife into a pitcher of hot water. Dip the knife into the bowl and wipe with each cut for a smooth and professional appearance with each piece you plate.

Ready to serve

Ready to serve

Challah Bread

Challah is a delicious and labor intensive braided Jewish Egg Bread...Lets place the emphasis on delicious and try not to think about all the labor that goes into it. I got my start with a recipe I found on and have been tweaking it ever since. So if you want to delight your friends and family with some homemade bread and have some time on your hands, this is a project for you. You will not be disappointed.

Makes 4 loaves

2 Tbs dry yeast
2 1/4 cup lukewarm water
1/2 cup white sugar
4 eggs beaten (for the dough)
2 egg yolks beaten and set aside (for glazing)
1 Tbs salt
1/2 cup vegetable oil
1/4 cup honey (for glazing)
About 9 1/4 cups flour

Preheat oven to 350 F.

Beat yeast into water and set aside for about 10 minutes until it bubbles.

Bubbling yeast

In the largest bowl you can find beat your eggs, then add your salt, sugar and oil and beat until combined. Once your yeast has bubbled add to the mixture and beat again. Now its time to add the flour which needs to be done slowly and gradually. You can start combining the flour with a wooden spoon until you have a dough that seems to be sticking together.

Now dump the mixture onto a floured surface and knead vigorously for 15 minutes (set your timer, and do not skimp on this part). You want the dough to be smooth and elastic. You can gradually add flour as needed if needed. Knead until dough is smooth and and elastic (press your finger into the dough, it should press down then rise back up on its own). Your arms will hurt, trust me its worth it. 

Smooth and elastic dough ball

Now that the dough is kneaded pour a little oil into the bowl (make sure to coat it) and place the dough ball into it. Flip the dough over so that each side is coated with oil. Cover with a towel or plastic wrap and leave to rise for 2-3 hours. Depending on how warm your house is it could rise faster. You will know its done when it has doubled in size.

Dough that has doubled in size

Once the dough has doubled in size punch it down into the bowl. Remove from the bowl and knead again for about 5-10 minutes. Separate into four equal sections.

Take one of your 4 sections and split into three. Roll each section into a long rope about 12" to 18" long. Lay the three sections next to each other and pinch the tops of them together and fold over to secure. Braid the dough together. When you get to the end pinch the three together and fold under to secure the seam. Complete this process with each of the remaining three dough sections you have left.

Place two loaves each onto well oiled baking sheets and let rise for another hour. If its warm in my kitchen I will cheat sometimes and put the first set into the oven in 30 minutes. Play it by ear, you will know if the dough needs to rise still by looking at it.

Braided and doubled in size

Now you need to take the eggs yolks you beat earlier and combine them with 1/4 cup honey. Generously brush each loaf with the egg honey mixture using a pastry brush. Place into oven and bake for 30-40 minutes until golden brown. You will know they are done when you tap the bottom of the loaf and it sounds hollow.

Golden Brown
Ready to be served!

As a side note I have burned a lot of this bread in the past since each oven is different. I recommend starting with one loaf in the oven and checking it every ten minutes to be sure its not browning too fast. It's better to burn one loaf then all four.

Once the loaves are cooled I suggest wrapping them in plastic wrap till serving. This is also a great bread for making french toast and bread pudding. But my favorite way to have it is with butter, dipped into my Matzo Ball Soup.

Muffin Tin Quiche's

In an attempt to persuade my boyfriend from eating out for breakfast at his friendly neighborhood coffee shop each morning I attempted and succeeded with Muffin Tin Quiches. I looked at several recipes on the web and pieced together my own version..They came out of the oven smelling and looking delicious...Only problem was I had no way to know how they tasted before serving. I DO NOT like eggs... I sucked it up and bit into one and to my surprise... I went for a second. I think I will be experimenting with different versions of this recipe in the coming future. Here is my first attempt!

Makes 24 muffin sized quiches

Base Ingredients
8 eggs
1 1/2 cups of heavy cream
wonton wrappers
garlic powder to taste
onion powder to taste
black pepper

Preheat oven to 350 F. Prepare your muffin tins by spraying them with a vegetable oil spray. Press one wonton wrapper into each section ( this will create a crispy shell to support your quiche).

wonton wrappers pressed into tins

For the first batch I sprinkled mozzarella cheese onto the bottom of each wonton. I sauteed three white mushrooms, 4oz pancetta, and a handful of shredded arugula and divided it up between 12 of the tins. Then I separated half of the egg mixture and poured it equally into one of each tins about 2/3 of the way up on each. Top off with fresh ground black pepper and shredded mozzarella on top of each.

For the second batch I went vegetarian. I sprinkled cheddar and monterrey jack cheese onto the bottom of each. Then I chopped up a handful of broccoli till it fell apart into small pieces and a handful of green onions and mixed it into the remaining egg batter. I poured equal amounts into each and then sprinkled with fresh ground pepper and the cheese blend.

Before going into the oven

This is as about as it easy as it gets. I baked each tin for about 20 minutes on 350. They were done when the tops of the wontons browned and they seemed to be pulling away from the sides of the tins.