DB#30 or Cheesy (cake) time!

Café au lait Cheesecake with Caramel

I love cheese. Any cheese, all types of cheese, anytime! Cooked, simple, baked, in savoury or sweet recipes. I LOVE cheese.
What are my feelings about cheesecake? It's gooooood! Knowing that April's challenge would make the Daring Bakers to get into cheese land left me with a smile on my face when I first read the recipe Jenny had chosen. Thanks Jenny, it was a wonderful one!

The April 2009 challenge is hosted by Jenny from Jenny Bakes. She has chosen Abbey's Infamous Cheesecake as the challenge.

Abbey's Infamous Cheesecake

Café au lait cheesecake with caramel sauce

2 cups / 180 g graham cracker crumbs
1 stick / 120 grams butter, melted
2 tbsp. / 24 g sugar
1 tsp. vanilla extract

3 sticks of cream cheese, (710 grams total) room temperature
1 cup / 210 g sugar
3 large eggs
1 cup / 250 ml heavy cream
1 tbsp. lemon juice
1 tbsp. vanilla extract (or the innards of a vanilla bean)
1 tbsp liqueur, optional (I used whisky)

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F (Gas Mark 4 = 180C = Moderate heat). Begin to boil a large pot of water for the water bath.

2. Mix together the crust ingredients and press into your preferred pan. You can press the crust just into the bottom, or up the sides of the pan too - baker's choice. Set crust aside.

3. Combine cream cheese and sugar in the bowl of a stand-mixer (or in a large bowl if using a hand-mixer) and cream together until smooth. Add eggs, one at a time, fully incorporating each before adding the next. Make sure to scrape down the bowl in between each egg. take 1/4 cup of the heavy cream and heat it in the microwave for a short amount of time until very hot. Add 1-2 tbsp. instant espresso or instant coffee; stir to dissolve. Add this to the remainder of creaml. Add heavy cream, vanilla, lemon juice, and alcohol and blend until smooth and creamy.

4. Pour batter into prepared crust and tap the pan on the counter a few times to bring all air bubbles to the surface. Place pan into a larger pan and pour boiling water into the larger pan until halfway up the side of the cheesecake pan. If cheesecake pan is not airtight, cover bottom securely with foil before adding water.

5. Bake 45 to 55 minutes, until it is almost done - this can be hard to judge, but you're looking for the cake to hold together, but still have a lot of jiggle to it in the center. You don't want it to be completely firm at this stage. Close the oven door, turn the heat off, and let rest in the cooling oven for one hour. This lets the cake finish cooking and cool down gently enough so that it won't crack on the top. After one hour, remove cheesecake from oven and lift carefully out of water bath. Let it finish cooling on the counter, and then cover and put in the fridge to chill. Once fully chilled, it is ready to serve.

Top cheesecake with homemade caramel sauce.

Café au lait Cheesecake with Caramel

Ina Garten's Caramel sauce here.

1 1/2 cups sugar
1/3 cup water
1 1/4 cups heavy cream
1/2 tsp pure vanilla extract

Mix the water and sugar in a medium heavy-bottomed saucepan. Cook over low heat for 5 to 10 minutes, until the sugar dissolves. Do not stir. Increase the heat to medium and boil uncovered until the sugar turns a warm chestnut brown (about 350 degrees F on a candy thermometer), about 5 to 7 minutes, gently swirling the pan to stir the mixture. Be careful – the mixture is extremely hot! Turn off the heat. Stand back to avoid splattering and slowly add the cream and vanilla.

Simmer over low heat, stirring constantly, until the caramel dissolves and the sauce is smooth, about 2 minutes. Allow to cool to room temperature, at least 4 hours. It will thicken as it sits.

Pan note: The creator of this recipe used to use a springform pan, but no matter how well she wrapped the thing in tin foil, water would always seep in and make the crust soggy. Now she uses one of those 1-use foil "casserole" shaped pans from the grocery store. They're 8 or 9 inches wide and really deep, and best of all, water-tight. When it comes time to serve, just cut the foil away.

Prep notes: While the actual making of this cheesecake is a minimal time commitment, it does need to bake for almost an hour, cool in the oven for an hour, and chill overnight before it is served. Please plan accordingly!

Café au lait Cheesecake with Caramel

My thoughts on the challenge:
- The recipe worked fine for me. I've used half recipe (2 small eggs) to bake 6 individual ramekins - it took about 25 minutes.
- Café au lait cheesecake with caramel sauce was a perfect match of flavours. I've added half a tablespoon of whisky which gave it a Bailey's Liquor taste that worked really nice with the remaining ingredients!
- Half recipe is enough for the sauce if not using full cheesecake recipe.
- I'll definitely be making the cheesecake again perhaps in a chocolate or fruity version.

Check all the amazing variations fellow Daring Bakers came up with here!


Spring where are you?

Stuffed Red Peppers

It's officially Springtime. Or so says my calendar. A quick look outside the window, and I feel like rephrasing it: it's Springtime, right? So why does it keep on raining? Why do I keep wearing extra layers of clothes? And we're a little itchy today, aren't we?! Don't know about you but I could use a little sunshine. Sigh. Like the 'philosopher' Jagger once stated "You can't always get what you want, but if you try sometimes, well you just might find you get what you need". Bright guy. ;)

I need colourful food with a hint of sunshine. Something slightly mediterranean... Bell peppers and Feta cheese! Aren't they springy? Stuffed peppers are great as a side dish to any meat or as a starter. For me is good enough for a light meal with a bowl of green salad. Where's Spring, anyone knows?

Stuffed Red Peppers

Stuffed Red Peppers with Wild Rice, Broccoli and Feta

Serves 2

2 sweet red (bell) peppers
1 cup cooked wild rice
2 cups small broccoli florets, steamed
2 Tbsp olive oil
1 small onion, chopped
1 clove garlic, minced
1 tsp dry basil

Preheat oven to 180ºC (360ºF).

Cut peppers in half and remove stems and seeds. Sprinkle the interior with salt. Place the halves in ovenproof dishes. Saute the onion until almost soft. Add the broccoli florets and the minced garlic. Cook for 2 minutes. Remove from the heat, and stir in the cooked wild rice. Season to taste.

Fill peppers with the rice mixture. Top with the crumbled feta. Sprinkle dry basil. Loosely cover with foil. Bake covered 25 minutes, uncover and bake 10 minutes more or until peppers are tender.


The best cookies in the whole world

Oat Raisin Almond Cookies

"The reports of my death are greatly exaggerated" - Mark Twain once said after hearing that his obituary had been published in the New York Journal. I feel the same way when I name these the best cookies in the whole world... It's at least questionable since no one has been able to actually taste ALL the cookies in the world. But my other half says these are the best, and the man isn't called Mr. Taster for nothing! Plus, they're a charm to make, and look really nice.

Oat Raisin Almond Cookies

Oat Raisin Almond Cookies

Lightly adapted from Cordon Bleu.

Makes 40

1 large egg, lightly beaten
1/2 cup (110 grs) firmly packed brown sugar
1/2 cup (100 grs) fine caster sugar
1/2 cup (120 grs) unsalted butter, room temperature
1 cup (100 grs) raisins
1 cup (150g) plain flour
1/2 tsp Bicarbonate of soda
1/2 tsp salt
1 cup (100 grs) rolled oats
1/2 cup (50 grs) slivered almonds
1 tsp vanilla extract
2 Tbsp milk

Preheat the oven to 180ºC (350ºF). Grease oven trays, and line with baking paper. (Or use silicone sheets)

Cream both sugars with the butter. Add the egg, vanilla extract and the milk, and beat until smooth. Sift the flour, the salt and the bicarbonate of soda into another mixing bowl. Add to egg mixture until just combined. Mix in oats, almonds and raisins, and mix until dough forms. (The mixture should be on the soft side.)

With an ice cream spoon, place each portion onto the baking sheet, allowing enough space between each other (5 cm) for spreading. Bake for 10-12 minutes or until golden. Transfer to a metal rack to cool.

My cat approves as well! ;)

Oat Raisin Almond Cookies

UPDATE: These cookies got a mention from Dan Lepard at the Guardian!! I feel honoured specially because his Exceptional baking books have been part of my favourites for a while... Thanks!


4 for 6 - an ode to the potato

It's been a while since I shared a recipe and some thoughts with you. I have no idea about where March went to... I've been doing so many things, dreaming of so many more that time just wasn't enough to pass by and say hello. But I'm back to tell you all about a great project I've been working together with a bunch of talented Portuguese bloggers! When my friend Mariana asked me to take part on 4 por 6 working balanced meals for 4 persons with a budget of 6€, I was really happy with the idea of helping people plan their food with little money. Although this is obviously focused on Portugal's present scene, I thought I could share the recipes with you anyway.

So today we're doing potato an ode, and will be having the first strawberries of the season!

Tian aux pommes de terre

Potato, Onion, Zucchini and Bacon Tian
Tian aux pommes de terre, oignons, courgettes et pancetta
Adapted slightly from French Magazine Saveurs, n.162 July/August 2008

Serves 4

4 small-medium potatoes (500 grs)
2 medium onions (I used red onions but white are fine too)
4 small zucchini (400 grs)
12 bacon strips (about 175 grs)
1 Tbps fresh thyme (just the leaves)
3 Tbps (50 ml) olive oil
3 Tbps (50 ml) single cream (optional)

Preheat the oven to 180ºC (360ºF). Peel the potatoes and cut into thin slices. Put aside in a bowl covered with water. Slice (unpeeled) zucchinis and peeled onions about the same size of the potatoes. Discard the water from the potatoes, add half the olive and season with salt and fresly ground black pepper. Toss to coat. In a covered ovenproof dish (or individual ones), place the potato, zucchini, and onion slices with the bacon strips (halved) to create alternate "layers". Sprinkle the thyme leaves on top. Add the remaining olive oil and single cream (if using any). Finish with about 3 Tbps (50 ml) of water, and cover. Bake for 20 minutes. After that, remove the lid, slightly increase the oven temperature, and leave for an extra 5-10 minutes or until golden. Serve warm with watercress salad.

Tian aux pommes de terre

And for dessert: soup!

Strawberry and Basil Soup
Adapted (slightly) from Elle à la table, n.63 March/April 2009

Serves 4

500 grs strawberries
6 basil leaves (or ment or lime-thyme)
35 grs sugar
1 Tbps balsamic vinegar
dash of white pepper

Wash the strawberries, remove leaves, and half each one. Put 1/4 of the strawberries in a saucepan with 1/2 cup (125 ml) of water, sugar, white pepper, 2 basil leaves and boil for 5 minutos. Add balsamic vinegar and bring to a boil once again. Place the remaining strawberries into serving bowls and pour the cooled syrup (you may or may not sieve it before). Finish with a basil leaf on top.


I've actually manage to buy the ingredients for the main dish and the dessert with only a total of 4.95€ ... More suggestions 4 por 6 (in Portuguese) at my partners in this project: Mariana, Pipoka, Laranjinha, Elvira and Marizé. We'll be running 4 for 6 every two weeks. Stay tuned for many more cheap meals!!