Category: - The Baker and The Chef
 
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When I was in culinary school I had a fantastic Introduction to Baking and Pastry instructor, but the instructor for the Advanced class was worthless.  He was the pastry chef at a very upscale hotel here in Chicago, so I know that he had talent, but when it came to teaching he either didn't care or he wasn't able to teach.  He would stand around chit-chatting with people as they passed through the kitchen and cracking jokes.  If you ever asked him a question his answer was always, "ham".  I'm not kidding.  It didn't matter what you asked him... "where are the eggs?"  "ham".  "how long should this bake?"  "ham."  "what temperature should the oven be?"  "ham".  It was really frustrating.

Early on I realized I wasn't going to learn anything from him.  I decided that I would just teach myself.  I made a goal to bake every single formula (that's what bakers call recipes) in the text book.  By the end of the semester I had accomplished my goal!

One of the most challenging (and for me, intriguing) recipes was strudel dough.  It's definitely an old world recipe that gets passed down through families.  You really only find strudel in older mom and pop style bakeries.  You won't find it in any trendy bakeries.  I won't lie, it's a challenge to make, but it's definitely possible and I highly recommend it.

The key to strudel is to make the dough so thin you can read a newspaper through it.  This is accomplished by gently stretching the dough with your hands.  And patience.  A lot of patience.  The very thin dough is then rolled up around a filling and the thin dough becomes many many layers of flaky dough.  In making this strudel I kind of "Americanized" the dough.  I added eggs for some richness, which you will never find in a true European strudel.

When you are ready to roll out the strudel work on a large table that you can walk all the way around.  That will help you to evenly stretch the dough.  Cover the table with a large table cloth and liberally dust it with flour.  When you think you've dusted it with enough flour add a little bit more.  Trust me, it will make your life infinitely easier.

After you've baked the strudel let it cool just a little bit and dust it with some powdered sugar.  Then cut yourself a nice thick slice... you've earned it!  It's best enjoyed the day you bake it so share with your neighbors.   The more you make it the better you'll get at stretching the dough.  If you have kids you can rope them into helping you and start a new family tradition that they can pass onto their children.

-The Baker

STRUDEL DOUGH:

  • 2 1/2 C All-Purpose Flour
  • 1/2 t Baking Powder
  • 1/2 t Salt
  • 1 T Sugar, granulated
  • 3 Eggs
  • 3 T Vegetable Oil
  • 1/4 C Water
  • 1 1/2 C Cake Crumbs (or bread crumbs)
  1. sift together the flour, baking powder and salt into a mixing bowl
  2. in a separate bowl whisk together the sugar, eggs and oil
  3. using a dough hook combine the egg mixture with the flour mixture; knead until it looks very shaggy
  4. add the water and continue to knead with the dough hook until a soft and pliable dough is formed
  5. remove from the mixing bowl and knead a few times by hand on a lightly floured work surface
  6. wrap in plastic and let the dough relax for at least an hour, but two or more is even better (the longer you let it sit the easier it will be to work with)

CHEESE FILLING:

  • 8 oz Cream Cheese, softened
  • 1 Egg Yolk
  • 1/4 C Sugar
  • 1 t Vanilla Extract
  • 16 oz can Pie Filling
  1. in mixer blend cream cheese until soft; don't over mix it or it will be grainy
  2. add egg yolk, mixing just until incorporated; again, don't over mix
  3. add sugar and vanilla; it's better to under mix slightly because once the egg and the sugar are added too much mixing will cause the mixture to become liquid
 
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I love cheesecake.  It's so satisfying to eat a slice.  Cheesecake is definitely not something I buy.  I always make it.  For some reason store bought cheesecake is insanely expensive.  Granted, it uses fairly expensive ingredients, but this is definitely one item you could make at home that will be just as good (and in my opinion, better), and if you buy your ingredients on sale you've saved even more.  Today, for example, I was at the store picking up a gallon of milk and I saw that the cream cheese was on sale for $0.84 for an 8 ounce pack.  That's a great price!  Right on the spot I decided to make a cheesecake.

A lot of people are intimidated by the process of making cheesecake.  Because it's expensive to make and it's time consuming it's not something you want to try to make only to have it not turn out.  I really believe this is a myth perpetuated by cookbooks.  They tell you that you have to bake in a special pan (a springform); you have to bake it in a water bath (a pan of water your springform sits in to gently heat the cake as it cooks to prevent cracking); unless your pan is brand new you usually have to wrap it in foil before putting it in the water bath (to prevent water from getting in and ruining your cake, or at the very least making your crust soggy); then after the cake is baked you must slowly, little by little, reduce the temperature of your oven so that your cake slowly cools and it doesn't crack.  Many cookbooks even recommend that you leave the cheesecake in the oven overnight with the oven door propped open with a towel to allow the water bath to slowly cool, and thereby allowing the cake to also slowly cool.

Jeez!  Just reading that makes me not want to make a cheesecake.  I used to think that's what you had to do... I mean, that's what the cookbooks all say.  But then I started thinking about it.  Did I really think that bakeries and restaurants allowed their precious oven space to be taken over by cheesecake production?  No way!  Oven space is money!  There had to be a better way.

So I stopped using a springform pan and just baked in a regular cake pan.  I stopped using the waterbath.  I learned that by cooking the cake at a lower temperature I could avoid cracking.  Another major cause of cracks is over-baking the cheesecake.  It can be tricky to know when a cheesecake is finished because the center should still be jiggly.  Most of the time when you bake a cake, if the center is jiggly you keep baking, but not a cheesecake!

I, of course, have a quick and easy method to get cheesecake whenever I want it.  I just send The Chef a text message to bring me a slice home with him.  Instant gratification!  The cheesecake they serve at the restaurant is great and is based on the recipe from Carnegie Deli.  The only problem is that I can't stand the crust.  They use a sugar cookie as the crust and I just don't like it.  I actually peel it off in order to eat the cake.  I knew I could make it better so I searched out the recipe to the Carnegie Deli's cheesecake and I basically make it exactly the way they say, except I substitute a graham cracker crust.  I also swirl in some ganache or chocolate chips or a fruit sauce... whatever I'm in the mood for.

The Carnegie Deli cheesecake is very unique in that it has a very dark top.  This is achieved by baking the cheesecake for a few minutes in a 500 F oven.  When it's as brown as you'd like it to be, remove it from the oven and let it cool for a good 30 minutes while the oven also cools down to 350 F.  Then put it back in the oven and let it finish baking for another 25 minutes or so.  What you're looking for is a small circle (about the size of a quarter) in the center of the cake to still be jiggly, but the rest of the cake to be set.

At this point you're probably wondering how on earth I get it out of the pan.  Easy!  I let the cake cool completely on a rack.  This is very important because drastic changes in temperature will cause cracks.  Give it as much time as it needs.  When it's completely cool stick it in the freezer and let it freeze.  After it's frozen take it out of the freezer and put it over a VERY low heat on your stove top, constantly turning the pan.  What you're doing is just slightly loosening up the butter in the crust so that the cake will slide right out.  What you don't want to do is leave one spot over the heat too long and burn it or liquefy the cake.  Have a small knife ready and periodically slide the knife around the edge of the cake.  When it easily slides between the cake and the pan and you feel the cake release it's ready to come out.  Then just flip it out onto a plate and because it's frozen you can flip it into your hand and to turn it over and then set it down onto it's serving dish.  Then let it thaw and serve.  You can also wrap it very well in plastic and put it back in the freezer for unexpected guests or for a slice every now and then.

If the cheesecake cracks it's not the worst thing in the world.  Lots of sins can be covered by whipped cream!  You can also make a sour cream glaze to pour over the top.  The key is to give yourself enough time to do all the different steps and allow the cake to cool and freeze for as long as it needs to.  If it cracks, just keep trying, you will get it, I promise.

-The Baker

CHEESECAKE:

Prep: set out cream cheese to come to room temp; prepare crust; preheat oven to 500
Yield: 1 – 8” x 2” cake

GRAHAM CRACKER CRUST:
  • 9 full graham crackers, crushed (approx 1 ¾ c)
  • ¼ C Sugar
  • 4 oz Butter, melted
  1. crush graham crackers as finely as possible using a rolling pin or a food processor; or you can buy graham cracker crumbs in the baking aisle
  2. stir it all together and press into the prepared pan; set aside

GANACHE:
  • 1 T (½ oz; 19 g) Corn Syrup
  • 2 T (1 oz; 28 g) Heavy Cream
  • 4 oz Chocolate (semi-sweet)
  1. put all ingredients into a small pot over very low heat
  2. stir constantly until everything melts together and is glossy; set aside
CHEESECAKE FILLING:
  • 20 oz (467 g) Cream Cheese
  • ¾ C (137 g) Sugar
  • 1 ½ T (17 g) AP Flour
  • 1 ½ t (7 g) Lemon Juice
  • 1 ½ t (7 g) Vanilla Extract
  • 3 whole Eggs
  • 1 Egg Yolk
  • 2 T (35 g) Heavy Cream
  1. cream the cream cheese until very smooth and creamy (scrape down bowl)
  2. beat in sugar until well incorporated (scrape down bowl)
  3. beat in flour, lemon, vanilla, eggs, yolk and cream (scrape down bowl making sure there are no lumps)
  4. bake at 500 for 12 mins until the top is dark brown and cake has slightly started to rise
  5. cool cake for 30 mins while oven temp reduces to 350
  6. return to oven and bake another 25 mins (cake should be bouncy in the center and slightly risen in the middle and sides)
Notes:  Constantly scrape your bowl during the mixing to get rid of lumps.  Lumps will not bake out and you'll end up with a lumpy cheesecake.  Have your cream cheese at room temperature.  Mix at a low/medium speed for two reasons:  1) if you whip too much air into your batter you will never get the dense consistency that most cheesecakes are; and 2) overmixing the cream cheese will cause it to become grainy, which will affect your final product.