Thursday, August 11, 2016

The Best Things are Simple

I have a bajillion cookbooks, but a few are standouts that have recipes that are made over and over, year after year. Sometimes I go a couple of years without making one of my favorites, but always return eventually. These bars, which I haven't made for a couple of years, is one of those recipes. Julia called to ask for the recipe today, and now I want to make them again. It's a recipe that's so simple, with ingredients that can be pulled from the pantry at any time and made very quickly. Thin, crispy, and full of chocolate and nutty goodness, they are a nice cookie to have with homemade ice cream in the summer, or with a pot of tea in cooler weather.

Chocolate Crunch Bars
 from The Fine Arts Cookbook II, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.

Butter and flour a jelly roll pan

2 squares of unsweetened chocolate
1 tablespoon unsweetened cocoa
1/2 cup shortening 
1 cup sugar
2 eggs
pinch of salt
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 cup all purpose flour
1 cup walnuts or pecans, finely chopped

Combine the chocolate, cocoa and shortening together in a small heavy saucepan over low heat just until the shortening is melted, stirring well. Remove from the heat, and set aside to cool slightly. Slowly add the sugar and mix well. Then, add the eggs, one at a time, blending well between each addition. Stir in the salt, vanilla and flour and blend until just combined well. Don't overmix. Spread the batter evenly and thinly in the pan, then sprinkle with the nuts. Press the nuts gently into the surface so they don't roll off. Bake in a 350F degree oven for 15 to 18 minutes. Remove and cut immediately into long rectangles. Cool a minute, then remove the thin bars to a rack to finish cooling. They will crisp as they cool. (Which is why they are cut immediately after removing from the oven -- much easier and less messy then.)

Makes 2 dozen or more

Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Birthday Cheesecake

This will be a real surprise, as I don't make many cheesecakes. This one is special, New York style, as it has a sponge cake crust instead of the usual graham cracker one, and is light and airy, not dense and heavy.


Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
Butter well the bottom and sides of an 8" springform pan. Cover the entire pan with foil all the way up the sides. Set aside.

For the sponge cake crust:

1/4 cup cake flour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
pinch of salt
2 extra large eggs, separated
1/4 cup sugar, divided 
3/4 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 drops pure lemon extract
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
1/4 teaspoon cream of tartar

In a small bowl, sift the flour, baking powder, and salt together. 

In large bowl of an electric mixer, beat the egg yolks on high for 3 minutes. On low speed, add 2 tablespoons of the sugar, and beat 5 minutes, until a thick yellow ribbon forms in the bowl. Add the extracts and mix. Sift the flour mixture over the egg batter and stir it by hand until no white flecks remain. Blend in the melted butter. 

In another bowl, using clean dry beaters, beat the egg whites and cream of tartar on high speed until frothy. Gradually add the remaining 2 tablespoons of sugar and beat until stiff peaks form, mixture will be glossy. Fold 1/3 of the whites into the yolk batter, then the remaining whites. Gently spread batter over the bottom of  the prepared pan and bake JUST until set and pale golden edges, about 10 minutes. Touch the cake gently in the center; if it springs back, it's done. Don't let the top brown!

Place the pan on a wire rack to cool and leave the oven on and continue to prepare the cheesecake batter.

For the cheesecake batter:

3  8 ounce packages of Philadelphia Cream Cheese (use whole fat only), at room temperature
1 1/4 cups sugar
3 tablespoons corn starch
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
2 extra large eggs
2/3 cup heavy whipping cream
zests of lemon and/or orange peel, optional

As the sponge cake crust cools, make the batter as follows:

Beat 1 package of the cream cheese together with 1/3 cup of the sugar and the corn starch on low until creamy, about 3 minutes, scraping down bowl several times. Blend in remaining cream cheese, one package at a time, beating well and scraping down after each.  

Increase mixer speed to medium and beat in remaining sugar, then the vanilla and optional zests. Scrape down bowl a couple of more times. Beat in the heavy cream on low speed JUST until completely blended. The filling will look light, airy and billowy, like clouds. Be careful not to overmix!  Gently spoon the batter over the crust. Place the foil-wrapped springform pan in a large shallow pan and add hot water to the large pan until it comes halfway up the sides of the springform pan. Bake until the edge is light golden brown and the top is pale golden and the center  barely jiggly, 75 to 85 minutes. Remove from the water bath and cool on a wire rack for 2 hours without disturbing it. Don't move it! Then leave the cake in the pan and cover loosely with plastic wrap and refrigerate overnight.

On serving day:

Release from the springform pan and leave the cake on the pan bottom. Place on a plate. Cut with a straight edged knife dipped in hot water between slicings. Use the cake within 2 days. Refrigerate leftover cake tightly wrapped. 

Serves 8.