WordPress has suggested that I start this, my very first post, with a bit about me and why I started this blog and what I hope to accomplish with it.
I’m just going to jump right in. You know someone who has made 2 cheesecakes in 2 days. It’s me. Let me set the scene. For the past six months or so, I have been practicing my family’s recipe for eggplant parmigiana. I wasn’t hoping that mine would taste as good as Mom’s, but I did hope that it would be not embarrassing. And it isn’t embarrassing. It has gotten better. I’ve become more confident and I know by looking at it and poking it, how thick to cut the slices and how long to fry them. And it really has just been practice, making it about half a dozen times or so. So, keeping in mind that practice seems to be the key, I’ve decided to turn my attention to desserts.
Mom is not a baker. Grandma was not a baker. But Great Auntie is a baker and she makes the most luscious, creamy and perfect New York style cheesecake. It’s a wonder. I don’t remember when I had it the first time, but I remember that it was when Grandma and I took a trip back east to see Great Auntie. And I remember Grandma writing out the recipe as Great Auntie dictated it.
Now, I don’t know that Great Auntie left out any ingredients or steps, but I have my suspicions. Maybe it’s just that no one ever asked her for the step-by-step recipe and to her, the recipe was a container of this, a bit of that, a dash of that. Maybe. All I know is that the recipe I have has brackets around random ingredients saying mix these together, but they aren’t really in order, and step number 3 in the recipe comes before step number 2.
Before I really tell you about the days of wine and cheesecakes, I should mention that Mom kept telling me, during several increasingly frantic telephone calls, that I had made it before. And that’s true. Years ago. And it obviously went so well that a decade has gone by before I attempted it again. So that was not a comfort.
**Spoiler Alert** I did not make the second cheesecake because the first one turned out so fabulously. It didn’t turn out. The second one was because I had told Mom and Dad I would bring it for Sunday dinner’s dessert and Mom had mentioned that she was really looking forward to it. Eek!
Also, it’s probably past time for me to confess. Great Auntie’s recipe does not call for a crust. I slapped one in anyway. Both times.
So after all this buildup, let me tell you how it went down. After I prepared, baked and cooled my crust, I prepared the filling exactly as directed and poured it into the prepared pan. It was beautiful. I really had my hopes up. I thought that this was going to turn out really well. I gently closed the oven door and baked it for one hour. Then I did what Mom and I called “play hokey pokey with the oven door”. I turned the oven off and cracked the door open for 15 minutes. I closed the oven door and let it sit in the off oven for one hour. Then I took it out and cooled it on the counter for another hour before putting it in the refrigerator.
**Spoiler Alert #2** I went wrong by following the recipe too exactly.
The recipe doesn’t say bake for about an hour or so until it starts to brown or until it is mostly set with a slight jiggle or until it is totally set with no jiggle at all. No, no, it doesn’t say any of those things. It says bake one hour and then start the hokey pokey. So when I started the hokey pokey, it was jiggly on top and not really starting to brown, but I figured it would all work out.
After a night in the refrigerator, it was the consistency of set pudding. Not horrible, just not what I was looking for. Back to the supermarket. Sunday morning, starting cheesecake number 2. The graham cracker crust came together just fine. (I know, I know — why go down that road again when I couldn’t even make the cheesecake part work? Why not focus just on the cheesecake part and follow the recipe to a T? I don’t know. Why does anyone do anything?) I wasn’t as happy with the filling the second time, but I thought it would work out okay, especially since I knew that the big problem was under-baking.
One hour into baking, I cracked open the oven door, and nudged the pan — it jiggled. 5 more minutes. Still jiggly. This went on for the better part of an hour, although sometimes I forced myself to wait 10 minutes before nudging. At this point I had cooked it for twice as long as the recipe stated. Because of all my peeking and nudging and poking at the pan, I decided not to do the hokey pokey with the oven door so I left it in there for an hour with the oven off and the door closed.
It wasn’t under-cooked this time.
It had 3 large cracks on the top, which didn’t effect the taste at all, but didn’t look pretty. The graham cracker crust tasted fine and didn’t crumble or separate from the cake, but it didn’t really bring anything to the cheesecake party.
After these two attempts I’ve decided that I was right: I need to practice it. I need to develop my eye to know how much jiggle in the oven is going equal “set up beautifully after chilling”. Because even when I cooked it twice the amount of time and finally decided that it had to be done cooking, there was still some jiggle to it. But trust me, IT WAS DONE. And I’ve learned to follow the recipe — if I want a cheesecake with a graham cracker crust, I need to find another recipe.
Now, Dear Reader, if you are looking for photos of my cheesecake attempts and the recipe for Great Auntie’s cheesecake, I must disappoint you. That’s not what I’m about. (And I can’t compete with Pinterest — type cheesecake in the search bar and you will know what I mean; tons of beautiful pictures with links to all kinds of recipes.) I might be about that kind of thing eventually, but not today.
For now, I want to be that person you use in a conversation: “oh, I know someone who read that book/saw that movie/tried to make a cheesecake”. I’m going to bake a new dessert each week and then tell you about it, whether it works out or not. I belong to two book clubs and am a constant reader, so I’m going to tell you about what I’m reading. I try to go to the movies once a week and I’m going to tell you about what I saw and what I thought. I’m going to tell you what television show I’m watching and whether or not I think you should watch it too. And sometimes I’m just going to wing it.