New York Style Cheesecake

In celebration of my sister’s birthday, I told her I’d bake whatever she wanted. She gave me a variety of options, one of them being cheesecake. I’d never made a cheesecake on my own; I’d only ever helped my dad, the king of cheesecake. I did call him ahead of time to garner as much cheesecake expertise as possible, but it was still a bit intimidating. However, I am willing to try baking almost anything no matter how intimidating, and this was no exception.

Baking a cheesecake requires exactitude and patience. Most baking does, but it seems more pronounced when baking cheesecake. Perhaps because this particular try turned out to be an all-day affair with a major hitch that almost ruined it entirely. It ended well, but it could have gone very, very poorly without exactitude and patience.

I woke up in the morning and announced to friends staying with me that I needed to make a cheesecake, and I got right to work. The first step to this delectable dessert was to make the graham cracker crust. Doing so was simple and brought the most delicious aroma to every part of my home. My friends kept returning to the kitchen from various rooms commenting on how good it smelled. And they were right. It smelled amazing.

Once I had successfully curated an aromatic living space better than a candle could have, I started on the batter. I creamed the cream cheese, blended in the sugar, added the sour cream. The batter was beautiful and the texture was sublime. Everything was going swimmingly. “This isn’t hard!” I probably said. My next step was to add the eggs.

Earlier when I had skimmed the recipe, I read that I needed two eggs at room temperature. About to add the two eggs called for, I read closer and realized I actually needed six eggs at room temperature. I retrieved four more eggs from my refrigerator and returned to the recipe where I read even closer and realized I needed six eggs and two egg yolks. Eight eggs total. Not two. Embarrassment and regret set it, not only because I had so woefully misread the ingredient list, but in my carton remained only one egg. I was one short. “I am an idiot,” I definitely said.

After detailing my predicament to my friends, I debated whether I should leave to get more eggs or take my chances and bake it with only seven eggs. Ultimately I decided I needed one person’s advice: my dad’s. His response to my confession that I was short one egg? “Uh oh.” Verbatim. My friends and I raced to the car and hurried to the nearest gas station that sells eggs. Exactitude, remember?

Once we returned, with eggs and lunch, I got right back to work. Thankfully there wasn’t much work left. I blended in the eggs, poured the batter onto the crust, and let it bake. I checked the cheesecake about eight times before removing it from the oven. Patience, remember? It was a tad under baked when I took it out, but, per my dad’s advice, it’s better under baked than over baked. And the yummy strawberry sauce I planned to make was going to make up for any baking errors that plagued the dessert.

Cheesecake can be awfully finicky. Its unique batter requires such specific baking conditions, and learning one’s oven is a process, especially given the modifications needed for each recipe. Investing in an oven thermometer will help my cause tremendously.

The next morning I whipped up the strawberry sauce. This was so simple it’s almost laughable considering how good it tasted. I cut fresh strawberries, covered them in sugar, and let them sit. Next I ran strawberry jam through the food processor, simmered it with lemon juice and sugar, then poured it over the strawberries. It couldn’t have been easier and made the perfect topping to the cheesecake.

Finally the time came to taste, and it was so worth all the drama. This cheesecake tasted so good. It was creamy and soft and flavorful. It had a beautiful hint of lemon. It was tart but rich. The strawberry sauce was so sweet and perfectly balanced the cheesecake. The graham cracker crust had a crumbly texture and a warm taste. It wasn’t just a bite of cheesecake; it was a bite of happiness.

Baking this cheesecake was quite the ordeal, but it was also so memorable and so much fun. If you are to try making cheesecake for the first time, read the recipe thoroughly beforehand, but don’t be intimidated. Baking should be a learning experience, but it should also be fun. And, more than anything, it should bring people joy. It’s okay to make mistakes. Mistakes are memories. Baking this cheesecake brought me and others joy, and creating joy is never a mistake.

Recipe from America’s Test Kitchen

Blueberry Scones

I love a good scone, the problem is most scones aren’t good. Scones often turn out dense and dry, which is incredibly unappetizing. If your first encounter with a scone was at a hotel continental breakfast, you probably aren’t a fan. But when scones are the right texture and don’t leave your mouth akin to the Sahara, they’re a delectable pastry. When I found a recipe for blueberry scones in the America’s Test Kitchen cookbook that purportedly solves the aforementioned problems, I knew I had to try it.

Whenever I read a baking recipe, I compare its difficulty level to other goods I’ve made. The last pastry I baked was a croissant (read about it here), and upon my first read of the scones recipe, it was apparent that they’d be much easier and much less time consuming to bake – and I was correct. Only a couple steps were tedious; most were quick and painless.

When baking scones (according to this recipe), everything must be cold or frozen, including the kitchen. Seriously. The recipe calls for a cold kitchen and includes a contingency plan should your kitchen be hot and humid, so I turned my thermostat way down and froze most of the day. The sacrifices I make for scones! I was also sure freeze butter well in advance. 24 hours in advance, to be specific. Like I said, everything must be cold.

In a parka and snow pants to endure the arctic temperatures of my apartment, I began. I sifted through the blueberries to find the smallest fruits of the batch. I did a thorough job choosing as the alternative is to cut larger berries into small pieces, and for some reason that sounds very unappealing. Once I had enough berries, I began grating the butter.

The butter-grating process would’ve gone much faster had I used the correct grater – a box grater. I used the only grater I have – a hand grater, which yields much smaller shavings than the box grater when using the side called for in the recipe. I was a bit worried about the size of the butter shavings, but guessed (also hoped and prayed) it wouldn’t make a difference in the end, so I continued.

Butter grated, I put it back in the freezer (everything must be cold, mind you) while I sifted the wet and dry ingredients in separate bowls. The dry ingredients include lemon zest, and while zesting said lemon, I hoped and prayed once again, this time that the scones would be worth the copious amounts of grating required. I now know I do not like to grate.

Finally the grating portion was complete! Hooray! The next steps were to coat the butter in the dry ingredient mixture, then fold in the wet ingredients until just combined. I then turned the dough out onto my floured surface to begin kneading. The recipe noted not to over-knead, so I was sure to only knead the recommended amount. I then folded the dough and chilled it in the freezer for 5 minutes.

Typically when baking a more advanced recipe, if available, I watch a video of someone baking whatever I’m about to bake to be certain I’m doing it correctly. However, hard copy cookbooks don’t have videos, so that was not an option. This one, though, has corresponding step-by-step pictures, which helped tremendously as I worked the dough.

After resting in the freezer, I rolled the dough into a square and topped it with my carefully chosen blueberries. Next I rolled it into a little log, formed the log into a rectangle, and cut the rectangle into 8 triangles to bake. Like the croissants, this recipe doesn’t yield much, which is a bit of a downside considering the work required. But if you enjoy the work like I do, it really doesn’t matter.

I topped the unbaked triangles with melted butter and sugar, and 22 minutes later had 8 picture-perfect scones. I waited until they had cooled to try them, and they were well worth the wait. In direct contrast with most scones, these were moist and light, not at all dense or dry. The lemon zest added wonderful depth of flavor (making the grating indubitably worthwhile), and the fresh blueberries added a lovely burst of tartness and texture whenever bitten into. Heaven on earth.

These scones might be the best I’ve ever eaten, all thanks to the epicureans at America’s Test Kitchen. Their recipe is stellar and worthy of all praise. To elevate it slightly, I’d use a more crystalized sugar atop before baking rather than regular granulated, but that’s a very, very minor tweak. Aside from that, this recipe is perfect. These scones aren’t a continental breakfast; they’re a 5-star brunch. I’ll be baking them again.