Dorie Greenspan’s Low and Lush Chocolate Cheesecake

Out of four siblings, three of us have birthdays in July, so that means a lot of baking for me during the month, even if I don’t make my own birthday cake.

Earlier this month, I made Dorie Greenspan’s Devil’s Food White Out Cake for my brother, a cake I’ve made before with my friend J.  Despite a fiasco involving a faulty candy thermometer and burnt sugar and some uneven slicing on my part, the cake turned out great, even if the frosting wasn’t as white as it should be.

This week was my sister’s turn, and she chose Dorie’s Low and Lush Chocolate Cheesecake as her birthday cake.  In her introduction to this recipe, Dorie said this was “push-button easy to make” and as far as cheesecakes go, it is. Surprisingly enough, this cheesecake doesn’t cook in a water bath (i.e. no risk of scalding yourself with hot water) and is also baked relatively quickly. My all-time favorite cheesecake takes two and a half hours in the oven (one and half with it on, another hour with it off with the door cracked open), whereas this baked in 40 minutes.

All the mixing is done with a food processor, which means everything comes together very quickly, which in turn means less air is incorporated in the batter.  The result is a denser and silkier cheesecake.

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I used 54% chocolate and, by mistake, 1/3 cup of sugar instead of the 1/2 indicated in the recipe. Not that my error was noticed by anyone. The cheesecake was delicious, with the subtle saltiness of the cream cheese still shining through the chocolate.

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The crust was also quite nice. The punch of cinnamon gives another dimension of flavor to the graham crust and also complements the richness of the chocolate filling.

Overall, this is another wonderful, delicious, and comparatively easy recipe from Dorie Greenspan. And really, I shouldn’t be surprised anymore that something that I made from her cookbook, Baking: From My Home to Yours is now a family favorite in the making.

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Another wonderful chocolate cake option

I already had a tough time choosing between Ina’s and David’s chocolate cake recipes. And here comes another recipe to make the decision making even harder.

Naturally, it was from Dorie Greenspan.

I’ve made Dorie’s Cocoa-Buttermilk Birthday Cake a few times already. Twice without the optional melted chocolate, once with a different frosting, and all those times, the result was fantastic.

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The cake had a deep, chocolate flavor, even if the batter is the lightest-colored chocolate batter I’ve ever made. Adding the optional bittersweet chocolate naturally makes the flavor slightly richer, and the batter darker, but it really is not a deal-breaker, in case you can’t spare the chocolate.

I’ve never made anything with malted milk before, and even Google didn’t help in describing what exactly the flavor of “malt” is. What was apparent to me from my Googling is that malt is delicious, and a malted milkshake is always better than a sad, regular milkshake. And maybe the same is true about chocolate frosting. It was thick, fudgy and delicious. The frosting does have a tendency to be grainy (a universal problem, apparently) and even extended mixing with my KitchenAid didn’t result in a smooth frosting. Chilling the frosting seemed to help, but there was still a slight graininess to the finished frosting. No one in my family seemed to mind, judging by the rate the cake was consumed in our house.

So now, I have three, not two recipes to choose from whenever I want/need to make a chocolate cake. Now if only all of life’s decisions were all no-lose situations like this one.

December: Bittersweet Brownies and, yay!!

And just at the nick of time.

I finished what I set out to do when I started my 2012 Cooking Challenge on the last day of the year. Twelve months, thirteen recipes, the last of which was Dorie Greenspan’s Bittersweet Brownies.

And yes, I had to cram this in to make sure that I completed what should have been an easy enough challenge. I picked this recipe because it was easy, I had all the ingredients available at home and because I wanted to try out another brownie recipe after my attempt at Ina’s Outrageous Brownies didn’t come out absolutely perfect. I’m stubborn like that.

And sometimes, persistence pays out:

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As you can see from the picture, I had no issues with the texture of these brownies whatsoever. They came out perfectly, and I could slice them without the edges crumbling to pieces.

Taste-wise, these were great, too. Despite the recipe’s name, these didn’t taste as bitter as I expected them to be. Ina’s actually tastes darker and more bitter.

And if you asked me to choose between the two, I couldn’t.  Well, ok, maybe I’ll go with Dorie’s recipe because I know I can make that perfectly. But my pride aside, you really can’t go wrong with any of the two recipes. They both are chocolatey, moist and delicious. I guess it will just be a matter of taste or mood or what kind of chocolate you find in your supermarket. In the mood for something darker, with fudgy and oozy bits of chocolate chips in the brownie? Then go for Ina’s. Could only find bittersweet chocolate at Rustan’s? Then Dorie’s would be perfect.

Ah, if only all of life’s options always turned out so well.

October: Espresso Cheesecake Brownies

One of my pet peeves about baking recipes is the fact that they all seem to require different sizes of pans. For instance, for the chocolate cakes I’ve baked, I’ve had to buy 8 inch pans and 9 inch pans. When I came across a recipe calling for a 10 inch pan, I flat out ignored it. The thing with baking is that, while you can use a smaller or bigger pan than what the recipe requires, you’d also have to tweak your baking time and/or temperature correctly, or you’ll risk burning or undercooking what you’re making.

And this is why it took me so long to make Dorie Greenspan’s Espresso Cheesecake Brownies. I thought long and hard about just using the 8 inch square pan that I already have. When I did finally decide to spring for the 9 inch pan the recipe required, it took me a while to find one. Anyway, I finally did get one (the last one in the store!) and made the brownies this weekend:

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I didn’t make the sour cream glaze in the recipe because I really didn’t want to a sour cream AND confectioner’s sugar layer to something that already had chocolate, cream cheese, sugar and eggs. And, I also didn’t have enough sour cream on hand. Hehe.

I would make a couple more changes for the next time I make them. First, I would double up on the instant coffee powder I used for the cheesecake mixture. The recipe called for instant espresso powder and I substituted the same amount of instant coffee powder. Yeah, someone didn’t do their research. Second, I would probably increase the brownie mixture by half because I think the brownie layer is just a tad too thin and I also need more of the batter to swirl on top.

But don’t get me wrong, these were yummy. I just need a little more batter to swirl and for the coffee flavor to be as intense as Dorie  meant to it be.

August: Devil’s Food White-Out Cake

One of the things on my agenda for my trip to NYC was to meet up with my friend J and for us to cook and bake together. J and I have exchanged literally hundreds of emails talking about food, cookbooks, cooking gadgets, baking pans, Food Network hosts and recipes. I think we even have each other to blame for the other’s KitchenAid mixers. Naturally, we just HAD to cook and bake together when I came over.

We knew what we wanted to cook months ahead of time (champagne risotto from Giada and a chicken dish), but we didn’t know what we wanted to bake. Then it hit us. Duh. We had to bake the cake on the cover of Dorie Greenspan’s cookbook:
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We both have the cookbook (it’s J’s fault that I bought one) and have been talking about making the Devil’s Food White Out Cake it for ages, but none of us never got around to it. There really was no other cake we should make together.

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The cake layers were pretty straightforward to make. It was the frosting that required a lot more rereads of the instructions, as neither J nor I have ever made a cooked frosting before. To me, it was all very complicated, since a candy thermometer was required (hahaha) and very specific temperature was needed. Between J and I, though, we managed the frosting quite well.

So I put together the cake, as J needed to start on the champagne risotto, and here’s how it turned out:
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I had a bit of a tough time crumbing the cake for the topping, as the cake was moist, and the chocolate chips in the layers (yes, there are chocolate chips in the cake!) tended to mush things up. A fork didn’t really work either because of the aforementioned moistness. But I’d rather have big crumbs on my topping than a dry cake, as you can see from the picture.

I thought the cake looked wonderful (if not entirely professional-looking), but we made it, so I’m biased. But the ultimate seal of approval came from Dorie, herself, who replied when I tweeted this Instagrammed picture of the cake:

Of course I favorited the tweet. Duh.

I. DIE.

And yes, we loved it. The cake was moist and chocolaty, and the addition of chocolate chips was genius, because you had pockets of real, gooey chocolate embedded in the already chocolaty cake layers. And the frosting was light and smooth, and not too sweet at all. With most marshmallow-y looking icings, you already know they’re too sweet just from looking at them. But this particular one, you have none of that cloying sweetness that makes most people scrape off the frosting from the cake. So even with three layers of frosting, none was left on the dessert plates once we were done with our slices. Yep, even after risotto and chicken.

Now that I think about it, maybe it’s a good thing J and I don’t have that many chances to cook together. I shudder at how much weight we would gain (and how much money would be spent on ingredients) if we cooked together as much as we would like.

My June recipe and a rule change

First up, a rule change for my 2012 Cooking Challenge. Yeah, I know, this probably qualifies as cheating. But at the rate I’m going, I’d have to cook THREE recipes this month. And there’s no way that’s going to happen as I’ll be out of the country for two weeks. Which means I’ll have to cook FOUR recipes in September. And it’s not like I haven’t been cooking, it’s just that I haven’t been cooking from the Kitchen and Back to Basics. I have been cooking from other cookbooks, so I figured I might as well include them in the challenge.

So I formally include Ina Garten’s Barefoot Contessa cookbook
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and Dorie Greenspan’s iconic Baking: From my Home to Yours (yes, also the source of the most wonderful cheesecake EVER) in my 2012 cooking challenge. It’s not like anyone will complain anyway, since this is my personal challenge.

And with that, I present to you my June recipe: Dorie Greenspan’s Peanut Butter Torte. My sister chose it for her birthday cake as I gave her free reign to choose whatever she wanted from the cookbook, provided all ingredients in the recipe she chose were easy to find. Given my sister’s tastes, it’s no surprise that she picked a recipe that required Oreos, chocolate and peanut butter.

While the recipe was not hard, per se, it was A LOT of work. This recipe is probably the most labor intensive thing I’ve ever made. It’s just a lot of prep work: chopping up peanuts and chocolate, crushing Oreos, building that crust, emptying out the mixing bowl, etc. And once you’ve popped the thing in the fridge for four hours, the work ain’t over. You still have to make the ganache topping. This is the type of recipe that makes you think, after making it, “This better be good.”

Well, it certainly looked good:

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I seriously considered not making the ganache topping anymore, since I came home from work late and still had to make it. But I am so glad I made it because it made the torte look awesome. Without it, the torte would just look like a huge mass of speckled beige mousse. With it and the peanuts, it’s just that more visually interesting and delicious-looking.

And it IS delicious! The cream cheese and peanut butter mousse is thankfully light and delightfully nutty. The crunchy mix of chopped chocolate, salted peanuts, cinnamon and nutmeg provide a great contrast from all that creaminess, both taste-wise and texture-wise. And that dark chocolate ganache and the sprinkling of salty peanuts not only makes the torte look that much prettier, but it also provides another contrasting layer of flavor and textures.

Packed with cream cheese, cream, peanut butter and Oreo goodness, it’s probably a good thing that this Peanut Butter Torte was a lot of work anyway. At least I burned some calories while making it, to offset the ones I get from eating it. Maybe that’s how it was planned all along. Nice one, Dorie.

Dorie Greenspan Cheesecake Perfection

Is it still bragging or gloating if the statement is true? Or if, at the very least, the person who said it thinks it’s true?

I’m asking because as arrogant as this may sound, I really do believe that the cheesecake I made for my brother’s birthday is quite possibly the most perfect tasting cheesecake I have ever had.

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In my head, the perfect cheesecake would be a balance between tangy and creamy. It’s only slightly sweet, with a hint of saltiness from the cream cheese coming through. The crust should be moist but still slightly crumbly, and also slightly buttery. Well this Dorie Greenspan recipe is all that and more. It is velvety and silky, probably the smoothest cheesecake I’ve ever had. It was also surprisingly light, considering that the recipe requires FOUR eight oz. packages of cream cheese (or TWO pounds!!). It took some getting used to, since most cheesecakes are of a denser, heavier texture but the lightness of it means you can eat more makes it less filling.

The prep work in making the cheesecake is easy, it’s the waiting that’s a challenge. It takes two and a half hours to cook (one and a half hour with the oven on, another hour with it off and the oven door cracked open). Then it takes a minimum of four hours to cool to room temperature THEN you still have to chill it in the fridge (overnight is best). So this is not the thing to make to satisfy an urgent craving, or you might end up attacking a still-goopy cheesecake. But for occasions that call for something special, this is THE recipe for you.

All that waiting is well worth it, believe you me.Yes, even the overnight wait.

PS: I don’t have a cross-section photo of the cheesecake because I messed up the crust (thick at the corners, thin in the center) and am embarrassed to show how badly I messed it up.

PPS: In Dorie’s epic cookbook, Baking: From my Home to Yours, she has ELEVEN ways to play around with this basic recipe. The award-winning cookbook is worth buying just for THAT, in my opinion