Monday, October 24, 2005

Cheesecakes, Custards, and Cremes

On Saturday, I took a class at the California Culinary Academy called Cheesecakes, Custards, and Cremes. I have made creme brulee many times at home and I am also well versed in making custards, but the cheesecake is one dessert I have not conquered. My first attempt was a New York style cheesecake with a sunken top and the Grand Canyon plowing right through it. It was probably my biggest failure in the kitchen since I was 8 years old when I burned some chocolate on the stove top and stunk up our whole house. The second attempt was a Philadelphia style cheesecake that actually turned out all right but was a bit too jello-y. It was light and fluffy and I like a rich, dense cheesecake.
With expectations of perfecting my cheesecake making skills, the class on Saturday was sadly disappointing. We were given recipes and left to experiment, something I do myself at home all the time without paying for it. To add to my dissapointment, my questions on why one of the cakes collapsed and how we could prevent cracks went unanswered.
When I returned home on Saturday, I pulled my trusty On Food and Cooking the Science and Lore of the Kitchen off the shelf and did some research of my own. It turns out, there are a few strategies that will prevent both the cracks in the surface and a fallen cake. According to Harold McGee, you want a cheesecake to rise during cooking as little as possible. Therefore, you don't want to incorporate too many air bubbles in the mix and so beat the batter just until all the ingredients are fully incorporated. Second, it should be baked slowly in a low oven. Third, don't overbake. And, finally, cool the cheesecake gradually. Harold McGee recommends allowing it to cool in an open oven.
I made pumpkin bars with cream cheese frosting on Friday, so I will have to wait a few days before making another dessert. When I do attempt a cheesecake, I'll let you know how Harold's recommendations work out.

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