Friday, November 21, 2008

American Classics: Red Velvet Cupcakes and Cheesecake

I should probably own stocks in Philadelphia Cream Cheese. No kidding, I have a least one block of cream cheese in my fridge at all times (if not more)! Even now that I'm not living at home, I still feel the urge to wander down the aisle at the grocery store where I know the cream cheese will be patiently awaiting my arrival and check to see if my little blocks of goodness are on sale. And if they are, I have to fight the instinct to buy 3, 4, maybe even 5 blocks! Oh and the real danger is at Costco! It's probably a good thing that there isn't a Costco anywhere in sight in Malibu, because they sell cases of the cream cheese... *sigh* 

The issue is that there are so many applications for cream cheese, so many DELICIOUS applications, that is. Cheesecake, cream cheese frosting/filling, danishes, I even throw it my baked Macaroni and Cheese! But by far, my two favorite uses for cheesecake come in the form of two American classics: Cheesecake and Cream Cheese Frosting (as in here on top of Red Velvet Cupcakes). 

(The tastiest lint in the world!)

Hands down, this is my favorite recipe for Red Velvet. It's Paula Deen's and can be found on the food network website. They are moist, tender and down right scrumptious! One warning though, this recipe makes way too much frosting, (Yea I know, you can't really have too much frosting) but the past few times I've made this recipe, I've cut down the frosting by half and still had some left over.

As for cheesecakes, there are all kinds: Firm, dense cheesecakes, light and fluffy cheesecakes, and of course, there's that category of cheesecake wanna-bes (dare I say, no-bake cheesecakes!). But honestly, no matter which way you look at it, cheesecake is not really a cake at all. It's a custard. It's a mostly fat and egg based dessert that is cooked low and slow in a water bath. Not at 350ยบ for 45 minutes or anything that sounds like you're baking an actual cake.

No, in fact the best cheesecakes are ones that are fully cooked and yet still soft and smooth. My favorite cheesecake is by Alton Brown and can also be found on the food network website. The man is genius and this recipe just goes to show it! This cheesecake comes out perfect. And it's all about the texture, which in most custards, is what is necessary to the flavor of the cheesecake. I have tried many, many, many cheesecake recipes and this one is absolutely my favorite!

As a plus, it's always a crowd pleaser. I mean, who can resist 10 pounds of perfectly delicious cheesecake when it stares you in the face??! (not me!)

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

A Quest for The Best Chocolate Chip Cookies

There is something uniquely heart warming about freshly baked chocolate chip cookies. The sweet smell the fills the room as you watch the little dough mounds puff and spread, that for some reason, has an affect that is unmatched by any other cookie. Looking at the cookies as they cool on the baking sheet, it's becomes very easy to forget the meaning of self-restraint. You want to bite into them while the chocolate is still melty and the centers are still gooey but, as you know from childhood, that two bad things could happen if you do: 1) you can burn your tongue with the hot goodness and 2) you might get a tummy ache afterward (though you know that in both cases, it's well worth it)! 

So in order to receive the full effect of a soft, freshly baked cookie that lasts for days, I began experimenting with recipes to get the perfect chocolate chip cookie: one that is thick and not flat, moist and soft in the center, crisp on the edges, and the right ratio of chocolate chips to cookie dough. This started as a simple project...but it soon developed into a little obsession of mine. I researched cookie recipe after cookie recipe. I considered using different flours, butter or shortening, brown sugar to white sugar ratios and various types of chocolate chips. Finally, I came across a concept that really opened my eyes and is a drastic change in the type of leavening. 

Instant Yeast! Yes, you read that correctly! I started with a recipe for chewy chocolate chip cookies that I knew would result in the soft center, chewy cookie that I was looking for and replaced the leavening it called for with the ingredient known to add a lift while maintaining the shape of the baked good. The cookies turned out to be simply the best! They were lightly browned and crisp on the outside, yet incredibly soft and moist in the center. But the best part was not the texture, although that was nearly perfect. The best part was the flavor! The cookies tasted clean and sweet, unobstructed by the "chemically" taste of baking soda/baking powder. The texture was that of the perfect cookie but the flavor was like a chocolate chip cookie flavored sweet bread! 

I highly recommend that you take your favorite chocolate chip cookie recipe (or any drop cookie recipe for that matter) and replace the baking soda or baking powder with about a teaspoon of highly active dry yeast. I can guess what you will be quite pleased with the results. 
This experiment of mine is still on going and I would also love any input you have after trying out this happy little accident :)