New York Cheesecake (…and some musings)

I know this is a food blog, and maybe I shouldn’t be delving into these things, but I’ve had a lot on my mind lately…

As we all know, the political climate in America (and around the globe) has been burning hot. Things were simmering for quite some time, but the simmer has erupted into a full boil and is threatening to spill over.

Here in the States, we are looking into the face of a xenophobic, islamophobic, racist, hate-mongering, modern day fascist. The Republican frontrunner (?!) has brought out a very nasty side of our fellow Americans. I am so disappointed and saddened by the way my countrymen have responded to these times of trials and tribulations. Instead of coming together and supporting one another, we are being torn apart.

Places of worship are being desecrated, Muslims are being harassed in the streets and their schools, Muslim women are being targeted for wearing their religious head covering.

People that we grew up with, who know us, are responding to us with vitriol. I just feel so hurt and disappointed.

You guys, we are one. We bleed the same blood. Don’t let hate drive a wedge between us. We are better than that.

***

Cheesecake is something that I’ve been struggling with and wanting to conquer for quite some time. The last time I attempted making a standard cheesecake was in Spring 2013, when my father and mother were visiting. My Papa was a fan of cheesecake, and it was for him that I attempted to take a shot at it. The crust was slightly burnt and super soggy, and the surface was majorly cracked, but my dad savored and relished each bite.

This time around, I made sure to do my research before I got started. I went through and read about various tips and techniques, and I also reached out to the Cheesecake Queen herself, Faaiza of Modest Munchies, for some pointers (take a look at her impressive roundup of cheesecakes!). The following are techniques that will ensure you get the perfect cheesecake:

  • Be sure to grease your pan! Most recipes don’t call for the springform pan to be greased, but to help prevent cracking, make sure you’re greasing the sides. The science behind it is that as the cheesecake cools, it contracts inwards. If the sides aren’t greased, the cake will stick to the sides and crack as it contracts.
  • Use room temperature cream cheese and eggs.
  • After the cream cheese has been mixed well with the sugar, swap out your mixer/whisk for a mixing spoon and gently mix the remaining ingredients. Do not overmix!
  • Once you’ve poured the batter into the pan, tap the pan on the counter a few times. This helps release any air bubbles that could potentially lead to crackage (awesome tip from Faaiza!).
  • Low and slow baking is the way to go! Skip the water bath, and bake according to the directions on the recipe. Once the time is up, turn off the heat, and allow the cheesecake to cool down in the oven itself. The point behind this is that it allows the cheesecake to cool slowly, thus avoiding abrupt temperature changes, and eventual cracks.
  • If all else fails, cover that baby up with some fruit or whipped cream and call it a day 🙂

(Recipe adapted from AllRecipes.)

 

NewYorkCheesecake

New York Cheesecake

Yield: 1 9-inch Cake

Ingredients:

For Cheesecake:

  • 15 leaves graham crackers, crushed
  • ¼ cup unsalted butter, melted
  • ½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 2 pounds (4 8-ounce packages) cream cheese, at room temperature
  • 1 ½ cups sugar
  • ¾ cup heavy whipping cream
  • 4 eggs, at room temperature
  • 1 cup sour cream
  • ¼ cup all-purpose flour
  • 1 tablespoon vanilla

For Topping:

  • 1 cup sour cream
  • 2 tablespoons powdered sugar
  • ½ teaspoon vanilla

Directions:

Make Cheesecake:

Preheat oven to 325°F and set aside a greased 9-inch springform pan.

In a medium bowl, combine graham cracker crumbs, butter, and cinnamon and mix until thoroughly combined. Transfer mixture to prepared springform pan, and press the crumbs onto the bottom. Set aside.

In a large bowl, combine cream cheese and sugar and whisk until smooth. Using a mixing spoon, add whipping cream and mix until just combined. Add eggs, one at a time, stirring only until combined. Add sour cream, all-purpose flour, and vanilla. Stir until just combined. Pour batter into springform pan and tap on the counter a few times to release any air pockets.

Bake for 70 minutes, and then turn off the oven. Allow the cake to cool in the oven, without opening the door, for 6 to 8 hours. Transfer to fridge and chill until ready to serve, at least 4 hours.

Make Topping:

Combine sour cream, sugar, and vanilla in a bowl and mix until thoroughly combined. Spread evenly over chilled cheesecake.

Pumpkin Chocolate Chip Bread

I fell in love with the flavor of pumpkin a few years ago (here are just a few of the goodies I like to make with the flavorsome squash). I’ve been experimenting with it a bit more this season, and this delicious, moist, and autumn-centric Pumpkin Chocolate Chip Bread was a result of said testing. It pairs well on its own, or alongside a mug of steaming tea or coffee, and it is Zuni-approved 😉

(Recipe adapted from King Arthur Flour.)

 

PumpkinChocolateChipBreadPic

Pumpkin Chocolate Chip Bread

Yield: 1 Loaf

Ingredients:

  • 1 1/3 cups sugar
  • 1 cup pumpkin puree
  • ½ cup oil
  • 1/3 cup water
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 ½ cups + 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • ¾ teaspoon salt
  • ¼ teaspoon baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • ½ teaspoon vanilla
  • ¼ teaspoon ground all-spice
  • ¾ cup semi-sweet chocolate chips

Directions:

Preheat oven to 350°F and set aside a greased loaf pan.

In a large bowl, beat together sugar, pumpkin puree, oil, water, and eggs until smooth.

Add all-purpose flour, baking soda, salt, baking powder, vanilla, cinnamon, and all-spice. Stir to combine. Fold in chocolate chips.

Pour batter into loaf pan and bake for 60 to 80 minutes, until an inserted toothpick comes out clean.

Allow bread to rest for 15 minutes, then transfer to a wire rack and cool completely.

Banana Cream Pie

I would like to thank everyone for the support they’ve given to me and my family over the course of the past several weeks.  The road is long, but I hope that with time we learn to deal with our pain in a healthy and positive manner.

 ***

This Banana Cream Pie is one that is very special to me.  We celebrated my parents 35th wedding anniversary last year, and I had prepared 2 pies similar to this for the event.  They were received  with great praise, and more important, Mummi and Papa both enjoyed them.

Last week my close childhood friends came to spend the day with me (our group of friends were all together under the same roof for the first time in 6 years!).  They brought along a delicious lunch of Caesar Salad,Garlic Bread, Buffalo Chicken Pasta (recipe which I’m dying to get from my friend), and Sticky Date Pudding (totally delish!).  I decided to bake this pie for the occasion, considering how close it is to my heart, and these friends of mine are too.

Just a note about the recipe- I am a totally low maintenance kind of cook, but with that being said, the use of vanilla beans in the pastry cream really makes this pie shine.  If you are unable to use vanilla beans for whatever reason, just add 1.5 teaspoons vanilla extract to the cream after it’s done cooking.  Also, the decorative border around the edges of the crust are actually just spoon indentations!  Totally simple!

 

BananaCreamPiePic

 

Banana Cream Pie

Yield: 1- 9” Pie

Ingredients:

For Pie Crust:

  • 1 ¼ cups all-purpose flour
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • ½ cup unsalted butter, cold, but into small pieces
  • 2 to 4 tablespoons ice water
  • 1 egg, lightly beaten

For Filling:

  • 4 egg yolks
  • 3 cups whole milk
  • 2/3 cup sugar
  • 5 tablespoons cornstarch
  • ¼ teaspoon salt
  • 1 vanilla bean, split lengthwise and beans scraped
  • 3 to 4 bananas
  • 1 cup heavy cream
  • ¼ cup powdered sugar

Directions:

Make Pie Crust:

In the bowl of a food processor, combine flour and salt; pulse to combine. Add the butter, and pulse until mixture resembles coarse crumbs with some larger pieces remaining, about 10 seconds.

With the machine running, add the ice water through the feed tube in a slow, steady stream, just until the dough holds together without being wet or sticky. Do not process more than 30 seconds. Test by squeezing a small amount of the dough together; if it is still too crumbly, add a bit more water, 1 tablespoon at a time.

Turn out the dough onto a clean work surface. Shape into a flattened disk. Wrap in plastic, and refrigerate at least 1 hour or overnight.

On a lightly floured work surface, roll out dough to a 12-inch round, a bit less than ¼-inch thick. Fit dough into a 9-inch pie plate. Using kitchen shears or a sharp knife, trim crust so there’s a 1/2-inch overhang all around. Fold under overhang so it extends slightly beyond edge of pie plate. Crimp edge as desired. Prick dough all over with a fork. Brush pie crust with beaten egg. Chill pie shell until firm, about 30 minutes.

Preheat oven to 375˚.

Line chilled pie shell with a round of parchment paper, leaving a 1-inch overhang. Fill with pie weights or dried beans. Bake until edges of crust just turn golden, 25 to 30 minutes. Remove pie weights and parchment. Return crust to oven, and continue baking until golden all over, 20 to 25 minutes more. Place pie shell on a wire rack to cool completely.

Make Filling:

Prepare an ice bath; set aside. In a bowl, lightly whisk egg yolks; set aside.

In a saucepan, whisk together milk, granulated sugar, cornstarch, salt, and vanilla bean. Bring to a simmer (do not boil), and cook, whisking constantly, 3 to 4 minutes.

Once the milk begins to simmer, slowly drizzle it in a thin stream into the egg yolks, whisking all the while to prevent the eggs from curdling.

Transfer the custard to a heat-proof bowl and cook over a saucepan of boiling water (a double broiler), whisking constantly, until the custard is thick and bubbles begin to form in the middle. Remove from heat and cover with plastic wrap, pressing it directly onto the surface of the custard so that a skin does not form. Set in the ice bath and cool completely.

Cut the bananas into ¼-inch slices, slightly on the bias. Beginning at the edge of the piecrust, arrange the slices in slightly overlapping rows. Cover with custard, using an offset spatula to smooth it into an even layer.

In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, combine cream and confectioners’ sugar; beat until soft peaks form. Using a small offset spatula, spread the whipped cream on top of the custard.

Refrigerate pie, loosely covered with plastic wrap, for at least 1 hour or up to 2 days.

Papa

“Surely, To Allah we belong and to Him we shall return.” Quran, 2:156

My father passed peacefully from this world Saturday, July 26, 2014 (Ramadan 28, 1435).

My favorite photo of Papa (Courtesy of the Contra Costa Times)

My favorite photo of Papa (Courtesy of the Contra Costa Times)

 

Although my Papa may have left this world physically, his personality and character will live on forever through those whose lives he touched.

The past two weeks have brought forward countless stories about the ways in which he has touched both friends’ and strangers’ lives. I pray that I am able to carry on his legacy. If I am ever even half the person he was, I will be content.

An update…

Hello Friends!  It’s been a while, huh?

I owe you an explanation for disappearing for so long, but before that I want to wish all those observing Ramadan a peaceful and fulfilling month.  May all of our prayers be accepted, and may we leave the month spiritually and mentally renewed.

In my last post I mentioned that I was going to visit California for my brother’s graduation.  Well, my brother graduated with a double major in Economics and Communications (we’re all so proud of you Ammu!), we celebrated Father’s Day with my dad and husband, and I was able to spend my birthday with my family.

We returned home on Tuesday, June 24th.  The following evening, Wednesday, June 25th, my father had a mild heart attack.  My husband, my son, and I traveled back to California the next day, Thursday, June 26th.  Everything since then has been a blur.

Praise be to God, my father is in stable condition now.  Things have been rocky, including my father needing dialysis at the moment and an extended hospital stay (thanks, but no thanks Insurance).  But through all of this I have nothing but gratitude.

When my father was initially admitted, things were going down really fast.  We weren’t being given much hope, and things looked very bleak.  My father’s recovery is nothing short of a miracle. And for that I have all of our well-wishers to thank.  Family, friends, and strangers all banded together to pray for Papa.  In the first 2 weeks of Papa being admitted, we had over 250 visitors come to see him and wish him well.  The show of support has been overwhelming, to say the least.

This time has also proven to me that the connections I’ve forged through the course of blogging have been invaluable.  Some of the friends I’ve made through blogging were literally the first ones I turned to to share my heartbreak and fears, to be the ones I was able to pour my heart out to.  I’ve had a number of bloggers reach out to privately to wish us well and to offer a shoulder to lean on.  You guys, I will forever be grateful.  Your show of support means so much to me, and I will never ever be able to show and tell you thankful I am.  The only thing I can say is that I pray that God rewards you for your goodwill and for being there for a friend.  God bless you, and may you be rewarded by the Almighty in this world and the next.

 

Now that things have calmed down a bit, I would love to get back to blogging regularly.  I’ve come to realize over the course of these past few weeks that blogging is very therapeutic for me.  It’s a window of time that I use to block out all my problems and be able to focus on something I truly enjoy.  Although it’s unlikely that I will be posting as often as I was before, I hope to post occasionally.  I also want to apologize to my friends whose blogs I’ve neglected (although I must admit that I have been reading your posts as I hang out at the hospital with my dad 🙂 ).  InshAllah, God willing, it won’t be long before things are calmer and I’m back to my old self 🙂

Once again, thank you for all of your support.  My blogging buddies, my family, my old friends, my new friends, and all of our well-wishers, thank you.  I will never forget the support you gave to me and my family during these hard times.