Cheesecakes Large and Small

Cheesecake and I have a love-hate relationship. I adore Cheesecake and yet, any recipe I have tried to bake comes out looking like a miniature Grand Canyon. A truly great Cheesecake should be creamy, sweet, and delicious. A perfect Cheesecake will have no cracks on the top.

Cheesecakes must be baked at a very low temperature, typically recipes will run anywhere from 200 degrees to 275 degrees. I have also heard many many times that if you place a pan of water in the oven with the Cheesecake this will reduce cracking. Alton Brown suggests baking at a low temp. then turning the oven off, opening the oven door for a moment then closing the oven door and allowing the Cheesecake to cool in the warmish oven.

Still I have had no luck with crack-free Cheesecake. My challenge to you dear reader is to submit a recipe for delicious Cheesecake that doesn't crack when baked. No-bake Cheesecake is cheating... so forget it.

Recipes may be emailed to me by clicking the link at the top of the page. Just label your email "Cheesecake Recipe" so I won't think you're Spam. Submitted recipes will be tested and any that pass the CheeseBabe test (delicious with no cracks!) will win a Fabulous prize!

update: despite the promise of a fabulous prize I have had no takers of this challenge. Did I mention you can win a fabulous prize?? Alright then, let's up the ante. I'm now offering my copy of The Artful Cupcake and a jar of either my homemade Watermelon Pickles or a jar of my homemade Fabulous Lady Applesauce (whichever you choose). The rules listed above still apply.

Q and A -- Cream Cheese Icing; Semi Homemade Icing

A Yahoo! searcher from Herndon, Virginia would like to know:
How long does Cream Cheese Icing last?
If kept in a tightly covered container in the fridge, cream cheese icing will easily last 10 days.

Cream Cheese Icing

1/4 cup (4 ounces) butter, softened
8 ounce cream cheese, softened
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
1 pound box powdered sugar, sifted
Cream butter and cheese. Add vanilla. Add sifted powdered sugar and whip until completely combined. Cakes made with cream cheese frosting should be kept in the refrigerator.

A Google searcher from Fertile, Minnesota (sounds like a lovely spot doesn't it???) would like to know about Sandra Lee's Semi Homemade Frosting.
The query included 'add powdered sugar to store bought frosting'.
I could not find a Semi Homemade recipe that stated this, however you certainly can add powdered sugar to cans of premade frosting in order to thicken them enough for piping borders on cakes or for making other decorations. A lower priced alternative to purchasing cans of frosting would be to make your own American Buttercream which can be made heavier (with more powdered sugar) or lighter to your preference.

American Buttercream

1/2 cup solid vegetable shortening
1/2 cup butter or margarine, softened
1 teaspoon
Clear Vanilla Extract
4 cups sifted confectioners' sugar (approx. 1 lb.)
2 tablespoons milk
In large bowl, cream shortening and butter with electric mixer. Add vanilla. Gradually add sugar, one cup at a time, beating well on medium speed. Scrape sides and bottom of bowl often. When all sugar has been mixed in, icing will appear dry. Add milk and beat at medium speed until light and fluffy. Keep bowl covered with a damp cloth until ready to use.

American Buttercream will form a bit of a 'crust' which some people prefer. It helps the iced cake to retain moisture very well even when refrigerated for a couple of days.

An aside to the Google searcher from Rochester, Michigan who was looking for a recipe for Sugar Cookies made with Limburger Cheese... those big kids were making fun of you!

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Cheese Curds

A Yahoo searcher in Bel Air, Maryland would like to know where they can purchase cheese curds in Maryland.

I am near Annapolis, which is about 50 miles south of Bel Air. I have found cheese curds at the Pennsylvania Dutch Farmer's Market in the Harbor Center shopping village at 2472 Solomon's Island Road in Annapolis. I warn you however, when I purchased my cheese curds there, they were not fresh and became rancid within one day of my purchase. I am told that in the Dutch Market they will gladly allow you a taste of any product you would like to purchase and I highly recommend that you do this.

Fresh cheese curds with have a fresh milk scent with no trace of sourness to it. They should squeak when you bite them or they are at least 2 days old. Two day old cheese curds are still perfectly fine to eat, in fact cheese curds should be good for at least a week in the fridge (if they were purchased fresh). Cheese curds can be kept in the freezer for up to six months but will not squeak when defrosted (unless you microwave them for a few seconds).

I also have been told (though I haven't confirmed this yet) that Trader Joe's will be carrying cheese curds. Please let me know if you find cheese curds and Trader Joe's and the location.

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The Value of Cake

"How much should I expect to pay for a cake?"

Cake prices will vary according to demand, geographical location, expertise of the decorator, by how complicated the cake will be to assemble and decorate, and quality of ingredients used to create your cake.

Demand will often drive the cost of a cake up or down. For example, if a new bakery is trying to establish a name for themselves they will keep their prices low to entice buyers to try their product. A company whose business is exceeding their competitors by a wide margin will increase their price simply because they can without their business suffering a loss. Look at the prices of cakes at Charm City Cakes or CakeLove before and after their owners had popular shows on the Food Network and their prices have likely increased considerably.

Location will affect the price you pay. Prices are higher in New York City vs lower in Bismark, ND not because the cakes are necessarily better in NY but simply because the overall cost of owning and running a business is higher there than in the Dakotas.

Expertise. The more knowledge your cake decorator has about cake decorating, the more you're going to be satisfied with the quality of work they have performed on your cake. Lines will be more precise, buttercream will be as smooth as glass, fondant will not have seams, cracks, or wrinkles, and you'll never worry about whether or not your wedding cake is going to cave in on itself.

Complicated assembly costs more because it takes more expertise to create. A single-layer sheetcake that your auntie can make in her kitchen can be made by... well, your auntie. If you want a topsy-turvy cake or one that's built to look like the Guggenheim Museum, that's going to require quite a bit more planning than your auntie's cake that is served out of the 9x13 pan.

Quality of Ingredients is, in my mind one of the most important aspects of cake design. Sure, people will ooh and ahh and ask, "How could I ever eat such a beautiful thing?" but when it comes right down to it, people buy a cake to eat it. True, some people will swear that 'box' cake is their favorite and many wonderful cakes have come from box mixes but I believe that a truly ethereal cake must come from the highest quality ingredients that have been lovingly assembled into something amazing.

All of these aspects can come together for just a couple of dollars per serving for a beautifully (albeit simply) decorated cake for a child's third birthday or they can jump beyond $10 per serving for an elaborately decorated, multi-tiered wedding cake.

If you talk to a bakery about your cake idea and they quote a price that you feel is too high, it probably is. Look around at other bakeries in your area and don't forget to check out the grocery store bakery aisle -- truly, this is a way of getting your berings if you become lost in a sea of ideas and prices. Grocery stores will make a cake that is just a step (maybe two) above your auntie's 9x13 cake mix cake with very little lead time (grocery store bakeries only require an hour or two to complete a decorated cake because their cakes are made ahead and frozen until you order), this way they can keep costs low.

Happy Shopping!

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