Monday, March 28, 2011

sour cream cheesecake

I have a confession.

I may be a little bit obsessed with finding the perfect cheesecake recipe. A little bit.

I'm not sure what it is. My perfectionist tendencies? Perhaps. An obsession with cream cheese? Definitely. The desire to know for certain that it is possible to eat a delicious cheesecake outside of the realm of the Cheesecake Factory?

Let's be real: I don't have $7 to spend on a slice of cheesecake whenever the craving strikes. So, yeah, that's probably it.

Not that the Cheesecake Factory isn't delicious; I one day hope to make a cheesecake even half as beautiful and exquisite. One so decadent that you won't be able to finish an entire slice. The possibilities are endless.

Unfortunately, my free time is not. So rather than being able to bake a devil's food cake layered with marbled cheesecake slices topped with a bittersweet chocolate ganache, I settled for a simple sour cream cheesecake.

My last attempt at cheesecake, I tried ricotta. And it was divine. This one's pretty delightful as well, though I'm thinking I'm more of a ricotta fan than a sour cream fan, when it comes to cheesecakes. The recipe comes from Alton Brown, and I topped it off with a simple sour cream layer [mainly for the aesthetic effect]. Also served it with some pureed strawberries that I needed to get rid of, with a hint of balsamic vinegar whisked in. Both the sour cream topping and the strawberry compote are totally optional, and can be substituted [sour cream bourbon topping? blueberry compote? chocolate glaze?] or omitted.

Sour Cream Cheesecake
Adapted from Alton Brown

For the crust, you'll need:
  • 9-inch graham cracker, shortbread, or Oreo crust, prebaked 10 minutes

For the filling, you'll need:
  • 20 oz cream cheese, softened
  • 1 1/4 cups sour cream, at room temperature
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1 tbsp vanilla
  • 2 eggs
  • 3 yolks
  • 1/3 cup heavy cream

For the topping, you'll need:
  • 1 cup sour cream
  • 1 tbsp sugar
  • 2 tsp vanilla

If fresh out of the oven, allow cheesecake crust to cool while preparing the filling. Lower [or preheat] oven to 250 degrees Fahrenheit.

To prepare the filling, beat sour cream for 30 seconds on medium speed with the paddle attachment. Add in cream cheese and beat until smooth. Add in sugar and vanilla and cream for 3 minutes. In a separate bowl, whisk eggs, yolks, and heavy cream. Slowly pour egg mixture into cheesecake batter and mix until fully incorporated.

Pour cheesecake filling into cooled crust. Bake for 60 minutes, or until the cheesecake is pulling away from the sides of the pan slightly. The center should still be jiggly. Turn off oven and open door for one minute. Close and let cheesecake cool in the oven for another 60 minutes.

Meanwhile, prepare sour cream topping by thoroughly mixing sour cream, sugar, and vanilla until smooth and blended. Pour sour cream topping on top of cooled cheesecake, leveling with a spatula. Without removing the sides of the pan, cover the top of the cheesecake with plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 6 hours.

Serve with berry or chocolate sauce, or enjoy plain.

It is a pretty cake, not gonna lie. And it sets very well. I made it low-carb by using an almond flour/walnut/pecan crust and substituting the sugar with equal quantities of erythritol and baking Splenda. As always, can't tell it's low-carb. At all. The natural sugars in the strawberries work alongside the low-carb cake really well.

So much baking lately. I'm not sure what's gotten into me.

Probably a complete lack of motivation to do anything legitimately productive. Though I suppose it's better to exhaust my desire to bake before finals start, right?

Sunday, March 27, 2011

oreo-stuffed chocolate chip cookies

The scene is set; you can picture it in your head the second you try. You're six years old, it's a lazy snow day, bundled up in front of the television watching classic Nick cartoons, reveling in the beauty of the weekend, and suddenly you can smell it.

Immediately, you know what it is.

[It's a no brainer, really.]

Warm, fresh-baked, chocolate chip cookies.

And you don't think you've ever loved your mother more than you do the moment she appears by your side with a plate of hot treats and a tall glass of cold milk in hand.

There are few things in life more comforting than homemade cookies and milk. A source of joy, a reminder of your youth, a cozy memory that brings a smile to your face and a nostalgic ache to your heart.

Today was one of those days where it just felt right to relive that memory.

[Plus, when there's snow still clinging to car windows in the middle of the afternoon in March, it's basically fate.]

We may have been lacking in the milk department, but we made up for it by baking a cookie inside a cookie.

Yeah, I caved. I normally am not big on baking fads *coughcupcakes*, but these were just too intriguing to pass up. That being said, I still think stuffing cake inside of a cookie is nothing short of, ahem, silly, to say the least, and you'll never ever see me baking such a thing.

But Oreos inside chocolate chip cookies? Tantalizing, with just the right amount of bizarre on the side.

Plus, Chelsea and Roods have been dying to make these for ages, so I figured it was now or never. And so, Chelsea, Roods, and Matt came over this afternoon for a baking date, fresh package of Oreo cookies in tow.

Oreo-Stuffed Chocolate Chip Cookies
Adapted from Very Culinary

You'll need:
  • 1 cup [2 sticks] butter, softened
  • 3/4 cup packed light brown sugar
  • 1 cup granulated sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 tbsp vanilla
  • 3 1/2 cups flour
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • 2 cups semisweet chocolate chips
  • 1 package Oreo cookies

Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit and line a baking sheet with parchment paper.

In a large bowl, cream butter, brown sugar, and granulated sugar until fluffy. Add in eggs, one at a time, and then vanilla. In a separate bowl, combine flour, salt, and baking soda. Slowly sift the flour mixture into the sugar mixture on low speed until just mixed. Stir in chocolate chips.

With a cookie scoop or spoon, form small balls of dough. To assemble cookies, place one ball on top of an Oreo cookie, and another ball on the bottom. Seal edges together by pressing and cupping in hand until Oreo cookie is fully enclosed with dough.

Place cookies about one and a half-inch width apart on the baking sheet. Bake for 13-15 minutes, until tops are golden brown. Let cool in tray for 5 minutes, then transfer cookies to a wire rack to cool completely.

To be honest, these look more like miniature chocolate chip scones than actual cookies. And I love it.

I didn't actually eat any [still not eating sugar!], but the look of pure bliss on Chelsea's face, after weeks of sheer anticipation to take a bite, was worth it alone. Matt and Roods also loved em, so I was happy to have provided my KitchenAid to make it happen.

And now I can tuck away yet another baking fad under my belt.

And likely won't be picking up the spatula for another one any time soon.

...but I guess it wasn't too awful.

{DBC} yeasted meringue coffee cake with date and nut filling

Unlike my procrastination of epic proportions when it comes to baking these challenges [i.e. a day before the post date], I baked this month's DBC over a week ago! The timing was perfect, actually: since I've given up sugar, I knew I had to get rid of it ASAP, so I decided to bake it to take to a friend's birthday get-together.

I much prefer baking for others in any case. Particularly if it will keep the sugar away from my thighs.

This month's challenge was yeasted meringue coffee cake. Now, I love coffee cake. But one with meringue baked into the center? Have never conceived of such a cake. Nor have I ever baked with yeast. Needless to say, I was nervous.

[Baker's yeast, by the way, is a strain of yeast used as a leavening agent in baked goods by converting the dough's fermentable sugars into carbon dioxide and ethanol. Active dried yeast is a type of baker's yeast that consists of live yeast cells encased in a jacket of dry, 'dead' cells. When in contact with liquid, the yeast rehydrates and thus allows the baked good to rise during the baking process.]

But I had Matt and Nayaab in the kitchen to help out, and we managed pretty well. The party I was going to be attending was Arabic-themed, and I really wanted to put my own twist on this month's recipe, so I opted for a date and nut filling, and infused the egg wash with a bit of rose water [which was actually Nayaab and Matt's idea]. Bringin' a little bit of the motherland into a classic coffee cake, ya know how it is.

...and even if you don't, you can still appreciate this recipe. The challenge recipe yielded two 10-inch cakes, but I halved the recipe to make one. Consequently, the recipe I'll give you below yields one cake, about 10 inches in diameter.

Yeasted Meringue Coffee Cake
Adapted from the Daring Baker's March Challenge

For the coffee cake, you'll need:
  • 2 cups flour
  • 1/8 cup sugar
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1/2 package [about 1 1/8 tsp] active dried yeast
  • 1/4 cup plus 2 tbsp whole milk
  • 1/8 cup water
  • 1/2 stick [4 tbsp] butter, at room temperature
  • 1 egg, at room temperature

For the meringue, you'll need:
  • 2 egg whites, at room temperature
  • pinch of salt
  • 1 tsp vanilla
  • 1/4 cup sugar

For the filling, you'll need:
  • 1/4 cup walnuts, chopped
  • 2 tbsp semisweet chocolate chips
  • 1 tbsp light brown sugar
  • 1/4 cup dates, chopped
  • 1/4 tsp ground cardamom

For the egg wash, you'll need:
  • 1 egg, beaten
  • 1 drop rose water, beaten into the egg

To prepare the dough:

In a large mixing bowl, combine sugar, salt, yeast, and 1/2 cup of the flour.

In a saucepan, combine milk, water, and butter over medium-low flame and heat until warm. Butter should be just melted.

With an electric mixer on low speed, gradually add the warm liquid into the dry ingredients. Beat until well-blended. Increase mixer speed to medium and beat for 2 minutes. Add the eggs and an additional 1/2 cup of flour, and beat for 2 more minutes.

Using a wooden spoon, stir in enough of the remaining flour for the dough to come together. Turn dough out onto a floured surface and knead for 8 to 10 minutes, until the dough is soft, smooth, and elastic. Keep the work surface floured and add extra flour as needed.

Place the dough in a lightly greased bowl [i.e. with canola oil or vegetable oil], turning it to coat all sides. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and a kitchen towel, and allow it to rise to double its volume, 30-45 minutes. Rising time will depend on the type of yeast used.

To prepare the filling:

In a small bowl, combine sugar, ground cardamom, chopped walnuts, and chocolate chips. Chop dates, but don't add to the rest of the filling [it will be easier to sprinkle the dates over top of the filling rather than mix it directly into the filling].

Once dough has doubled, prepare the meringue:

In a clean, dry mixing bowl [not glass], beat the egg whites with the salt on low speed for 30 seconds. Increase mixer speed to medium-high and beat until soft peaks form. Add the rose, and begin adding sugar, one tablespoon at a time, until stiff peaks form.

To assemble and bake the coffee cake:

Line a cookie sheet with parchment paper. On a separate lightly floured surface, roll out dough into a 20 x 10-inch rectangle. Spread meringue evenly over the dough to about 1/2-inch from the edges. Sprinkle the filling evenly over the meringue, and the chopped dates evenly over the streusel.

Roll the dough carefully, jelly-roll style, from the long side. Pinch the seam closed to seal. Carefully transfer the log onto the lined baking sheet, seam side down. Bring the ends of the log around together to form a ring, tucking one end into the other and pinching down to seal.

Using kitchen scissors or a sharp knife, make cuts along the outside edge of the ring, at 1-inch intervals. Make them as shallow or deep as desired, and don't be afraid to cut deep into the ring. Cover the coffee cake with plastic wrap and allow it to rise again, 45-60 minutes.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Once coffee cakes have risen, brush the tops with egg wash [though, do not brush egg wash over exposed meringue]. Bake for 25-30 minutes, until risen and golden brown. The cake should sound hollow when tapped.

Remove cake from the oven and gently slide it off the parchment paper. Allow cake to cool on a wire rack before slicing. Keep cake covered at room temperature until serving. Before serving, dust confectioner's sugar on top of the cake, if desired. Cake is best eaten within 2 days of baking.

Yes, the recipe was time-consuming, but thankfully not difficult. And while waiting for the dough to rise, Matt, Nayaab, and I prepared [chicken jalfrezi for] dinner, so it worked out swimmingly. Plus, it was a big hit at the party the next day [and was absolutely perfect alongside henna and tea], so I was very pleased. Though I didn't taste it, I was told it was pretty dece.

If the flavors aren't to your liking, though [I know cardamom and dates don't exactly sit well on everyone's palette], you can easily eliminate the rosewater and use a classic cinnamon and nut combo for the filling. I've even seen a few savory variations with cheeses, herbs, or meats, and they look absolutely divine. It's really your prerogative.

So, it would seem as though March is almost over.

A quarter of 2011 is almost over.

...excuse me, what?

Feels somewhat surreal.

Not to mention I've spent far too much time this month alternating between Panera Bread and Starbucks for hours-long study sessions. Midterms, papers, more midterms, more papers, too much caffeine, too little money left in my bank account, and too few hours in a day for me to do all the nothing that I want.

Well, I suppose that's life.

...I need more money.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

dark chocolate pudding

I love sleeping in on Sundays, waking up to a bright sun streaming in through the blinds and lighting up the room. I love walking into the kitchen and not having to turn on any lamps, because the natural sunlight is enough to give the apartment a warm glow. I love opening the door to a fresh, cool breeze and knowing that spring is just inches away.

Not to mention that turning on the telly and finding out that it's abc's Harry Potter weekend is also a lovely surprise.

Though I suppose, in retrospect, this is probably the worst weekend for something as enticing as a Harry Potter movie marathon to be going on. It just diminishes my already lacking motivation to write start this paper I have due tomorrow.

Then again, since I will be referencing Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban in aforementioned paper, perhaps it's warm-up before I start. A sort of mental prep, if you will.

Dark Chocolate Pudding
Adapted from The Shoebox Kitchen

You'll need:
  • 1 cup heavy cream
  • 1/2 cup half & half
  • 2 tbsp unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 1/2 tsp vanilla
  • 3/4 cup sugar [substitute with erythritol for a low-carb variation]
  • pinch of salt
  • 3 egg yolks
  • 1 heaping tbsp cornstarch
  • 2 oz unsweetened chocolate

In a medium saucepan over medium flame, heat heavy cream and half and half. Whisk in sugar, vanilla, salt, and cocoa powder until blended and most of the clumps are gone.

In a separate bowl, whisk egg yolks and cornstarch until smooth. Once chocolate cream mixture is warm, ladle a spoonful of the cream into the eggs and whisk continuously, to temper the eggs. Pour the now-warm egg mixture into the saucepan and whisk. Continue to whisk until the custard starts to bubble slightly. Remove saucepan from the heat and add in the unsweetened chocolate, whisking until melted.

Pour the custard into a food processor and blend for 60 to 90 seconds. This will eliminate any remaining clumps in the custard. Distribute the custard among glass bowls or ramekins. Cover the tops of the custards with plastic wrap and refrigerate until set, 2-3 hours.

Serve with sweetened whipped cream, if desired.

Still, it would probably be in my best interest to start that paper at some point today...

...well, maybe once this movie's over.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

7-layer bars

Yes, I know, I've done 'em before. But the world could always use more of these amazing bars. That could be why they're often called "magic bars" [and no, they are in no way related to the concept of "special brownies," for all you eager bakers out there].

So I have for you today, "magic", "amazing", "miraculous", whatever-you-want-to-call-it, old-fashioned, 7-layer bars.

Why are they called 7-layer bars, you ask? Well, as the name implies, they are comprised of exactly 7 ingredients:
  1. butter
  2. graham crackers 
  3. chocolate chips
  4. toffee bits [though people often substitute with peanut butter chips or butterscotch chips]
  5. shredded, sweetened coconut
  6. chopped nuts [usually pecans]
  7. sweetened condensed milk 

In other words, mouthwatering. These bars have been around for ages, and if you've ever been to a middle school bake sale, you've probably eaten them. They're appealing to younger kids [probably more so their mothers] because there is virtually no mixing involved: everything is just layered on top of the graham cracker crust. Which also means that I have exactly 1 bowl to wash, so I am a huge fan of these.

But don't be fooled by how simple these are; the flavors are anything but. I would love to meet whoever came up with this combination of ingredients and marry them, because these are perfect. I actually can't gush about these bars enough. I am absolutely in love with them.

[And it was only while baking these that I regretted having given up sugar.]

7-Layer Bars
Adapted from any foodblog ever

You'll need:
  • 1 stick butter, melted
  • 1 1/2 cups graham cracker crumbs [about 12 whole crackers, processed finely]
  • 1 semisweet cup chocolate chips
  • 1 cup toffee chips [can be substituted with peanut butter morsels or butterscotch chips]
  • 1 cup shredded coconut [sweetened]
  • 1/2 cup chopped nuts [pecans or walnuts]
  • 1 14-oz can sweetened condensed milk

Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Line a 9x13-inch pan with parchment paper and grease the bottom and sides.

Combine graham cracker crumbs and butter, and press mixture evenly onto the base of the pan. Sprinkle chocolate chips, toffee chips, coconut, and nuts evenly over the graham cracker crust. Evenly pour sweetened condensed milk over the bars. Bake for 20-25 minutes, until condensed milk looks set but not over-browned.

Let cool completely before cutting. Store in an airtight container for up to one week.

I baked this batch for one of my favorite people on the planet, Nimra, whom I hadn't seen since our epic weekend in NYC back in October. She and her family came down to visit and stayed with Bismah and Zain. I met the three for lunch earlier today after far too long without seeing each other, and it was lovely. Plus, Nimra and Bismah couldn't keep their hands off the bars, so I figure it was a success. I did try to assure them that these are actually the easiest things to bake on the planet, so perhaps they'll attempt 'em sometime in future. All in all, a successful afternoon.

But come on; old friends, good [Italian] food, beautiful weather, what more could you want?

Thursday, March 10, 2011

ricotta cheesecake with strawberry coulis

The sudden influx of ricotta and/or cheesecake-based dessert is pure coincidence. I just happen to have had some ricotta sitting in the fridge that I needed to use up. And I'm utterly obsessed with cream cheese. It was a dessert waiting to happen, really.

Plus, I've been kickin it in Cville on my own over break, so amidst work and studying I've had some down time to do frivolous things like this.

Ricotta Cheesecake
Adapted from

For the cheesecake filling, you'll need:
  • 3 8-oz packages of cream cheese, softened
  • 1 cup whole milk ricotta cheese
  • 1/2 cup sour cream
  • 1 1/4 cup granulated sugar
  • 1/3 cup heavy cream
  • 1 tbsp vanilla
  • 2 eggs
  • 3 egg yolks

Preheat oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit. Line the bottom of an 8-inch springform pan with parchment paper and grease the bottom and sides.

Beat cream cheese, ricotta, sour cream, and sugar on medium speed until fluffy, 2-3 minutes. In a separate bowl, whisk heavy cream, vanilla, eggs and egg yolks until blended. Slowly pour the egg mixture into the cream cheese mixture. Beat until just blended. Pour filling into the prepared pan.

Bake for 15 minutes. Reduce heat to 275 degrees, and continue baking for 1 1/2 hours, or until top is golden brown and cake is pulling away from the sides of the pan. The center will still be slightly jiggly. Turn off the oven when done, and leave cake in the oven with the door ajar to cool for 3 hours. Remove cake from the oven and refrigerate for at least 4 hours [preferably overnight], before removing from the pan and cutting. Serve chilled.

You can use any sort of crust you'd like for this cheesecake. A classic graham cracker crust always works well, but a shortbread crust would also be delicious. I made a low-carb version of this particular cheesecake, so I used the crust from my LC mocha cheesecake, and a combination of baking Splenda and erythritol [3/4 cup of each] in place of the granulated sugar. Also, instead of one 8-inch cheesecake, I made two 4-inch cheesecakes and one 6-inch cheesecake, and adjusted the bake times accordingly [30-25 mins at 375 degrees Fahrenheit]. What can I say, I just like mini desserts. [Except cupcakes]

The low-carb version turned out beautifully, without the slightest inkling that it's actually low-carb, but I'm sure the full-carb version is just divine. In fact, this may be the best LC cheesecake I've ever had. Is this the magical cheesecake recipe I've been searching for? If it's not, it's getting pretty damn close.

I also topped mine off with a really easy, homemade strawberry coulis, because no real cheesecake is complete without a berry sauce.

Strawberry Coulis
Adapted from smitten kitchen

You'll need:
  • 1 cup strawberries, quartered and hulled
  • 2 tbsp water
  • 1 tbsp sugar
  • 2 tsp fresh lemon juice

Puree all the above ingredients in a blender. Run coulis through a strainer to get rid of seeds. Store in fridge for up to 1 week, in freezer for up to 3 months.

Recipe makes about 3/4 cup of coulis.

In other news, I am officially giving up sugar [again]. Honey, agave, sugar added to coffee, BBQ sauce and sugary Asian sauces, baked goods. Yep, baked goods. I'm not cutting out the artificial sweetener, but it'll definitely be a once-in-a-while sort of thing. Mainly to satisfy any unbearable cravings and experiment with more low-carb baking.

How long? Only very strictly until Spain. Which is only, what, 80 days? 2 and a half months? Definitely doable. I hope. And I'll still be baking full-carb, of course, so no worries there. I'll just have to will myself not to lick the spoon.


Sunday, March 6, 2011

ricotta pound cake

To say I've been doing little more than sketching, playing the piano, and eating since coming home for break would be a lie. But then again, that's not the least bit surprising.

Nor is it surprising that after scarcely 48 hours of being home, I've been asked to bake. This is basically what happens whenever I come home after weeks at University.

Me, through a smothering embrace: You, too, mom.
Mom, steps back and studies my face for a minute: I can tell you've been baking.
Me, rolling my eyes: Thanks.
Mom, grinning and poking me in the side: Better watch the carbs! Oh! You've missed so much Outsourced! We have all the episodes TiVo-ed for you.
Me, trying to move into the living room to put down my bag: Er, great.
Mom, following: I know right! Oh yeah, don't forget to make dad's cake tomorrow.

And so here we are. I'm not sure if I've mentioned before, but my father is rather...particular about what foods he enjoys. Which translates into: he eats what he likes, and only what he likes. And he doesn't like much. He also doesn't have much of a sweet tooth at all, so he could really care less about all my baking endeavors. That is, until it comes to morning cakes. Coffee cake, pound cake, 1-2-3-4 cakes, what have you. The reason is likely because he basically only eats three meals a day: breakfast [which consists of tea and a slice of cake or biscotti], dinner [always Pakistani food], and an enormous bowl of ice cream [butter pecan].

Yeah, I'm related to him.

Usually I make him Ina Garten's sour cream coffee cake, which is his favorite, but mom wanted me to try a pound cake, since my last attempt failed in a most spectacular fashion. I obliged, nervous as I was about it, and decided on a ricotta pound cake.

Ricotta Pound Cake
Adapted from Food Gal 

You'll need:
  • 1 1/2 cups cake flour [see note]
  • 2 1/2 tsp baking powder
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1 1/2 sticks butter
  • 1 1/2 cups granulated sugar
  • 1 1/2 cups whole-milk ricotta cheese
  • 3 eggs
  • 1 1/2 tsp vanilla
  • confectioner's sugar, for dusting

Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Line and grease a 9-inch loaf pan.

In a bowl, sift flour, baking powder, and salt. In a separate bowl, beat butter, sugar, and ricotta cheese on medium-high speed until light, 2-3 minutes. Add in eggs, one at a time. Add in vanilla. Reduce speed to low and slowly add in dry ingredients. Once dry ingredients are just combined, increase speed to medium and beat for 30 seconds. Pour batter into prepared pan and tap against the counter two or three times to eliminate air bubbles. Bake for 25-30 minutes, until a toothpick comes out clean. Let cool to room temperature before cutting. Sprinkle confectioner's sugar on top, if desired.

It turned out so much better than my last attempt!! I'm quite pleased. The ricotta makes this cake deliciously moist, and the texture is soft and light. It's not too sweet, either, as I suspect the ricotta cuts some of the sweetness.

Back to Cville tomorrow. I'm rather excited about having Cville all to myself, again, even though it will be full of work and studying. Maybe I'll get to finish the book I've been putting off for the past 6 months...


Thursday, March 3, 2011

dulce de leche cheesecake bars [take two]

Midterms, baking. Baking, midterms. It's a tough life when you have to somehow alwayschoosebakingoverstudying decide between one or the other. On Wednesday evening I broke up the monotony of studying Spanish lit by baking.

This is my second attempt at dulce de leche cheesecake bars. Not the first wasn't good, but I didn't realize until I looked over the recipe that it calls for gelatin. And I'm just so damn tired of gelatin. So I figured I'd make up a new recipe. This one has a graham cracker crust [because, what can I say, I'm obsessed], a cheesecake filling infused with dulce de leche, and a salted dulce de leche swirl topping. Believe it or not, it's not too sweet. It's actually almost not sweet enough, based on what you would expect. In the best way possible.

Why dulce de leche? Well, I officially got into the Valencia study abroad program on Sunday, las fallas are happening this month, I went to a Spanish poetry reading on Monday night, watched Biutiful on Tuesday night, and had two Spanish midterms this week. I've been in a rather culturally Hispanic mood.

Mostly, though, it's because these were baked for two individuals:
  1. Rudhdi as a congratulations for making SR: I'm so proud of you, Roods, and never doubted you for one second. You truly deserve it, dear; you'll be a phenomenal SR next year :)
  2. My darling Hannah, because I've promised to send you baked goods for months now and miss you terribly. I will be shipping these off as soon as I'm back in Cville next week, so you should have them delivered within the next 7 days or so. Love you and hope everything's going well!
artificial lighting is the bane of my existence. can't wait for sunny days.
Dulce de leche, for all you folk who have heard the name and know it's delicious but don't have any clue as to what the heck it is, is more or less sweetened condensed milk that has been heated until it caramelizes. Yes. Liquid caramel. Addicting too, might I add.

[ALSO, can I just say that if I walk into one more grocery store, ask someone where I can find dulce de leche, and have them give me a look of utter blankness and ask me to repeat myself, I'm going to snap. It can be found in the Hispanic/International food aisle, just by the way.

Though, I suppose you could bypass the irritation of having grocery store clerks completely misunderstand you and direct you to the evaporated milk section by heating up your own dulce de leche from scratch. But I'm not patient skilled enough for that.]

Dulce de Leche Cheesecake Bars
Adapted from my brain. And components of old recipes.

For the crust, you'll need:
  • 2 cups graham cracker crumbs [about 12 full wafers, crushed]
  • 1 tbsp granulated sugar
  • 8 tbsp butter, melted

For the cream cheese filling, you'll need:
  • 3 8-oz packages of cream cheese
  • 5 tbsp granulated sugar
  • 2 generous tbsp of dulce de leche
  • 1 tbsp vanilla 
  • 2 eggs

For the salted dulce de leche swirl, you'll need:
  • 1/2 cup dulce de leche
  • 1/8 tsp salt
  • 2 tbsp reserved cream cheese filling

Preheat oven to 325 degrees Fahrenheit. Line and grease a 13x9-inch pan with aluminum foil.

To prepare crust, combine graham cracker crumbs and sugar in a bowl. Pour in melted butter and mix well. Pour crumbs into the prepared pan and press evenly across the base. Bake for 10 minutes, until crust is golden brown. Allow crust to cool.

Meanwhile, prepare cream cheese filling. Beat cream cheese on medium speed until smooth. Add in sugar, dulce de leche, and vanilla. Mix until blended. Add in eggs, one at a time, and beat until incorporated. Reserve two tbsp of the filling, and pour the remainder on top of cooled crust and spread evenly with a spatula.

To prepare dulce de leche swirl, mix dulce de leche and salt. Add in reserved cream cheese filling and mix well until filling is smooth. Drop dollops of filling evenly on top of cream cheese filling, leaving generous amounts of space in between. Using a knife, cut swirls through the dollops, being careful not to draw up any of the crust. Bake for about 30 minutes, until bars are soft and springy to the touch. Let cool completely on a cooling rack, and then refrigerate for at least 4 hours [preferably overnight] before cutting.

Bars, covered, will keep well in the fridge for up to a week, in the freezer for up to 3 months. To freeze bars, wrap tightly with plastic wrap, then once more with aluminum foil. To defrost, move bars to the refrigerator and let dethaw overnight.

My swirls never turn out as well as I wish they would. It's something I need to work on. Also should have thought of some way to dilute the caramel further. I thought about microwaving, but that seemed counter-intuitive. 

Anyway, I am finally done with midterms, for the week. Now I get a supposed week off, which translates into me going home for the weekend before coming back to Cville to study for upcoming midterms, outline upcoming papers, and work for 20 hours.

I can't deny that the thought of me being unable to actually sleep in is depressing. In fact, it cuts me a little inside. But I need the money. Baking doesn't come cheap, ya know.

...sometimes I don't think it's worth it.

And then I bake something like this and that thought melts away.


Also, I'd love to thank Tastespotting for featuring me! I've always loved the site, and find many of my best recipes from bloggers who have contributed, so I'm very honored to be a part of it! So for all of you have stumbled upon my blog via Tastespotting, welcome! It's lovely to have you, and I hope you'll be back for more! :)