Vanilla Orange Cheesecake

vanilla orange cheesecakeAdapted from the Better Homes & Gardens Baking book, this cheesecake – which tastes very much like a creamsicle – made a nice addition to last night’s Passover seder.

While it is delicious, I must say that for me, this cheesecake has some textural issues. Not that the texture is bad – it’s just more fluffy than a standard cheesecake, which makes it difficult to slice. I suspect that this texture results from the use of sour cream in addition to cream cheese, rather than just all cream cheese in the batter.

I made a few changes to the original recipe, starting with switching out the graham cracker crust for a Passover-approved version using matzoh meal and toasted almonds. The original recipe also called for layering the orange batter on the bottom and floating the vanilla batter on the top, then covering the baked, cooled cake with orange marmalade. I tried to swirl my vanilla and orange layers for a marble look, but it didn’t turn out as marbled as I would have liked. I also omitted the marmalade, but you could certainly add that as the top garnish if you, like Paddington Bear, are a marmalade fan.

Ingredients

For the crust

  • 3/4 cup blanched almonds, chopped, toasted, and cooled
  • 2/3 cup matzoh cake meal or ground matzoh meal*
  • 2/3 cup sugar
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 8 tablespoons butter, melted and slightly cooled

For the filling

  • 2 8-ounce packages cream cheese
  • 1 8-ounce tub sour cream
  • 4 eggs
  • 1 vanilla bean
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 3 tablespoons flour
  • zest of 1 medium orange
  • Orange food coloring

*If you can’t find matzoh cake meal, you can make your own by grinding regular matzoh meal in a food processor to a fine texture. To make the 2/3 cup of matzoh cake meal in this recipe, measure out 2/3 cup and add about 3 or 4 tablespoons of additional matzoh meal, then pulse in a food processor until you have a fine texture.

Preparation

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

In the bowl of a food processor, combine almonds, matzoh cake meal, sugar, and salt. Pulse until finely ground, then transfer to a medium bowl and drizzle in the butter, mixing with a spoon to incorporate evenly. Mix with your hands to combine fully; you want a sandy texture.

Press the crust mixture into the bottom and up the sides of a 9-inch springform pan. I use a small measuring cup to get as even a layer as I can.

Bake for 12-15 minutes, until one shade darker in color. Cool completely on a wire rack before filling. If you’re short on time, you can place the crust in your refrigerator for about 10 minutes to cool it down – just be careful that you don’t leave it in too long. You want a room temperature crust, not a cold one.

Preheat oven to 375 degrees, and allow cream cheese, sour cream, and eggs to stand at room temperature for about 30 minutes.

Split your vanilla bean in half lengthwise, then scrape out the seeds. Set the seeds aside and discard the pod.

In a mixing bowl, combine cream cheese, sour cream, sugar, and flour and beat on medium, then high speed until completely combined.

Lightly beat eggs, then add to the cream cheese mixture, beating well to combine.

Divide batter in half; stir vanilla seeds into one half, and orange zest into the other. Add orange food coloring to the orange batter.

Pour vanilla batter in first, then top with orange batter, or add smaller amounts of each batter alternatively and swirl to make a marble.

Place pan in a shallow roasting dish or on a cookie sheet with sides. Bake for 45 to 50 minutes, until a 2 1/2 inch area on the outer edge appears set when gently shaken.

Cool in pan on a wire rack for 15 minutes; use a sharp knife to gently loosen crust from the pan. Cool for another 30 minutes, then remove the sides of the pan. Cool to room temperature, then refrigerate at least 4 hours before serving.

 

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Coconut Lime Macaroons

coconut lime macaroonsWhy would you put the lime in the coconut? Perhaps to make delicious coconut lime macaroons.

Okay, so I didn’t literally put the lime in the coconut to make these treats. Technically, I put the lime and the coconut into a meringue and (gently) mixed it all together. This was the first time I’ve used cream of tartar to stabilize my egg whites, and I’m glad I did. It took far less time to reach both soft peak and stiff peak stage during the meringue preparation. Big thanks to The Culinary Chase for this recipe, which I adapted just slightly.

While these baked, my kitchen smelled a bit like a mojito, prompting Mike to call these “mojito-roons.” The end result is a very light cookie with a great balance of coconut and lime flavor. They were a big hit at last night’s seder.

Ingredients

  • 2 egg whites
  • 1/4 teaspoon cream of tartar
  • pinch of salt
  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • zest from 1 lime
  • 2 teaspoons lime juice

Preparation

Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Line two baking sheets with parchment.

In a mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, beat egg whites until foamy.

Beat in cream of tartar and salt until soft peaks form, then add sugar, about 2 teaspoons at a time, beating until stiff peaks form (about 5 minutes).

Fold in coconut, lime zest, and lime juice.

Using a 2-inch cookie scoop, drop scoops of batter onto prepared sheets; you can fit about 8 or 9 drops on each sheet.

Bake for 14-16 minutes, until tops are just golden. Cool on baking sheets for 10 minutes, then remove to a wire rack to cool completely.

Store in an airtight container at a cool room temperature for about 3 days. Meringue-based cookies like macaroons will start to break down in warmer rooms, so cooler room temperatures are better.

Orange Almond Cake (gluten-free!)

orange almond cakeWhat exactly is gluten? In simple terms, it is a protein present in wheat, which provides stability to breads, cakes, cookies, and other baked goods. Gluten-free baking relies on other ingredients that can bind together and provide structure, ranging from eggs and nut flours to thickeners like xantham gum.

As a savvy baker, I understand that gluten-free recipes can bring about a number of challenges, and I’ve been sorely disappointed by nut-based, high-egg-volume cake recipes in the past. I baked this as a trial run for our seder, which will take place on the first night of Passover in just a couple of weeks. The recipe came from a food blogger in Australia, hence the use of grams below. The preparation is fascinating, as I think you may agree once you read the directions. I’m happy to say that it turned out very well; my plan for the seder is to add some slices almonds to the top, which will brown nicely during baking.

Ingredients

  • 2 medium oranges
  • 6 eggs, at room temperature
  • 250 grams sugar, processed to super-fine consistency*
  • 250 grams almond meal
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder

*To make regular sugar super-fine, place it in a food processor fitted with a steel blade and pulse several times until you get a consistency like sand.

Preparation

Wash the oranges well. Place them in a large cooking pot with plenty of water and bring them to a boil. Turn down to a simmer, and simmer for 2 hours, checking frequently. Remove oranges from the water and allow to cool completely.

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Line a 9-inch springform pan with parchment, extending the paper over the sides.

Remove the ends of the oranges, which can be bitter, and place the oranges, skin and all, into a food processor. Pulse to a smooth consistency.

In a large bowl, whisk eggs and sugar together very well. Add orange puree and whisk together.

Add almond meal and baking powder, stirring with a wooden spoon to blend completely.

Pour batter into prepared pan and bake for 50-60 minutes, until a cake tester comes out clean. Be careful not to over-bake; the sides and bottom of the cake will darken considerably and you do not want them to burn.

Remove from oven and cool in pan for about 10 minutes; remove the cake from the pan, leaving it in the parchment, and place it on a wire rack to cool completely. Remove parchment; store at room temperature.

Note: this cake is very moist, and according to the original recipe it becomes even more so after a few days. Be sure to store in an airtight container.

 

Vanilla Bean Cheesecake (for Passover)

passover cheesecakeI may have gone slightly overboard with the Passover desserts this year. There just seemed like so many interesting options, and I had to try them all. In addition to our toffee chocolate matzoh and truffles on tomorrow night’s seder table, there will be this cheesecake, a leaven-free treat of vanilla bean and almond goodness.

The crust for this lovely dessert is a concoction of almonds, matzoh cake meal, sugar, and melted butter, and the filling is a standard cream cheese and sugar mixture that includes the seeds of two vanilla beans, as well as a dash of almond extract. Garnish-wise, you could pair many foods with this cheesecake; strawberries and raspberries come to mind, as does good old-fashioned whipped cream, or perhaps chocolate curls.

I’m so excited about this cheesecake, I may have to break my sugar fast tomorrow night. Passover is about freedom, after all.

Ingredients

  • 3/4 cup chopped blanched almonds, toasted and cooled
  • 2/3 cup matzoh cake meal
  • 2/3 cup sugar
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 8 tablespoons butter, melted and slightly cooled
  • 3 8-ounce packages cream cheese
  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • 3 eggs
  • seeds scraped from 2 vanilla beans
  • 1/4 teaspoon almond extract

Preparation

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

In the bowl of a food processor, combine almonds, matzoh cake meal, sugar, and salt. Pulse until finely ground, then transfer to a medium bowl and drizzle in butter, mixing with a spoon to incorporate evenly. Mix with your hands to combine; you want a sandy texture.

Press the crust mixture into the bottom and 1 inch up the sides of a 9-inch springform pan and bake for 12-15 minutes, until one shade darker in color. Cool completely on a wire rack.

In a mixing bowl, combine cream cheese and sugar and beat for 2 minutes on medium speed to combine, scraping the sides of the bowl as necessary. Add eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition.

Add vanilla seeds and almond extract and beat until well combined, about 1-2 minutes more.

Place springform pan in a shallow baking dish and pour filling into crust. Bake for 45-50 minutes, until filling is set 1 1/2 inches from the edge but still wobbly in the middle.

Remove from oven and baking dish; set springform pan on a cooling rack and immediately run a knife around the edge of the crust, then remove the side of the pan and allow cheesecake to cool completely. Store in the refrigerator.

 

Toffee Chocolate Matzoh

matzoh brittleMost people call this “matzoh crack” for its highly addictive quality. Some call it matzoh brittle, or just chocolate-covered matzoh. Apparently, whatever you call it, it’s delicious, and enough to make a sugar-fasting gal break her fast (although I haven’t done so).

This treat is incredibly easy to make; I’ve seen it with regular saltine crackers as well as matzah, and I wonder how graham crackers would fare. My Aunt Liz makes a wonderful cracker/toffee/pecan creation at Christmas that I would swear uses graham crackers, so I’d like to give that a try.

Like many other treats, you can dress this one up as much as you like, or leave it plain and simple. Some recipes call for chopped walnuts or pecans to be sprinkled on after the chocolate chips melt, while others encourage a sprinkling of sea salt. Mike requested this plain version and declared it very tasty.

Ingredients

  • 4-6 sheets matzoh (the Passover kind, not regular)
  • 1 cup butter
  • 1 cup packed light brown sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • pinch of salt
  • 1 1/2 cups semisweet chocolate chips

Preparation

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line an 11 x 17 rimmed baking sheet with foil, extending well over and completely covering each side. Line the bottom of the sheet with parchment paper, cutting the parchment to fit.

Place matzoh in a single layer in the bottom of the baking sheet; you’ll need to break some of the matzoh into pieces to fit in one single layer.

In a medium saucepan, combine butter and brown sugar and cook until bubbly, stirring frequently. Once the mixture begins to boil, continue boiling for three minutes, stirring well; the mixture will thicken slightly as it cooks.

Remove from heat and stir in vanilla extract and salt, then immediately pour over matzoh. Use an offset spatula to spread toffee evenly over the crackers, as it will begin to set quickly.

Bake for 15 minutes, checking frequently to make sure the toffee doesn’t begin to burn. Remove from the oven and cover with chocolate chips; allow the chips to melt for a few minutes, then spread the melted chips in an even layer over the matzoh.

Allow to cool completely, then break into pieces. Store in an airtight container; we put ours in the fridge to keep the chocolate from re-melting.

Flourless Chocolate Cake

 

 

 

 

 

 

Our fun with interfaith baking continues, as both Passover and Easter are upon us!  I’m no Torah scholar, so I’ll leave the explanation of the symbols, foods, and rituals of Passover to the fine folks at www.chabad.org.  As a baker, though, I can speak to the creativity that Passover requires; observant bakers turn to matzoh meal, potato flour, and all manner of unleavened ingredients to produce cakes, cookies, and other treats for this special time of year.

Tomorrow night, Mike and I will celebrate the beginning of Passover with a Seder, and for the next eight days, Mike won’t eat chametz, or anything that contains leavened grain, like bread, cereal, pasta, even beer.  I don’t abstain from chametz for two reasons; as a Catholic with Eastern European roots, Easter bread is an important component of my faith tradition, and (to be totally honest) I’m nowhere near disciplined enough.

This cake is an excellent flourless option for Passover; it is very rich, so I recommend slender slices served with fresh whipped cream.  You can omit the espresso powder if you don’t have it and use unsweetened American-style cocoa powder instead of Dutch-process, but if you’d like to stick to the traditional recipe, you can get both ingredients from King Arthur Flour; Williams-Sonoma also carries Dutch-process cocoa.

A note about the chocolate glaze: mine didn’t turn out as smooth as I’d like, which means I need to spend more time stirring it once the chocolate has melted to make sure all of the tiny bits of chocolate are incorporated evenly.

Cake

Ingredients

  • 1 cup semisweet chocolate chips
  • ½ cup butter
  • ¾ cup sugar
  • 1 teaspoon espresso powder
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 3 eggs
  • ½ cup Dutch-process cocoa powder

Preparation

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

Grease a round cake pan; line with parchment paper and grease the parchment.

Cut butter into chunks and combine with chocolate chips in a medium-sized microwave-safe bowl.

Microwave in 30-second intervals until butter melts and chips become very soft, stirring after each interval.  Stir to melt chips completely and transfer to a mixing bowl.

Add sugar, espresso powder, and vanilla and beat until just combined.

Add eggs and beat until incorporated.

Add cocoa powder and beat until just combined.

Gently pour batter into pan and bake for 25 minutes, until the top of the cake has formed a crust.

Cool in the pan for 5 minutes; loosen edges with the tip of a knife and invert onto a cake stand or serving plate.

Allow to cool completely before glazing.

Garnish with toasted sliced almonds, if desired.

Chocolate Glaze

Ingredients

  • 1 cup semisweet chocolate chips
  • ½ cup heavy cream

Preparation

Combine chocolate chips and heavy cream in a saucepan and heat until cream is very hot, but not simmering.

Remove from heat and stir until completely smooth.

Pour over cake, allowing to drip over the sides.

Allow the glaze to harden for several hours before serving.

Coconut Macaroons (Gluten-Free!)

Mike and I are an interfaith Jewish-Catholic couple.  Passover and Easter sometimes coincide, which presents a variety of culinary challenges; Mike can’t have anything made with flour for eight days, and throughout Lent I give up sweets and avoid meat on Fridays.  I first made these macaroons a few years ago while Mike was in the midst of his nothing-leaven-for-Passover endeavors.

This recipe is entirely gluten-free and fairly easy to make, so it’s a good option for family and friends with celiac disease or gluten sensitivity.  Check out more gluten-free recipes!

Ingredients

  • 3 egg whites, room temperature
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla (McCormick pure vanilla extract is gluten-free)
  • 3 cups shredded coconut

Preparation

Preheat oven to 325.

Line three baking sheets with waxed paper.

Beat egg whites on medium-high speed until frothy.

With the mixer on low, add vanilla and continue to beat.

With the mixer on medium, add sugar gradually, then increase speed to high and continue to beat until stiff peaks form; this can take 10 minutes or more, depending on your mixer.

Gently fold in coconut one cup at a time.

Drop by rounded tablespoons, spacing about two inches apart on the baking sheet; you should be able to fit 9 macaroons on one sheet, and the entire recipe makes 21 cookies.

Bake 18-20 minutes, until very, very light brown.

Cool completely on baking sheets.  When cookies are cool, carefully peel the waxed paper away from the baking sheets, then carefully peel the cookies from the waxed paper.