Thursday, March 10, 2011

My Cheesecake Blunder

I love cheesecake and have always wanted to learn to make one. Last Thanksgiving, among the many desserts were a cheesecake and a sweet potato pie. I couldn't choose one or the other, so I put a thin slice of each on my plate. And I ate them together. What a smooth blend of flavors! I immediately wanted to make my own sweet potato cheesecake.

Obstacle number one was easily overcome. Billy's mom had a springform pan that she never used, so she gave it to me.

Obstacle number two was easily overcome after a little thought. With two Christmas parties coming up, which one would I make the sweet potato cheesecake for? When the clipboard for the Sunday school class party was passed around the next week, I saw several people had already signed up for desserts. That worked perfectly, because I could sign up for something else and save my cheesecake for a smaller group of guinea pigs friends - my home team.

I scoured the internet looking for recipes for sweet potato cheesecakes. I read reviews. I studied the directions on the ones that sounded scrumptious. I finally chose the one for me. I found all the ingredients I needed at my friendly "neighborhood" ALDI store (20 minutes away, since there's not one in my little part of the pasture). I was ready!

The day arrived. I started that morning cooking my sweet potatoes, crushing cookies for my crust, and rereading the directions several times to be sure I didn't mess anything up. Oh, and I did plenty of sampling the mixture to make sure the taste was going to be good.

I'm glad I started in the morning, because it was an all-day affair. The prep work, the cleaning, the baking, the cleaning, the chilling, the cleaning. Oh, and the cleaning! I messed up soooo many dishes and utensils! I'm typically a neat cook, and this was nowhere near my norm.

Finally, about two hours before time to leave for our party, I put the caramelized pecan topping on my beautiful masterpiece and put it in the refrigerator to chill. Just before time to leave, I gently set it on the base of my cake carrier and sprung the pan. It was standing! The topping was still a little oozy, dribbling slightly down the sides, but it was beautiful.

I carefully balanced my work of art on my lap as we made our way through heavy holiday traffic. When we got to the church, I took it inside and took the lid off to check it once more before I put it in the refrigerator to chill a little more. I was so excited about how beautifully gourmet it looked. I only gave it about 20 minutes in the 'fridge before I just had to set it out on the dessert table and bedazzle everyone who saw it.

After a time of chatting and eating our meal, it was dessert time. Time to cut the (cheese)cake. I made the first cut and it wiggled a little. Hmmmm... I made the second cut and slid out the first slice. It fell. Another slice out. The center of the whole cheesecake fell. My heart fell. My face fell. I hoped and prayed it wasn't still "raw" in the middle.

Everyone raved about the flavor, which really was good. Still, the texture left a lot to be desired. I worried that someone - everyone - would get sick from the eggs that possibly hadn't thoroughly cooked. I made sure I ate plenty so I would suffer right along with the others.

When we got home with about half the cheesecake left drooping all over the place, I couldn't bear to throw it out. I had worked so hard and had such high hopes that my first cheesecake would be perfect and talked about for years to come. (Well, the second part is most likely true, though not for reasons I like...) I made room for it in the refrigerator with the intention of taking care of it the next day.

After Sunday lunch, I took the cheesecake out, curious about what might have happened to it overnight. It looked firm, like a cheesecake should be. It looked really tasty, regardless of the mess it had made all over the plate. I braved a bite. Wow! It was delicious! The texture was perfect, and the flavors had time to blend together better. What a difference a longer refrigeration time had made! I was belatedly impressed - as well as encouraged to attempt another cheesecake (which I haven't done yet...).

As I thought back over the last few days, I grabbed my recipe and read over it again. Had I missed instructions about refrigeration times? Did it say that I should've made the cheesecake a day earlier? Nope. Nothing of the sort. Why not? Why take for granted that anyone who's making a cheesecake - especially a first-timer! - should know those things?

I decided to check my local library and see if I could find any sort of cheesecake guide book. I happened upon The Ultimate Cheesecake Cookbook by Joey Reynolds and Myra Chanin, which looked promising. Once I got home with it, I put it on my library book shelf, where it sat a few weeks until today. I found that very bit of advice in "Chapter 4: Twenty-Three Tips for Making Perfectly Baked Cheesecakes Every Time". It's under the bold heading "5. Never Bake Cheesecakes at the Last Minute". It goes on to say that they should be baked about two days early and "allowed to mellow before serving".

I wonder what other wonderfully necessary tips I'll learn as I keep reading... Then I plan to make another cheesecake. I just need to pick my occasion.

1 comment:

The Professor's Wife said...

I hate it when recipe books leave out important steps like that!