Monday, 14 May 2012

Fabulous Cheesecake - Reduced Fat So You Can Eat More!!
Who doesn't love a good cheesecake?  With the crunchy base, silky smooth top, and a pleasing tang of lemon it's both elegant dessert and comfort food all at the same time.  Now I am not usually into the low fat version of anything baked - mostly because substituting some weird spread for butter just doesn't work...but your traditional cheesecake recipes are so loaded with cholesterol I find it hard to justify the enjoyment.  So, I've come up with the recipe below, probably based on Nigella's but I can't be sure: it's been through a few versions - some worked, some didn't!  I think I've managed to preserve all the yummy texture and flavour, but you make it and decide.  Also, this one was made for Mother's Day so it has a little dark chocolate swirled on the top, but you could just as easily use a raspberry coulis - or nothing at all!  Oh, and the heart shape was a bit of whimsy, if you don't have a tin like this just use a 20cm / 8" round one.  And this can easily be made gluten free: just use GF cookies for the base, the remainder of the recipe is the same.
For the Base:
175g / 7oz Hob Nobs or Anzac Biscuits (or some other crunchy cookie with oats in) 
75g / 3 oz unsalted butter melted
  1. Either place the cookies in a grip seal bag and beat them to a fine rubble with a rolling pin, or place them in a food processor and pulse them a few times until you have the same texture.
  2. Combine the melted butter with the cookie crumbs and press into the base of a 20cm or 8" springform tin.  I like to use the base of my 1 cup measure to press the crumbs down evenly.  You don't need to press them up the sides of the tin - just make sure you have a nice level platform.  Place the tin in the fridge while you make the next layer.
For the "Cheese" Layer:
500g / 1lb 2oz Light Philadelphia (or other) cream cheese, softened
150g / 6oz caster or superfine sugar
3 whole eggs
2 egg yolks
1 tblspn vanilla extract, or the scraped seeds from 1 vanilla bean
Zest of 1 large lemon - use a microplane if you have one
2 tblspns lemon juice
  1. Preheat your oven to 170 C / 350 F, fill the kettle with water and put it on to boil.
  2. Now, you can do all of the mixing part by hand in a big bowl with a wooden spoon providing the cream cheese is at room temperature.  Just follow the instructions below to get the order of ingredients right.  If you have a free standing mixer: place the cream cheese in the bowl and using the paddle attachment beat for about 30 seconds just until it looks like thick whipped cream.  
  3. Add the sugar, eggs, egg yolks and vanilla.  Beat on medium for about a minute until everything is well combined.  Lastly, add the lemon zest and juice and beat briefly.
  4. The next step is REALLY important to get that soft silky texture: take your springform tin out of the fridge and place it on a double thickness of foil.  Bring the edges of the foil up as far as they will go - they need to be at least half way up the tin.  Stand the tin in a roasting pan and carefully pour the cheese mixture on to the crumb base.  I like to pour it over the back of a big spoon so that it doesn't disturb the crumb base...but I'm probably being over cautious!  
  5. To avoid the risk of scalding yourself by carrying a big pan of boiling water: place the roasting pan in the oven, then immediately pour boiling water into it (around the springform tin) until the water level is halfway up the cake tin.  Close the oven door and bake for about 45 minutes (depending on your oven) or until the middle of the cake feels lightly set.
For the Topping:
8 tblspns low fat or fat free sour cream
2 squares of plain or bittersweet chocolate melted
  1. If your sour cream is fairly firm, stir in a tablespoon or 2 of milk until it can be poured easily.  Take the cheesecake from the oven (still in its water bath) and pour over the sour cream.  Drop dots of melted chocolate from the end of a teaspoon around the edge of the cake.  Using a toothpick or fine skewer, swirl the dots of chocolate into the sour cream (see photo above).
  2. Cook for a further 8-10 minutes until the sour cream is just set.  Take the cake out of the oven and leave it to set in the tin for about 15 mins.  Then, I like to run a thin off-set spatula carefully around the inside of the tin just to make sure it doesn't stick.  Unclip the springform and remove it, but leave the cake on the metal base plate.  Allow to cool completely then place in the fridge for at least an hour or two, but as long as 3 days is fine if you want to make this ahead. 
    TOP TIP:  place loosely scrunched up balls of foil (that are taller than the cheescake) around the cake before you cover the plate with cling wrap.  This will hold the cling wrap clear of the top of the cake...if it touches the cake it will ruin the beautiful smooth surface of the sour cream layer!
  3. Remove from the fridge and allow the cake to come to room temperature before you serve it, the texture and flavour is much better than when it's fridge-cold.  Serve it just as it is, or with a few berries...scrumptious!

Friday, 4 May 2012

Margarita Cupcakes - Or Get Your Cinco De Mayo On!!
I do realise that the 5th of May is really a celebration for the good people of Mexico but it has spread into the mainstream of US culture so I thought it only right and proper to honour the occasion with some slightly tipsy cupcakes...obviously this is strictly for my US bloggy pals, the rest of us have absolutely no excuse whatsoever for tipping Tequila into a cake mix...or frosting...hic!  Now, a cupcake is a thing of beauty: a single serving (assuming you can restrict yourself to just one) of cake which can contain the complete spectrum of cakey delightfulness.  It could be elegantly simple - like a vanilla vanilla, or completely decadent and OTT like a triple choc fudge.  As a general principle I have a few standard combinations I return to over and over with just the icing and embellishment reflecting the particular occasion they are celebrating.  My standard flavours are: vanilla bean, citrus (orange, lemon, lime or a combination), and chocolate.  For the recipe below I've started with a citrus base and then added a couple of things to both cake and frosting.  Just so you know, each cuppy has approximately 5ml (1 tsp) of alcohol in the frosting - I have assumed that it cooks out of the cake part.  Oh, and the pink cupcakes below are the 'virgin' version for non-drinkers and kids.
For the Cakes:
100g / 4oz unsalted butter softened
100g / 4oz caster or superfine sugar
130g / 5oz plain or all purpose flour
1 1/2 tsps baking powder
2 large eggs
Zest of 1 or 2 limes depending on how big they are - use a microplane if you have one
Juice of the limes you just zested
2 tblspns Tequila
1 tblspn Triple Sec or Cointreau (if you don't have any just increase the Tequila)
  1. Preheat the oven to 160 C / 325 F and line a muffin tin with 12 cupcake cases.
  2. If you have a freestanding mixer just put all the ingredients in the bowl, beat on slow for about 30 seconds until everything is combined, then on medium for 2 minutes until the batter is pale and fluffy.  
  3. If you don't have a freestanding mixer, you can just as easily use a bowl and a wooden spoon.  Cream together the softened butter and sugar until light and fluffy.  Add the eggs and 2 tblspns of the flour, beat again.  Add the alcohol and lime juice, beat well.  Then add the remainder of the flour, the baking powder and the lime zest - beat until the batter is pale and fluffy.
  4. Spoon the mixture into the cupcake cases, level the tops slightly, then bake for about 15 mins (depending on your oven) or until they pass the clean skewer test.
For the Frosting:**
200g / 2 sticks unsalted butter softened
500g / 1lb 2oz icing or confectioners sugar sifted
2 tblspns Tequila
2 tblspns Triple Sec or Cointreau (if you don't have any, increase the Tequila)
Zest and juice of a large lime (use a microplane if you have one)
Zest of another lime cut into fine shreds for decoration
12 bendy straws cut down a little for decoration
  1. Using a freestanding mixer, beat the butter and sugar together - start slowly so you don't disappear in a cloud of sugar!  Once they are combined increase the speed to medium and beat for 2 minutes until very pale and fluffy.  Add the alcohol, the lime zest and juice and beat again for another minute.  Now, if the icing seems a little soft place the whole bowl in the fridge for 20-30 mins.  If it seems firm enough to pipe carry on with step 2.
  2. Pipe big swirls on the cupcakes using a medium open star tip then decorate with a few shreds of lime zest and a straw.
  3. Strike up the Mariachi Band and get dancing on your hat!
** In response to a viewer's question(!):  If you'd prefer to spread the frosting more thinly on the cuppies instead of piping it in a big swirl, you can either a)half the quantities and use an offset spatula to spread it...or...b)make the same quantity and freeze the bit you don't use.  If you put the left over frosting into a zip lock (or grip seal) bag, squeeze out the air, seal it, then wrap the whole thing in another bag or cling wrap, it'll last a good 3 months in the freezer.  Except it won''ll be making another batch of cakes way before then!!