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A Note from Marcy

June 2005
 
The Designer Cheesecakes Issue of BetterBaking.com 

!!!FREE!!! Deli Style Cheesecake|
FREE
S’Mores Cheesecake
Strawberry Rhubarb White Chocolate Cheesecake

Cookies 'N Cream Cheesecake Truffles
Classic New York Style Strawberry Cheesecake

Plus:


Greek Filo Custard Pastries


Giant Mall Style Sand Cookies
Leftover Potato or Summer Spuds Bread

Dear Fellow Bakers and Friends,

Why ever do I think summer is easy living when June is a congestion of end-of-the-school-year, convocations (this year, this house), back-to-back sons’ birthday, starting summer jobs, starting camp, baseball mania and tango in the park?  It’s anything but! Fortunately, summer only starts busy but somehow, once you adjust to the pace, ends mellow. Best solution to frantic June? Just chill. Best chilled dessert? Cheesecake!

Nothing makes a bolder statement than cheesecake and nothing, save brownies, can accommodate a host of additives (meaning treats like nuts, chocolate, cookie chunks etc.) better than cheesecake. Cheesecake, glamour-girl that she is, is no sweat and relatively low-maintenance.  Heck – you can pretty well slice and dice and anything from the pastry kitchen, put in the batter and still have something swell. I call my cheesecakes ‘designer’ because they are all one of kind, in a collection that is sure to create cheesecake envy.

There are some cheesecake basics you should know. For instance, use large eggs (not extra large), pure vanilla extract (prices are coming down!). Make the eggs and the cream cheese (and not whipped, watery cream cheese; solid, block cream cheese) room temperature. Have a few great springform pans (higher and heavier weight, the better) and take time to finish off each cheesecake you do like art. That last truc de patisseriere is key. Remember, when it comes to cheesecakes, it’s not where you start; it’s how you finish them. That’s the difference between ordinary cheesecake and a legend.  There is no point using $30-$40 worth of ingredients only to offer up something that looks, well, tasty but homespun. Go that extra mile. It is what separates (and pardon me for saying it thus) hausfrau/Desperate Housewives cheesecake from the stuff out of the sort of bakeries that the stars purportedly order from while on location (well, Style Magazine says so). Finishing touches –that’s the ticket.

Aside from these tricks of the trade, when you make a cheesecake, be fearless, be bold, go where no baker has gone before. There is not one that cannot be rescued or resuscitated unless….well, unless you experience something along the lines of my own cheesecake beginnings. Read on.

As for my other recipes this month, they are a bit like Mambo No. 5, a little bit of this and a little bit of that. As always, faced with the logical prospect of ‘10 Easy Cool Low-Fat Make-Ahead Salads, and a Super Duper Father’s Day feast and “3 New Summer Smoothies – I just headed to the flour bin and butter, my baker’s palette and just started inventing.  I just can’t help it. But I do suggest some pizza on the grill (from the Archives), and famed Chicken Under a Brick and Vinegar wings, if you chasing something savory.

I wish you all, whatever you are off to, or starting or ending this fine June, my good wishes from Wheatland, where the temperatures promise to be the same: a balmy high and low, day in and day out, of 350 F degrees; no sun block required.)

Happy Baking everyone,

Marcy Goldman
Wheat Siren  & Wordsmith
Host and Editor
www.BetterBaking.com


The Monthly Marcy Essay…….
 
Trial By Cheesecake, Wherein Our Heroine Invents Collapsing Cheesecake and Is Forced to Leave Dodge City……
 
When I think of cheesecake, I seem to have countless stories to spin. But I think particularly of two cheesecake chapters.  One is an Oreo Cheesecake Disaster (see When Baker’s Write or The Best of BetterBaking.com) and the other one, told publicly for the first time, is this one. For Adventures in Oreo Cheesecake, see When Baker's Write)
 
My very first professional pastry job was far too big for me. I went from baking on a rented oven in a small apartment to conning a caterer into thinking I could bake for West Point and take on Paris with my prowess. I had just started selling cakes to restaurants at that point and must have believed my own press. At any rate, it gave me enough confidence to go further afield. I found a place that I contacted by phone and I simply raved about my cheesecake. I got the gig. In short, I all but convinced my new boss that I had invented cheesecake. This was a place that had everything but no, as far as I could tell, decent cheesecake in their repertoire. I told my boss that I had my grandmother’s secret recipe (Grandma Goldman never made cheesecake; only banana or chocolate layer cake) and she had got the recipe from the pastry chef of the Czar.  No, he did not ask which Czar but since he believed me I am not sure who was nuttier but the claim served its purpose.
 
Although Events By Edward had a pastry chef, they anticipated more clients for summer and I was hired on the spot.  The pastry chef in residence gave me a cool hello. Alright, he more or less growled and started hacking Valrohna semi-sweet chocolate with alarming speed and energy – the chocolate bits fairly flew, like wood chips, into the air. Suffice to say, I don’t think he was taking my arrival well. He then promptly turned on his heel, got some hardware and nailed shut the small supply cupboard (vanilla, baking powder, baking soda, salt and other essentials). Well, hello to you too, I thought.  Don’t get up, don’t say hello.
 
His mandate was: make everything. Mine was: just do the cheesecakes. That was only cause d’etre. I marveled at the resident pastry chef for his skill and experience. He was my first up-close and personal view of a pro in the kitchen.
I also noted he had this nifty Sears red toolbox, filled with pastry and baking essentials. Very cool. He also could do any and everything, blindfolded.
 
As inept as I was (think I Love Lucy in flour), which shows you the reality of envy (like, there is none), he was threatened by my presence and begrudgingly shared information with me – like where the oven was (in the kitchen with the kitchen guys, some half mile away from the pastry kitchen), like the fact that only two of three decks on the oven worked, and the fact that the Hobart mixer which looked like a spa hot tub, could host about 10 cheesecakes. To me, it looked mammoth and in my head, I was thinking that baby could churn out 40 cakes, no problem. After months of baking at home for restaurants, using domestic equipment, I was foaming at the mouth to give the mixer a whirl. 
 
One day, said pastry chef had to go work on location and make crepes Suzettes for a debutante’s brunch. I was given an order to make 20 cheesecakes for society  “Are you sure you are all right with this?” asked Edward, my boss, who alternated between being frantic/happy/hyper and morose and dark. One day, life was good and business was on the edge of being a Fortune 500 company and the next, for no reason, Edward's mood would plummet. One minute he was cajoling/favorite funny uncle to life-is-Pure Hell-why-bother-living. (I later found out he suffered a polar disorder and tossed his meds into the eggplant peelings every other morning)
I made a point of treading softly on those latter days.  At the staff meal (another chapter, another book), conversation, as a result of these very diverse and unpredictable moods, was either happy and vital or reminiscent of the last scene in an Arthur Miller play. 

“Yes –no problem”, I told Edward “I can make the cakes’. It was Friday – the cakes were for a Sunday morning affair to be held at an illustrious and historical club. I was to make the cakes, garnish the tops but leave them molded. The serving staff would unmold them at the event on Sunday. ”  I spent about two hours scaling up my domestic cheesecake recipe to make a batch of 30 or so cheesecakes, while the cream cheese and eggs sat out, warming up. I preheated the three-decks/only one works’ oven. I cleared space in the walk-in to chill the cheesecakes.

I was thrilled to have the pastry kitchen to myself – no Sears-toting, angry other chef to snap at me. I unnailed the ingredient pantry (having brought my own hammer to work) and got started.

Well, here’s the thing. A 10-quart Hobart will do about 5 10-inch cheesecakes. In my zeal and lack of experience (and no one to consult with), I figured it could hold at least 35. Reality bit when somewhere around the halfway point of adding the eggs, the batter rose dangerously close to the edge of the Hobart bowl. I cautiously added an egg, and then another, lowering the speed of the mixer with each egg. When batter began flinging itself on the walls, splattering me in a cream cheese rainstorm, I quickly stopped the machine. A dozen eggs remaining to be added.  I left them out. I know – what was I thinking?

I first scooped batter, and then poured it as the bowl got lighter, into the awaiting cheesecake pans. Imagine my horror when, as I got to the last 5 cakes, I saw totally coagulated rims of cream cheese, thick collars of unblended cream cheese clinging to the pan interior. This meant, the previous 25 cheesecakes were more like cheese milkshakes and the five final ones would be thicker than cement. I froze. But, and this is the charming and grim part of being 22, I figured, no one would notice and somehow, some way, the fridge would chill the cakes up fine.  Well, it did actually, I baked the cakes - and yes, they took about 4 hours to bake instead of an hour (not a good sign) and then refrigerated them. I did note they took longer than usual – I could have expected that - but in the end, they did seem to set up.  The operative phrase here is “seemed to’.

I went home, flaked out and forgot all about it.....until Monday morning when I went back to work.

Edward, meds or not, was seething. Screeching! Apparently, once the serving staff had unmolded each and every cake, they each dissolved in a puddle of molten cheesecake batter on the sweet table at this illustrious wedding at this elegant club. In fact, the cakes deflated and then sprawled across the serving platters and leached their soggy cream cheese batter and sad, messy strawberries and apricot glaze into the French pastries and petites fours. In the corner, the other pastry chef smiled quietly. He had won the day. I felt scalded in shame and slunk out. I was told to pick up my last paycheck the next morning.

When I returned the next day, no one knew where my last paycheck was because, overnight, and for no reason I have ever found out, the place had been ransacked! Thugs had come in and destroyed the entire Events By Edward in was turned out to be a settling of accounts and a better explanation to Edward’s chronic moodiness. The other pastry chef handed me whatever tools I had left there and in a moment of solitary – for he too, was on his way out – we shook hands and he just said – “You bake well –no hard feelings. Maybe one day you will be a mother and your kids will have a great baker for a mom.” Right. A baking mom....versus.....a pro.

A week later I applied for the job of Head Baker at Earth Moon Holistic Café Bookstore and Bakery (one of my best unwritten chapters/stayed tuned). This time, I had caught my breath. I knew from Hobart mixer capacities and had no other resident, growling other chefs to deal with. I was hired on the spot to create a line of cheesecakes, carrots cake, buttermilk muffins (aka Lawsuit Muffins), and more. On the way out of my interview I heard the new boss whisper to his secretary “Did you see her Sears toolbox? She has all her gear in there! Cool”. Insert a meow, tweak of little whiskers (mine) and a perky smile here.

And as for my pastry chef cohort for Events by Edward? A year later when I applied to the Quebec Hotel School to earn my whites as a professional pastry chef, guess who ended up with me, in the four-year program? Right. I still remember his wide-eyed look and one hissed word: You!? when he saw me that first day in the student lounge. My pastry chef friend and ex-Edward colleague found it a blow that we ended up at the same level. But we became friends – he had no choice – fate dealt him a hard hand. Our class was 15 men and two women and I instantly had 15 wonderful, attentive, protective pastry chef brothers that would have done much to protect my honor. Also, once I mastered the Hobart at hotel school, I clearly had the best cheesecake recipes in the class and my reputation for those, and giving birth to a son between Mastering Commercial Pastry and Introduction to Yeast Breads was renown.  As a matter of record, my pastry chef friend/foe now has three kids (which I suppose, makes him a Baking Dad) and I have three kids. He eventually opened his own place and me?  I went on to bake and write cookbooks, create this website and invent yet more cheesecakes that are so incredible……..if only Edward (and the Czar) only knew! And I still tote that red Sears toolbox any time I go on road to teach. Props, much like a great cheesecake recipe, are everything.

Marcy Goldman
www.Betterbaking.Com

This essay is dedicated to my eldest son, a jazz musician and composer who graduates college this June, and then is off to university and a career in Music, and for whom, 'cheesecake' is the swingin' beat and a string of  Louis Armstrong lyrics.


Previous Monthly Essays from A Note From Marcy:

Essays to tickle your funny bone, wake up your inner baker, twinge on your heartstrings, or make you smile and say, Ive know the feeling; I know the place. If you missed an essay, or a season in baking or inner sensibility, we invite you to stroll through our archived Notes From Marcy.

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