Monday, July 14, 2008

Happy Birthday Grace!


Today is Grace's birthday. Grace is a special friend whom we met through Flickr. Prior to our meeting, I was always awed by her cake decorating prowess and mouthwatering dishes. I could not help wondering who could conjure all these delicious food. Given our shared interest in food and photography, I knew we would become good friends. I remember our first meeting before the bake sale for the China Earthquake which Grace organized. Her friendliness, enthusiasm for good food and zest for life impressed me greatly.

After the bake sale, we often chat on MSN and hang out whenever we can. I consider it a gift from above, to know someone as wonderful as Grace.


When Grace invited us over for her birthday dinner tonight, I offered to bring a cake. After some deliberation, I settled on a cheesecake. I made her the Vanilla Bean Cheesecake from Junior's Cheesecake Cookbook, which I have baked twice in St Louis.

It should be an uneventful process except that the cake cracked in the center after cooling. Something needed to be done to camouflage the crack. And guess what I did? I drew a fish, because fish is in Grace's Chinese blog title and her nickname. Unfortunately, the cake looked more like the doodle of a 5 years old. For once in my life, I wished I had a 5 years old son. So that I can innocently tell the other guests tonight that my son decorated the cake. :p


Anyhow, friends who have received birthday cakes from me know that cake decorating is not my forte. The fact stands true even after attending two Wilton Cake Decorating Courses....

Well, I digress. I want to take this opportunty to wish Grace a fun and memorable birthday and all the best for your upcoming MBA class. I know you will make us proud! And thanks for being an awesome friend!

Vanilla Bean Cheesecake
adapted from Junior's Cheesecake Cookbook

four 8-ounce packages Philidaphia Cream Cheese (I use 3 packages of 1/3 less fat Neufchtel and 1 package of original cream cheese), at room temperature
1 2/3 cup sugar
1 vanilla bean (about 7 inches long)
1 recipe 9-inch Junior's Sponge Cake Crust, recipe below
1/4 cup cornstarch
1/2 tablespoon pure vanilla extract
2 extra large eggs ( 3 large eggs are fine too)
3/4 cup heavy whipping cream
one half pint fresh raspberries (about 6 ounces) (optional)
confectioners's sugar

The night before you plan to make this cake, put the granulated sugar in a small bowl and bury the vanilla bean in it, covering it completely. Cover tightly with plastic wrap and let stand overnight to flavor the sugar. When you are ready to make the cake, set the vanilla bean for later use.

Preheat oven to 350F. (I used 325F)Generously butter the bottom and sides of a 9-inch springformpan. Wrap the outside with aluminium foil, covering the bottom and extending all the way up the sides. Make and bake the cake crust and leave it in the pan. Keep the oven on.

Put one package of cream cheese, 1/3 cup of vanilla flavored sugar, and the cornstarch in a large bowl. Beat with an electric mixer on low until creamy, about 3 minutes, scraping down the bowl a few times. Blend in the remaining cream cheese, one package at a time, scraping down the bowl after each one. Increase the mixer speed to medium and beat in the remaining 1 1/3cups vanilla sugar, then the scraped vanilla beans and vanilla extract. Blend in the eggs, one at a time, beating well after adding each one. Beat in the cream just until it's completely blended. Be careful not to be overmix. Gently spoon the batter on top of the crust.

Place the cake on a large shallow pan containing hot water that comes about 1 inch u the sides of the springform. Bake until the edges are light golden brown and the top is slightly golden tan, about 1 1/4 hours. Remove the cheesecake from the water bath, transfer to a wire rack, and let the cake cool for 2 hours. Leave the cake in the pan, cover loosely with plastic wrap, and refrigerate until completely cold, preferably overnight or at least 4 hours.

Wash and drain the raspberries and place them on paper towels to dry, if using. Release and remove the sides of the springform, leaving the cake on the bottom of the pan. Place on a cake plate. Put some confectioners' sugar in a tea stainer and sift enough over the top of the cake to evenly cover it with a fine dusting. Decorate the top with raspberries. Refrigerate until ready to serve. Slice the cold cake with a sharp straight edge knife, not a serrated one. Cover any leftover cake and refrigerate, or remove the decorations, wrap and freeze for up to 1 month.

Junior's sponge cake crust

for one 9-inch cake crust:
1/3 cup sifted cake flour
3/4 teaspoon baking powder
pinch of salt
2 extra large eggs, separated
1/3 cup sugar
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
2 drops pure lemon extract (or zest of half a lemon)
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
1/4 teaspoon cream of tartar

for one 8-inch cake crust:
1/4 cup sifted cake flour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
pinch of salt
2 extra large eggs, separated
1/4 cup sugar
3/4 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
2 drops pure lemon extract (I used zest from half a lemon)
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
1/4 teaspoon cream of tartar

Preheat the oven to 350F and generously butter the bottom and sides of a 8- or 9-inch springform pan (preferably a nonstick one). Wrap the outsde with aluminium foil, covering the bottom and extending all the way up the sides.

In a small bowl, sift the flour, baking powder and salt together.

Beat the eggyolks in large bowl with an electric mixer on high for 3 minutes. With the mixer running, slowly add 2 tablespoons of the sugar and beat until thick light yellow ribbons form, about 5 minutes more. Beat in the extracts.

Sift the flour mixture over the batter and stir it in by hand, just until no more white flecks appear. Now, blend in the melted butter.

Now wash the bowl and beaters really well (even a little fat is left, this can cause the eggwhite not to whip). Put the eggwhites and cream of tartar into the bowl and beat with the mixer on high until frothy. Gradually add the remainining sugar and continue beating until stiff peaks form (the whites will stand up and look glossy, not dry). Fold about one-third of the whites into the batter, then the remaining whites. It's ok if you see a few white specks, they will disappear during baking.

Gently spread out the batter over the bottom of the pan, and bake just until set and golden (not wet and sticky), about 10 minutes. Touch the cake gently in the center. If it springs back, it's done. Watch carefully and don't let the top brown. Leave the crust in the pan and place on a wire rack to cool. Leave the oven on while you prepare the batter.

Dark Chocolate Sponge Cake Crust
Use the above recipe and technique, except you stir in 2 ounces of melted and slightly cooled bittersweet chocolate when you add the extracts.


Anonymous said...

Happy B-Day to your friend! Isn't it great how the Internet connect people:)

Your cake looks gorgeous with the fish instead of a crack on top:)I am sure it tastes great. I have a William Sonoma Baking book and it has the same cheesecake with slight difference in the ingredients. I've been intending to make it for the longest time and you just reminded me about it:) I may you recipe instead since it's been tested and tried by the expert like you:) I am getting hungry so late at night:)

Clumbsy Cookie said...

It's the first time I see a blueberries's fish. It looks very cute and the cheesecake it's perfect!

Grace said...

Thank you so much Mandy!!!
How lucky am I to have a good friend like you!
I have to say it again .This is the most delicious cheese cake I have ever tasted and the cutest ever !!! You know I was thrilled when I opened the cake box!!! it's soooooo special to me .
I had great time with you all last night!:DDD

Y said...

Nice save, with the crack on the cheesecake! It looks great and is such a lovely gift for a special friend :)

Stardust said...

This is such a touching effort. I think the decor is really cute and the cake has a nice gentle hue. Your love for Grace must have been well conveyed. =)

mutfaktelaşı said...

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Sophie said...

What a sweet birthday present~the fishy is too cute :).

Venus ~ Vi said...

Hi Mandy~

This is truely a very special cake for a very special friend! I especially like the fish motif on the cake =D

Manggy said...

Never mind the crack, this is the sweetest gift anyone can receive-- a home-baked cake (hmm, a touch of bias from me, heh heh :) You're a great friend, Mandy :)

Deborah said...

I really want that cookbook. I ate at Juniors several times in NYC, and love their cheesecake! I think it looks great - I'd be honored if you made it for my birthday!

Cookie baker Lynn said...

What a perfect birthday cake! And your fishy is lovely.

Belinda said...

What a sweet blueberry fish to decorate a beautiful birthday cake, Mandy! It looks are so creative, and you most certainly ARE a talented cake decorator. The fish was an adorable finishing touch. :-)

Anonymous said...

Thanks for visiting my blog.

You take very nice pictures. And I love all the berries you used for the cheesecake. I love berries!

Anonymous said...

The cake looks gorgeous! And the little fish was a nice touch and such a creative way of using the berries.

Happy belated birthday, Grace!

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