Friday, September 24, 2010

Fresh Orange Cheesecake, or, A Winning Combination

This week marked the annual employee picnic at my workplace.  Two years ago, someone decided a baking contest would be a good addition to the picnic.  I wish I knew who that person was so I could hug them.  Great idea. 

There are typically three top slots (1st, 2nd, and 3rd place) and the rest of the entrants are called, predictably, participants.  The first year of the bake sale, the rules weren't very clearly defined (Oh wait... bake sales are supposed to have rules?), so we ended up with a table of Tupperware containers and storebought items with "the homemade touch".   The second year, the rules were still somewhat ambiguous, but a lot better.  We were allowed multiple entries, but nobody made a call on what kind of baked goods to make, so there were still some posers in the bunch. 

For the third annual bake sale this year, I made the rules (hee!).  Because I'm possibly the only person at work who actually cares about these things, I was asked to determine the baking contest rules and prize levels a few months ago.

Rule 1: It must be homemade. From scratch. No boxes allowed.
Rule 2: Only one entry allowed per baker.
Rule 3: No frozen items, because we don't exactly have access to a marble slab for display purposes.

As the weeks passed, I considered my own options for an entry.  Brownies?  No, too plain.  Pie? No, I'm not good enough at crusts yet.  Cookies? Nah, too common. Pretty soon we were two days out from the contest and I still hadn't decided what to make!  It had to be tasty, it had to pass the picky-eater test, and it had to look good.  Suddently I remembered a blood-orange glazed cheesecake I made a few months ago, based on a combination of recipes from Dorie Greenspan and Martha Stewart.  Gold!  Er... Orange!

I ended up winning first place, and later I received my first commission from a coworker.  Hmm... could this be the beginning of the perfect side job?

Fresh Orange Cheesecake
Adapted from recipes by Dorie Greenspan and Martha Stewart
I didn't have access to blood oranges this time, so I simply used fresh.  You can use a variety of different fruits, but citrus works particularly well.

Making the crust.

Adding sugar and salt to the cream cheese.

Watching the cake bake.

1. Prepare crust.  Mix 2 cups graham cracker crumbs with 4 Tb. butter and a little salt. Press into a buttered springform pan, wrap the bottom with foil, and freeze 10 minutes.  Bake 10 minutes at 350. Reduce heat to 325.
2. Beat 4 lbs cream cheese for 4 minutes.  Add 1 1/3 cup sugar and 1/2 tsp. salt and beat for 4 minutes again.  Add 2 tsp. vanilla.  Add 4 eggs one at a time, beating between each. Add the zest of two oranges. Add 1 1/3 cup sour cream or heavy cream and mix on low.
3. Set the pan on a rimmed baking sheet and pour the filling into the crust.  Pour hot water around the cheesecake pan and carefully place in the oven.  Bake at 325 degrees for 90 minutes.  Let cool thoroughly.

Juicing the oranges.

Making the orange glaze.
Prepare 7-8 Tb fresh orange juice.  Sprinkle one small packet of plain gelatin over 3 Tb juice in a small bowl.  Stir 1/4 tsp cornstarch with 1 Tb juice in another small bowl.  Boil remaining juice with 2 Tb sugar in a small saucepan. Add cornstarch and remove from heat. Add gelatin. Let cool slightly and pour over cooled cheesecake.  Chill for at least 4 hours.

Eat well!

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Cookie Fail!

I'm known as an experienced baker among my friends, but what they don't see are the failures.  The flopped souffles, the cakes that stuck to their pans, and the toasted cookies.  Proof positive:

The dough started out well, but it was pretty hot in my apartment...

The disastrous batch.  Either my oven runs really hot or the cookie dough was too soft!  I would call these "caramelized".  They ended up in a ziploc bag, to be crushed and possibly used in vanilla ice cream later.  Not such a bad fate, I think.

After the nearly-burned batch, I watched the next set verrry closely... I love the fact that my oven has a window and exterior light switch!  Just like the one in my childhood home.  One of my favorite hobbies as a kid was watching things bake.

Finally a few that look ok... if not normal.  So flat!  Sigh.

Eat well!

A Fresh Summer Dinner

Despite the fact that it's September, known the nation over for things such as "back to school time", and "fall shopping", I still cling to summer.  There's still a warm breeze outside my door and a sheen on my skin after a cruise on the bike.  In that spirit, I decided on a composed salad for tonight's dinner, accompanied by a cool glass of pinot grigio.  Perfect.

What could make this any better than it already is?

Perhaps a little tuna, avocado, and cold cucumber.

Summer Tomato Salad for One

1 very ripe heirloom tomato
2 oz Parmigiano-Reggiano
Salt, pepper, and an everyday spice blend (Trader Joe's used here)
2 fresh basil leaves
1 ripe avocado, room temperature
1 small can tuna, drained and flaked
1/2 fresh cucumber, chilled

Slice the tomato and arrange on a plate.  Slice thick shavings of Parmigiano-Reggiano over the tomato.  Sprinkle with seasonings as desired.  Tear a few basil leaves by hand and sprinkle over the tomato.
Slice an avocado in quarters, lengthwise.  Remove the pit and simply peel the skin off.  Arrange around the tomato.  Place the tuna on top of the tomato.  Slice the cucumber (peeling is only necessary if it is store-bought and has wax applied to the skin) and add to the plate.
Serve with a chilled white wine, such as pinot grigio.

Eat well!

Tuesday, September 14, 2010


Hi there, and welcome to Molto Gelato.  My name is Ri and I'm a passionate baker, ice cream maker, cook, and all-around food enthusiast.  This is my kitchen journal of culinary experiments.

P.S. I may not be Italian, but shouldn't everyone share their zest for food, love, and life?