But no matter! It's Thanksgiving weekend. Which means, in my case, heading over to my boyfriend's grandmother's house for a vegetarian Thanksgiving dinner. Since I'm basically the world's biggest carnivore there is, I volunteered to make dessert -- with the main courses being seitan and tofurkey, I might as well make sure I was going to have a compensatory course after, right?
Problem is, I don't really like most Thanksgiving desserts. Pumpkin pie? Sweet potato pie? Gross, no thank you. And flipping through my only high-altitude cookbook, the oft cited Pie in the Sky: Successful Baking at High Altitudes, did not seem to particularly inspire me. Most of the desserts -- "Porterfield Pumpkin Bundt with Snow White Glaze", "Colorado Carrot Cake with Cream Cheese Frosting" -- were unappealing or just plain blah. If I were still in San Francisco, I could easily have just whipped up a batch of the ever-so-crowd-pleasing Hummingbird Bakery cupcakes, and be done.
However, my hand stopped when I saw a recipe for "El Dorado Cheesecake with Glazed Mango Topping." Cheesecake. Seemed fitting for a family meal. And who doesn't like cheesecake, right? Cheesecakes are like the cupcakes of the cake family. That didn't really make any sense. But you know what I mean.
So, without further ado, I present to you the 100% accurate, high-altitude recipe for said cheesecake, with some modification on my behalf:
(Recipe adapted from Pie in the Sky)
For the pan:
- 1 tablespoon unsalted butter, at room temperature
- 5 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted and cooled
- 1 cup graham cracker crumbs
- 1/2 cup (2 ounces) of roughly chopped almonds
- 2 tablespoons granulated sugar
- 4 packages of Philadelphia Regular Cream Cheese (8 oz), at room temperature
- 1 1/4 cup granulated sugar
- 1 cup sour cream
- 2 tablespoons cornstarch
- 1/8 teaspoon salt
- 4 large eggs, at room temperature
- 1/4 cup frozen lemonade concentrate, thawed
- 1 teaspoon orange extract
- 1/2 teaspoon lemon extract
- 1 1/2 tablespoons grated orange zest
- Position your oven rack in the center position and preheat your oven to 350 degrees. Place a jelly roll pan on the baking rack to preheat with the oven. You will be setting your cheesecake on this pan later (explanation will come shortly).
- Butter a 9.5 to 10-inch springform cake pan with 1 tablespoon of softened butter.
This is a very crucial step in the baking process! Remember that baked goods stick to pans more persistently at higher altitudes; be sure to butter your entire pan, or neither the crust nor the cake itself will yield when you release the pan's springform. You don't want to ruin the aesthetic of your cheesecake in the process of violently yanking it out the pan! The more butter, the less likely the cake will stick. I myself had trouble getting the cake out of the pan -- the tablespoon didn't seem enough. Don't be afraid to use more. Seriously.
- Make the crust by tossing the graham cracker crumbs, almonds, and granulated sugar with the melted butter.
Pie in the Sky called for a cup of finely chopped almonds; while I used a Cuisinart food processor to chop up the majority of a 2 oz bag of almonds, I left a handful of whole almonds to be patted down in the crust. I received several compliments on this during dinner -- it adds a unique touch to normally indistinguishable crust.
Press the crumbs evenly onto the pan bottom and set aside. This is what the pan should look like once you have finished patting down the crust:
- Beat the cream cheese in a large mixer bowl until very smooth and soft (if you are using a KitchenAid mixer, use the flat paddle attachment). Add the sugar and beat until creamy. Scrape down the bowl and beater.
- Beat in the sour cream, cornstarch, and salt. One at a time, beat in the eggs. Scrape in the bowl and beaters again.
- Beat in the lemonade concentrate, fruit extracts, and zest. Scrape the bowl one last time to make sure the batter is smooth, and continue to beat for about a minute after. Be careful not beat too much after you've added in the eggs -- doing so will add too much air to the batter, causing unattractive bubbles to rise to the surface.
- Scoop the batter into the buttered and crusted springform pan. Set the pan on the jelly roll pan and bake for 50 to 55 minutes. When the cake is ready, the edges will have puffed up and the top of the cake will be a golden color with a few cracks near the rim. The cake center will still look soft, but not jiggly or fluid when the side of the pan is tapped.
- Remove the cake and set it on a wire rack in a draft-free location to cool. To prevent cracking, cover the top with a cardboard cake disk. Cool completely for several hours, then refrigerate overnight to allow the texture to firm up.
I decided to hold off on the suggested "glazed mango topping" and opted for some fresh honey-tossed blueberries and raspberries instead. The homemade candied rose petals were the final touch, but more on that later.
This recipe proved to be a smashing success at the dinner, upstaging my boyfriend's exotic quince cobbler. Not gonna lie -- I was rather proud of myself for putting together such a feat. Baking cheesecake at any altitude is always a challenge because cheesecake batter has a custard-like texture that requires a constant temperature throughout the baking process. Even at sea-level, unmoderated temperatures often cause lumps and ugly textures, since the sides of the cake will rise far quicker than the outside. And, once out of the oven, if the cake cools too quickly, the top of the cake will crack. It is near impossible to get homemade cheesecakes to look like the perfect, machine-honed cakes at the Cheesecake Factory.
Mind you, my own cheesecake did not come without any challenges. But I'll talk about that in my next post. But that's all for now. I'll leave you guys on that cliffhanger.