Taking the cake(s)

Summer crawled along this year, dimmed by our lengthy pandemic status and an early wildfire season. By the time my birthday — as well as that of my blog’s — rolled around, celebrating —  as it has felt for much of the last year —  seemed a bit ridiculous.

The year has been one of low expectations, expecting the unexpected (and even the worst), and the undoing of anything planned. This very blog post was sidelined by life, other deadlines and my own reshuffling priorities. This — my 250th post — should have been completed weeks ago, and yet, time has morphed into something different this year, both dragging and speeding by all at once.

And still, I’ve reached a milestone with this blog, which began 10 years ago on my birthday. My birthday and my blog were worth some trouble, even this year, weren’t they? And definitely worth marking with — if nothing else — cake.

Cake is, as I’ve discussed before, the ultimate celebration symbol. And yet, I am not the biggest cake fan. It falls low on my list of dessert favorites. Often it is just too sweet, too much. And frosting? Don’t get me started.

But I wanted celebratory cake for a year of challenges and hopes dashed and losses I was still grieving. I wanted to honor the fact that in spite of everything, I kept plugging away, maybe not with outstanding results, but results in the fact that I am still standing and my blog, still active for the posts I created, mostly as they were inspired.

This year, and these celebrations, called for not one, but two cakes, I decided. One cake for me, and one and for my blog, turning 10. For me, I wanted something simple to celebrate my own year turning, something that recollected my childhood and was really what cake, for me, was in an ideal sense — more creamy dessert. I took inspiration from a favorite summer drink — the cherry limeade from Sonic —  and decided to turn it into that ultimate lush creaminess of cakes — the cheesecake.

My friend, Deanna Lamour, who is an amazing artist and an extraordinary baker, gave me what I think is the best basic cheesecake formula. She herself has adapted it to many variations — including banana — so I thought I could turn her recipe into a cherry limeade cheesecake, with dark, sweet summer cherries and the juice and zest from  tart key limes, which were still available in the markets.

I made a very basic graham cracker crust recipe using melted butter to bring the graham cracker crumbs, sugar and a little cinnamon together to a nice cohesive mixture that I pressed evenly into a 9-inch springform pan. I followed Deanna’s preference of chilling the crust rather than pre-baking it. I, too, have found that sometimes this overcooks the crust and leaves it a little too hard.

One of the things I love most about Deanna’s recipe is that it is all mixed by hand — no mixer or appliance needed! This actually serves a purpose. Sometimes using a stand or other electric mixer mixes too much air into the cheesecake. So the cream cheese is first creamed by hand, then sugar, eggs and vanilla are added. Here is where I also incorporated the lime juice and zest, Then sour cream is folded in, which is genius in that it adds richness and moisture within the cake, rather than its usual place sitting on top.

The cream cheese mixture is poured into the chilled crust. It could be baked in a water bath or with a ceramic dish of water in the bottom of the oven (I chose this method) to provide some steaming

It bakes up to a beautiful golden brown. Deanna offers a method of inverting a plate over the cheesecake immediately after it comes out of the oven and keeping that plate in place until the cheesecake cools to avoid cracking in the top of the cake. It works!

This cheesecake was so good…simple, but just the right amount of creamy…that I made two of them! For the first one, I made a pureed cherry sauce to top the lime cheesecake and then decorated with whole sweet cherries and a little more lime zest. For my second cake, I made the lime variation again, but before baking, I studded the top with pitted sweet cherries, so it took on an almost cheesecake-cherry clafoutis combo. The lime and cherries were perfect together — just the right amount of tart and sweet. The recipe, alone, is worth a celebration, and I hope to make other versions of Deanna’s cheesecake to celebrate for years to come.

Cherry Limemade Cheesecake

Adapted from a recipe by Deanna Lamour 

Makes one 9-inch cheesecake

Graham Cracker Crust:

  • 1 1/2 cups graham cracker crumbs (about 10 full sheets)
  • 1/3 cup sugar
  • Pinch of cinnamon
  • 5 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted

Filling:

  • 2 8-ounce packages cream cheese, softened to room temperature
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 4 eggs, at room temperature
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 1 tablespoon fresh lime zest
  • 1/4 cup fresh lime juice
  • 1 cup sour cream
  • 3 cups pitted dark cherries
  • Additional limes for decoration

For the crust, n a small bowl, combine graham cracker crumbs, sugar and cinnamon. Add melted butter and mix until thoroughly combned.

Press evenly in the bottom and a little up the sides of a 9- or 10-inch springform pan. Chill in the refrigerator until ready to use.

To make the filling, cream the cheese with a wooden spoon (do not use an electric mixer). Get it as smooth as possible before adding the sugar. Add the sugar and mix by hand until smooth. Stir in one egg at a time until fully incorporated. Add vanilla, lime zest and lime juice.

Fold in the sour cream gently with a spatula, again don’t over mix.

Pour into the center of the crust making sure the filling goes above the crust all around the edges. Scatter pitted cherries over the surface of the cake (or, if desired, leave the cherries out of the cake and turn them into a puree to top the cake with after it has baked and cooled).

While mixing, have the oven heating at 350 with a deep ceramic bowl  or dish of water inside or use a hot water bath. Bake 15 minutes and gently rotate trying not to disturb it, bake another 20 minutes and check to see if center is jiggly or not. It is better to under bake a little than over bake to prevent curdling.  When it’s done take it out and cover it right away with a ceramic plate to keep the heat in and leave it until it’s cool, then refrigerate overnight.  Run a sharp knife around edge and release Top with sliced limes or additional cherries, if desired.

My second cake choice — for my blog — was on my roster of possibilities years earlier. But an opera cake seemed befitting a year like the last one, full of dramatic highs and lows and even, an opera! The first one I had ever attended, “Hansel and Gretel,” in San Francisco last December. So the opera cake, while seeming delicious and celebratory, was also extremely symbolic. I chose a traditional recipe, but decided to shake it up just slightly with a filling variation. The recipe begins with very thin layers of cake, flavored with almond extract.

I used two 13-by-9-inch cake pans for the cakes, which would each be cut in half for four cake layers. The cakes were both light an dense sponge-the cakes, sturdy enough to work with, but also porous to take on the layered flavorings to come.

[E}ach cake layer was brushed with a coffee syrup I made and also flavored with a little almond extract. The coffee soaked in nicely and would likely make the cakes moist and more flavorful.

The recipe called for a coffee buttercream that seemed a little too sweet for my tastes, plus was somewhat complicated to make, so I chose to make a lighter mascarpone cheese filling that was just slightly sweet and gently flavored with espresso. 

The layers of chocolate — one in the middle of the cake and one covering the top — were both a simple chocolate ganache (chocolate melted in warmed heavy cream). 

The cake was a little nervy for me to assemble. It was supposed to be an elegant, even-dimension thing,  and I am not known for elegance or my ability to get things straight or proportional. Still, it was diminutive enough (about six by eight inches in dimension) that I could handle it, as the layers added up. I allowed it to chill, then trimmed the sides. Normally, one is to write “Opera” in cursive across the top of the cake. But, given this was for my 10th year “blogaversary,” I chose the simple initials (less chance of messing up) of “aws” for my “A Woman Sconed.” 

This little space has treated me well over the last 10 years and 250 posts and more than 300 recipes. It’s been a place for me to play and muse and create and learn photography and occasionally write a decent sentence. And cook and bake and bake and bake. And eat. And I did. Layers and layers of deliciousness as a reward.

The Mini Opera Cake recipe I adapted can be found here https://www.bakesandblunders.com/create-a-stunning-mini-opera-cake/

The changes I made to that recipe included using a Coffee Mascarpone (see recipe below) instead of the Coffee Buttercream, and I used the Chocolate Ganache for both the filling and the top (and the script).

Coffee Mascarpone Cream

Adapted from https://www.recipesfromitaly.com/coffee-mascarpone-cream/

  • 9 ounces mascarpone cheese
  • 2/3 cup heavy whipping cream
  • 1-1/4 cups confectioner’s sugar
  • 3 tablespoons cooled espresso coffee
  • A pinch of salt

Whip the heavy whipping cream until soft, but firm peaks form. In the bowl of an electric mixer, blend mascarpone, confectioner’s sugar, coffee and salt until well combined.

Slowly fold in the whipped cream until all is combined. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate until ready to use.

Note: If the mascarpone mixture at any stage looks curdled or appears to separate, just place the bowl into the microwave and heat for 10 to 15  seconds and continue mixing. The warmth will help all the ingredients come back together. 

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