The Great Pumpkin Cheesecake Disaster of 2011 (Almost)
At Least It Tasted Good…
I bought myself a new stand mixer because I had never used one and I found a really great deal on a new one. After so many years of watching Martha Stewart and The Barefoot Contessa merrily whirring their machines, I finally decided to expand my own baking horizons. (I will spare you any plugging of the brand name until I have more experience with it.)
Of course, the first recipe I tried out, using my new mixer, was for one of the most difficult culinary confections to bake–a cheesecake.
I thought it would be useful to share my experience so that others may benefit by learning from my baking gaffs. My photos (below) really help tell the story.
I decided to make it a pumpkin cheesecake instead of just a plain everyday cheesecake. (Thrill seeker, me.) I also decided to make it low-fat, so I could be proud of myself for baking healthy. (Freak, me.) I had months ago found a good recipe for pumpkin cheesecake, so that gave me a good place to start. The process includes several involved steps, just as on TV cooking shows. Baking always takes me longer than TV cooks, though, because I’m a neat freak and I clean up as I go. I also tend to mull over every step repeatedly as I execute a process. I know that in baking, you can’t go back and fix things. You just have to start over if you mess up. A lot of good that does a scatter brain like me.
I had read somewhere that one could substitute “farmer’s cheese” for cream cheese in recipes to drastically reduce fat. I had never even heard of farmers cheese, yet I found it right next to the cream cheese at my local grocery store. It’s worth it to take a chance to save some fat calories, right?
I assembled all my ingredients, first allowing this and that to come to room temperature (eggs, butter, and farmer’s cheese). I proceeded to measure and sift and dump things into my new stand mixer, one at a time, as per directions. I also very wisely unplugged my mixer each time I changed paddles and whisks so as to avoid breaking any tools or digits.
I assembled my springform pan (also a first-time implement for me) and then pressed-in my homemade graham cracker and toasted pecans crust, and baked it according to directions. Then I poured in my new pumpkin cheesecake batter.
I followed the rest of the directions, including placing the cake in a bath of water in a roasting pan. Eventually, I had the cake in and out of the oven in exactly 90 minutes, just as the recipe suggested. (I should have paid more attention to my own instincts when I removed the cake from the oven and noticed it seemed a bit too wiggly.)
As directed, I allowed the cake to cool for thirty minutes and then put it in the refrigerator for four long hours to cool. (The recipe called for chilling the cake for four hours or overnight.) Meantime, I prepared honey glazed pecans for topping the cake as the final touch.
Once I had taken the cake back out of the refrigerator and carefully removed it from the springform pan, I clumsily arranged the sticky pecans over the top. It looked amazing! I was so proud, I took this photo of it:
Beautiful, eh? I even placed my pumpkin cheesecake on a fancy gold charger plate, as you cn see. La-tee-da.
When it finally came time to cut and serve a few slices of my fabulous cheesecake, my pride gave way to disappointment. A couple of poor decisions came with consequences.
It turns out my low fat farmers cheese isn’t as creamy as cream cheese. It has a consistency more like ricotta (it being a tad watery). The cake also didn’t set up as I had hoped. I probably should have kept the cake in the oven for another 30 minutes. Also, I put the bottom of the springform pan in upside down. The result of that was the pan bottom lip was on the outside edge of the crust, preventing me from sliding a knife cleanly underneath to lift out the first slice. Another goof was my too large chunks of pecans on the top of the cake. I didn’t chop them up small enough, so while slicing the cake I needed to move my nuts around in order to make a clean line from where to insert the knife. (I had to move my nuts around. Ha!)
The first slice was a mess. It went as badly as it could. What ended up on the plate looked like canned dog food, all gushy and broken up. The second slice held up better. The outside of the cake had firmed up okay, but the center was still rather weak. The second slice stayed half intact. (I was also able to get underneath the bottom crust better on the second slice.)
As you can see by photographic evidence of the disaster (below), the center of the cake slumped like a sinkhole after the first slices were removed.
The moral of the story is don’t try to reinvent the wheel on your first test drive of your stand mixer by fiddling with a cheesecake recipe. Even though my mixer stood up well and did its job, my tasty pumpkin cheesecake might have turned out a lot better if I had used regular cream cheese. Forget cutting the fat. It’s cheesecake goddammit! Also, be sure you put the bottom of your springform pan right side up, with the lip facing out of the bottom, not inside. And, if your cheesecake is still jiggly through most of the middle after baking for the suggested time, you probably need to bake it longer. That was probably my biggest mistake. I was afraid I would overcook it. Not next time.
[Jump ahead 12 hours.]
The following morning, after the cheesecake had chilled in the refrigerator overnight, it had actually set completely. I was able to trim away the part that had sunk, leaving half of the cheesecake standing up fine and slicing neatly. And, not to boast, but it even tasted better the next day! Yum! At this writing, I have actually eaten at least half of the cake myself, while the rest of the household has stayed away (having been horrified the night before by its frightening collapse).
Keeping with my usual calorie counting strategy, I ate less of any other foods today, while I helped myself to extra cheesecake. I realized late in the day that my body was feeling like it was actually burning fat. Apparently, because my cheesecake was made using low-fat farmer’s cheese, I probably didn’t consume the same amount of calories I would otherwise eat on a Sunday of TV football and splurging. Makes you sick, doesn’t it? The pumpkin cheesecake diet by Robert George Reoch.
I plan on trying this experiment again next weekend. Maybe I’ll use real cream cheese too. I’ll let you know how it turns out.
Robert George Reoch
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