Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Tea parties

I whole-heartedly prefer a 'proper' cup of tea to coffee. My mornings usually begin with a cup of strong English tea with a splash of milk. No sugar of course. And often the evenings come to a close with another cuppa.

It should come as no surprise, that I adore tea parties. But seriously, who doesn't? I remember my first tea set was a tiny porcelain Barbie set that I arranged around a little table for my stuffed animals. No we didn't have tea... my childhood tea parties featured Coke. But hey, its still a brown liquid, so I think that counts for something.

High tea, wherever its origins may stem from, are the epitome of a tea party with dainty finger sandwiches, scones, and pastries. I'm fortunate enough to have a niece who loves tea parties (or maybe its just the desserts) as much as I do.

Recently, I had to throw a baby shower for my best friend and she requested a Mad Hatter tea party theme. Naturally, I was in charge of decor, sweets, and a few baked savories.

I've recently found a lot of recipes, or rather recipe ideas from Pinterest. Though some aren't all that successful, I found an idea for colorful lollipop cookies that were super festive and appropriate for our mad hatter tea.

They were quite easy, but just a little tedious. They can be made with any good rolled sugar cookie dough, or even the pre-made sugar dough that comes in tubes. 

Since the baby shower was in the afternoon, I made an assortment of pastries that included  blueberry and banana muffins.

I really wanted to make some desserts using puff pastry, but as I had already been baking for a couple days, I decided to go with some pre-made dough. They rolled up nicely into some sugary caramelized palmiers.

The spread included muffins, scones, madeleines, sugar cookies, mini blueberry cheesecakes, mini chocolate cheesecakes, chocolate mousse, gougeres (cheese puffs), cheese straws, finger sandwiches, and an assortment of hot teas and chilled beverages.

Overall the baby shower was a huge success. I also made a gender reveal cake, and guests were able to guess the gender of the baby. Though it was a tea party on a grand scale, I thoroughly enjoyed the variety of baking, and at the end of the day was able to kick up my feet with a cup of tea.

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Mini Cheesecakes

I love making cheesecakes. They're usually a crowd pleaser and are relatively quick to make. For years I've been using my go-to recipe that has a few simple ingredients. Though there are debates about NY style cheesecakes with a thick sour cream topping, cream cheese cheesecakes, and no-bake cheesecakes, I tend to stick to my simple recipe, and experiment with adding cocoa powder, fruit, caramel, etc.

I generally bake cheesecakes for birthday parties, or large family dinner functions. However, I often do get requests from work colleagues for cheesecake, and thus have resorted to making bite-sized ones. True, they are a bit more work, but at least I don't have to individually serve out each slice.

Over the years, one thing I've learned with cheesecake, is that if you want to avoid have a crater, massive fissure, or otherwise large crack in the middle of your cheesecake, you need to pay careful attention to temperature. Cheesecakes rely on eggs to set and if you cook your cheesecake in a hot oven, and then throw it in the fridge, the eggs will puff, overcook, then get grainy and constrict when cooled, which causes the cracking.

A lot of recipes suggest placing the pan in a water bath to help regulate the temperature around the cheesecake. But seriously, who really wants to pull a pan of hot sloshing water out of the oven? I don't. Slow is the way to go. I cook my cheesecakes at a very low temperature for a long time, then let them cool slowly before putting them in the fridge. No cracks. And if you happen to have a crack in your cake? It's still just as tasty and you can cover it up with whipped cream or fruit!

Cheesecake crust:
1 1/2c graham cracker crumbs
1/3c sugar
1/3c melted butter

Cheesecake filing:
3 (8oz) packages of cream cheese
1 (14oz) can of condensed milk
3 eggs
1tbsp vanilla extract

Preheat the oven to 250 degrees Fahrenheit. Mix the graham crack crumbs, sugar, and butter. Press mixture into the bottom and up the sides of a 9 inch springform pan. Alternately, you can line a muffin pan or mini muffin pan and press the mixture into the bottom of each liner.

Beat the cream cheese until smooth. Add the sweetened condensed milk and beat until smooth. Add the eggs one at a time. Add the vanilla. Pour mixture into prepared crust and bake at 250 degrees Fahrenheit for 1 hour and 15 minutes. Turn of the oven and leave the cheesecake in the oven to cool for an hour. Remove the cheesecake from the oven and cool completely before refrigerating. Note that cooking times will be significantly less for muffin or mini muffin sized cheesecakes.