Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Mini Strawberry Cheesecakes

The first time I tried cheesecake (New York-style, I believe), I enjoyed it but wasn't blown away. The more I tried, though, the more I fell in love with this creamy dessert. Making them, however, is a different story. I rarely have enough people in the house to finish a whole cheesecake, and most recipes I've encountered call for a copious amount of cream cheese. Not that I have anything against cream cheese, but I have a slight aversion towards using too much dairy products in one recipe (OK, it's because they're fattening!). Another reason I don't make cheesecakes more often is the need for a bain marie, and the fact that my first ever cheesecake cracked despite following all the instructions closely has discouraged me from trying again.

All excuses aside, I recently found a recipe for delicious mini cheesecakes that is both easy and uses a reasonable amount of cream cheese. The mini size of these treats means that baking time is shorter, and this eliminates the need for a bain marie which is used to maintain an even temperature when baking regular-sized cheesecakes. The miniature size also means you don't have to feel guilty for having one! Although from my experience it was a lot easier to pop a couple of these into my mouth than to slice myself the same amount of a regular cheesecake, yikes...

I'll definitely be making these again since they are so easy to whip up, and the fruit filling can be substituted with whatever is available. This doesn't mean I've given up on making regular-sized cheesecakes, though, since Julie at Willow Bird Baking makes it look so easy!

Mini Strawberry Cheesecakes
yields approx. 15-18 mini cakes
adapted from Cook's Country Magazine (original recipe here)

1 cup graham cracker crumbs
5-6 tablespoons butter, melted

1 pkg / 8 oz cream cheese, softened
1/2 cup sweetened condensed milk
1/2 cup strawberry jam, at room temperature
2 large eggs, at room temperature

1. Preheat oven to 300 degrees Fahrenheit. Line 2 muffin tins with paper liners.

2. For the crust: mix the melted butter with the graham cracker crumbs until well blended. Place a tablespoon of the crust mixture on each paper liner.

3. Place a small dollop of jam on top of each crust.

4. For the filling: beat the cream cheese until fluffy, about 2 minutes. Then add the condensed milk, and after it is mixed in, add the eggs one at a time. Beat the mixture until smooth. Divide the filling evenly between the prepared cheesecake crusts.

5. Bake for about 20 minutes, until the filling has set. Remove from the oven, and cool for 10-15 minutes.

6. Pop in the refrigerator for at least 30 minutes, and enjoy cold!

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Update and a Japanese Snack

So much has happened since the last time I updated: I graduated with my B.Sc., and I currently work full time in a research lab. This leaves little time for things like baking for pleasure, unfortunately, and to be honest I haven't been inspired to bake anything lately. I'm sure that it's only a phase I'm going through right now as I do have other food cravings that I'd like to fulfill and share on my blog sometime soon.

For now, I have a few posts planned of my most recent (i.e. from a month or two ago) creations. While I work on those, I'd like to share a delicious snack I made not too long ago - 大学芋 (daigaku imo), or Japanese "university sweet potatoes." I love root vegetables, especially sweeter ones like yams and sweet potatoes. This snack is basically sweet potatoes that are fried and glazed with a sugar coating. The recipe I used is from Cooking with Dog, one of my favourite cooking channels on YouTube. Here's their video for your viewing pleasure:


I believe this snack is originally deep fried and coated with the glaze, but I tend to avoid deep frying at home so Cooking with Dog's recipe is perfect for me because it only involves pan-frying and steaming the potatoes. For those who aren't afraid of deep frying, these recipes by Just Hungry and I Nom Things look very promising; I'd love to try them out if I ever get a deep fryer.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Something Easy and Chocolate

What do you do when you suddenly crave for something sweet? For me, that happens more often than I'd like, and when I'm too lazy to make something fancy, I turn to this easy chocolate pudding. I'd like to think of it as the "little black dress" of desserts -- you can make this in a pinch when you're pressed for time or stuck for ideas, and you can also jazz it up with whatever flavours you desire, i.e. accessorize it.

I've made this enough times to finally have my favourite version of the recipe, which I'm sharing today. In the future I'll probably tweak it some more just because I like experimenting, and I'll share any successful renditions of this recipe then. :)

Easy Chocolate Pudding
adapted from All Recipes and Hungry Girl Por Vida

1/2 cup sugar
3 tbsp Dutch-processed cocoa powder
3 tbsp malt powder
1/4 cup cornstarch
2 1/2 cups milk
2 tbsp salted butter
1 tsp vanilla extract

1. In a saucepan, sift the sugar, cocoa powder, malt powder, and cornstarch to remove any lumps. Whisk the mixture well, making sure everything is combined.

2. Place the pan over medium heat, and slowly add the milk while constantly whisking to combine everything.

3. Bring the mixture to a boil while stirring constantly. When the mixture is thick (enough to coat the back of a metal spoon), remove the pan from the heat.

4. Stir in the butter and vanilla extract.

5. Pour into preferred serving dishes, and let cool to room temperature. If you don't like pudding skin, press a piece of plastic wrap on top of the pudding (make sure the plastic touches the surface). Chill the pudding in the fridge until serving time.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Something Fit for Spring

Sometimes I wish, just once, I could stumble upon a recipe for something wonderful(ly impressive) and make it right then and there, without the disappointment of finding out that I'm missing a couple of ingredients and bookmarking said recipe for another day. I also wish I have the appropriate crowd to whom I could feed my creations. Sadly, most of the time I have neither a pantry full of atypical ingredients nor a band of people waiting for baked goods!

All the wishing aside, here is a cake I baked not so recently. This is another butter pound cake similar to the marble cake I made previously, but not as rich and heavy due to the tang from the lemon. I think this combination of lemon and green tea, typically only found in drinks, works very well together in a cake. Coincidentally, the colours of the cake are very fitting for a spring! Maybe for a tea party? I also used some whole wheat flour on a whim, and I think it worked pretty well. I used just enough to give the cake a wholesome taste instead of using it to be healthy. And for those looking for an excuse to have cake for breakfast, here it is: this cake has whole wheat (healthy), lemon (healthy), and green tea (again, healthy!). ;)

Lemon Matcha Pound Cake
adapted from Joy the Baker
yields 1 10-inch bundt cake

2 cups all-purpose flour
2/3 cup whole wheat flour
2 1/2 tsp baking powder

1/4 tsp salt
scant 2 1/3 cups sugar
1 tsp vanilla extract
6 large eggs, at room temperature
2/3 cup plain yogurt
scant 1 cup butter, melted
zest of 1 lemon
juice of 1/2 lemon
1 tbsp matcha powder

1. Place the oven rack in the centre. Preheat the oven to 350ºF.

2. Grease the pan and then cover completely with flour. Remove the excess.

3. Sift the flours, salt, and baking powder.

4. Whisk the eggs and sugar well. Add the vanilla extract and continue mixing. Then add the yogurt, and mix everything well.

5. Add the dry ingredients from step 3 to the egg mixture.

6. Fold in melted butter in 3 additions.

7. Divide the batter into two portions. Add the lemon zest and lemon juice to one portion, and add matcha powder to the other portion.

8. Pour some lemon batter in the pan, then pour some matcha batter. Keep alternating until everything is used up. Gently mix the two batters with a knife to create a marbled pattern. Don't go overboard with the swirling!

9. Bake the cake for 60-65 minutes.

10. When done, cool the cake for about 20 minutes, then invert the cake and allow to cool on a metal rack.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Simple is Best

For some reason towards the end of the school year, I always go into a baking frenzy. It may be because I suddenly have more free time on my hands, but I think a lot of it is because I'm bored of the school stuff and need a distraction. This year is not unlike previous years, and these past few weeks I've been baking more than I did in the past few months.

Normally at this time of the year I'd be pretty stressed out from end-of-term projects and the looming final exams, so I tend to go for recipes that are quick and easy to whip up. Bonus points if they yield a huge batch so I have more for snacking! With this  in mind, recently I tried these recipes that turned out to be very simple to make and yet so satisfying, making them perfect for easy snacks.

The first one is Japanese steamed egg buns, or mushi pan. I find that these are more cake-like instead of being a true bread. They are sweetened with condensed milk, and the result is a moist, lightly sweet treat that is great for snacking. Steam-baking is something I had never tried prior to making this recipe, but it's just as easy as popping something in the oven as long as you use a large steamer and not an itty-bitty one like I did (I had to steam the buns two at a time!).

The second recipe I tried is for a simple yogurt cake. This is a very versatile recipe as you can jazz it up with whatever flavouring(s) you desire, or you can leave it plain if you prefer to keep things simple. I had some ripe strawberries, so after I poured half of the batter into the pan, I arranged strawberry slices on top, and poured the remaining batter to hide the strawberries. The hidden fruits provided some colour to an otherwise plain cake. The cake itself is great: moist, light, and not too sweet. It's a good anytime-of-the-day cake that I will be making again (with different variations) in the future.