Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Un Cheesecake fait toujours du Bien

C'est l'été, ou du moins ça l'était chez moi aux Etats-Unis avant que je ne rentre en France. Lors d'un été normal, donc, il fait chaud--et qui dit chaud dit envie de fraîcheur. Rien de tel qu'une salade de concombres croquants, ou de nectarines bien juteuses qu'on mange toute la journée.

Et puis, il y a le cheesecake. Eh non, ce n'est pas un plat particulièrement léger, mais c'est tellement bon qu'à vrai dire on s'en fiche complètement. Le plus drôle, c'est qu'il semblerait que la fascination pour ce fameux cheesecake soit quasiment plus grande en France qu'aux Etats-Unis. Le cheesecake est partout, et il a ses groupies, qui ne rateraient ses apparitions dans divers restaurants et cafés pour rien.

Si on se penche sur le cheesecake version américaine, on voit que la discussion devient tout de suite beaucoup plus technique. Des articles, non, des livres entiers sont consacrés à l'art du cheesecake parfait. Mais c'est quoi, d'abord, un cheesecake parfait?

Pour la majorité des individus, un bon cheesecake est soyeux sans être trop lourd en bouche. Pas de grumeaux, une crust croquante mais pas trop non plus, et bien evidemment pas de gélatine. Ah, ça, non: le cheesecake sans cuisson, ce n'est pas un cheesecake. Ensuite se pose la question du mode de cuisson--certains privilégient le bain marie et la cuisson lente, pour que le cheesecake ne se "casse" pas. Effectivement, on obtient souvent de petites cassures sur le dessus du cheesecake lorsque le mélange au cream cheese cuit. Mais après tout, si on le sert à l'assiette et on ne compte pas vendre son cheesecake entier, une cassure ne fait de mal à personne.

Du coup, dans la famille on préfère l'option de cuisson simple, sans bain marie. Tout de suite, c'est beaucoup plus facile: on mélange, on fait cuire, on laisse reposer et on met au frais. Quelques heures plus tard, la magie a operé, et voilà: un cheesecake au gout parfait, prêt à être dégusté. J'irais même jusqu'à dire que je dois mon teint rosé et frais à cette recette familiale qui fait mon bonheur depuis mon plus jeune âge. Enfin bon, on me répondra que ce sont plutôt les carottes...mais je n'en crois rien.

Essayez-le, vous verrez bien: même par un été à 20 degrés, le cheesecake rend beau et heureux. Servez-le tout seul, ou alors accompagné d'un coulis rapide de fraises (des fraises équetées et coupées, cuites avec du jus de citron et un peu de sucre, puis mixées quelques secondes).

Un dernier petit conseil: ça peut sembler un peu fatigant d'aller chercher du vrai Philadelphia Cream Cheese, et tentant de remplacer par autre chose--mauvaise idée! La quantité d'eau dans les St Moret, fromages blanc et autres Kiri ne correspond pas au cream cheese et vous pourrez dire au revoir à la consistance crémeuse de ce "vrai de vrai" cheesecake.

pour 6 à 8 personnes 

160g graham crackers finement écrasés ou mixés (utiliser des sablés ou speculoos si besoin)
150g beurre ramolli
240g sucre en poudre
680g Philadelphia cream cheese, ramolli
2 cuillères à cafe extrait de vanille liquide
3 oeufs
120g crème fraîche

Mélanger les gâteaux, le beurre, et 50g de sucre dans un bol. Repartir le mélange dans un moule à charnière de 20cm de diamètre préalablement beurré. Bien faire remonter le mélange sur les côtés du moule et presser pour le garder en place.

Battre le cream cheese pour l'aérer. Ajouter le sucre restant et la vanille. Ajouter les oeufs un à un puis la crème fraîche.

Verser la préparation dans le moule et cuire une heure dans un four préchauffé à 180 degrés. Eteindre le four, entrouvrir la porte et y laisser le cheesecake pendant une heure. Réfrigérer au moins 4 heures avant de démouler et de servir.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Classic No-Fuss Cheesecake

I'm not afraid to admit that I have one too many recipe clippings.

See, I bought this great little set of drawers from Ikea a year ago: red metal, European letter-sized drawers. They were itnitally meant to house electronic cords, scrap paper, and obviously classwork and readings. Once I filled it up, I was so happy about having two drawers left empty. For once, I managed not to clutter something up!

One week later: "Hey, this is a great place to store recipe clippings!"

And yet another week more empty drawers. But that's what drawers are for, so I don't mind all that much. The only problem is, I don't manage to get around to a tenth of the recipes I store in there. I imagine I am definitely not alone in this situation, but I do have a strange habit. I collect cheesecake recipes, imagining that I will try every single one. The tweaks about water baths and that special way of pouring the filling into the pan? My drawer covers that. New York style, classic style, old-fashioned, you name it. I am the cheesecake queen... without a cheesecake. All those recipes are great, but I haven't tried a single one of them.

Hand me the family cheesecake recipe, however, and I'll go right ahead. No water baths here, or cheesecakes so high you feel like Alice in Wonderland. This is the simple, back-of-the-box version--and it's great. Sure, it might crack here or there, but as long as you're not selling it whole, does anyone really mind? The creaminess is there and so is the cheesecake taste we all like to remember (unless you dislike that particular taste, which unfortunately does exist). It may seem a little heavy for Summer temperatures, or at least that's what I thought, but it isn't. Add a little fresh strawberry or raspberry coulis, and you've got yourself the perfect dessert to go with a fresh seasonal salad.

Although, maybe after all that cheesecake, you won't be tempted to do any drawer cleaning--those unused recipes will have to wait.

PS: Expect to see a French post on the same topic in a week or so!

Classic Cheesecake
serves approximately 8 to 10

1 3/4 c. graham cracker crumbs
1/3 c. butter, softened
1 1/4 c. granulated sugar
3 8 oz packages cream cheese, softened
2 TS vanilla extract
3 eggs
1 c. sour cream

Thoroughly blend first two ingredients and 1/4 c. sugar. Press mixture firmly against the bottom and 2.5 inches up sides of an 8-in springform pan.

Beat cream cheese until fluffy. Gradually add remaining 1 c. sugar and vanilla extract. Beat in eggs, one at a time. Blend in sour cream.

Spread in prepared pan. Bake in a preheated 350°F oven, 60 to 70 minutes or until firm. Turn off oven. Leaving door slightly ajar, allow cheesecake to remain in oven 1 hour. Cool in pan.

Chill 4 hours or overnight.

Thursday, June 17, 2010


I made a cake yesterday, only to learn that I had actually eaten it many times before. Am I amnesic?

Let me rewind a little so you can get the full story, before thinking that I may have a memory problem. Yesterday night, we were having dinner with family friends and a chocolate mousse was the planned dessert we were set to bring. When I woke up, I was welcomed by not-yet-set mousse to accompany my donut holes--I can only indulge in those once every few years, so why not go all out?

My maman suggested we bring a visitandine cake to go alongside the mousse, to which I replied that although I remembered hearing a lot about it, I didn't think I'd ever had some.

Cue surprised look, in addition to "Are you kidding? You've had it dozens of times."

Now, my first thought was that I usually don't remember unmemorable desserts. The visitandine, though, has what it takes to be completely memorable: whipped egg whites for a fluffy texture, and ground almonds paired with lemon zest for a delectable taste. Memory loss, then? I think my childhood mind was so obsessed with the colors on cakes (my pink birthday cake, for one) that the simple-looking desserts didn't strike me as much, as amazing as they may have tasted. 

With that in mind, I set out to bake the visitandine, anxious to re-taste this family staple. For those who know of financiers, the visitandine is often considered its ancestor and was created by the nuns of the Visitandine order. The visitandine, however, is often baked in a classic cake pan by many home bakers.

After a great dinner, I sunk my teeth into a wedge of cake. I still can't understand why I don't remember ever having it--it's delicious. 

It packs a lot of flavor on its own, but is also a great accompaniment to fruit for the summer. Plus, it's absolutely easy to make, leaving extra time on your hands. You know, time to think about why you forget things all the time. Hmm. I forgot.

serves 6 to 8

zest of 1 lemon
5 egg whites
1 stick (1/2 c.) butter, melted
1 c. flour
1 c. almond flour
1 1/4 c. granulated sugar

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F, setting a rack in the middle of the oven.

In a large bowl, rub sugar and lemon zest together until fragrant. Sift flour and almond flour into the bowl, and mix to combine.

Add melted butter and combine. In a separate bowl, beat egg whites to stiff peaks. Add 1/4 of the egg whites to the almond mixture and stir to combine. Delicately incorporate the remaining egg whites.

Fold batter into a greased 9-inch cake pan lined with parchment paper. Bake 30 minutes. Cool before serving.

P.S.! Bilingual Butter is on Facebook--join me on the blog's page so we can have even more fun!

Monday, June 14, 2010

Dark Chocolate Macarons

Back in April, when I imagined what I would snack on back in the United States for a month and a half, various things came to mind. Cupcakes, Reese's peanut butter cups, and chocolate M&Ms were only part of my vision of jumping into a pool of All-American things I had missed out on for a year. 

Now that I'm here, what have I been baking? French macarons. And not a single cupcake, M&M or peanut butter cup is to be found in my stomach (that's not because I've digested them all--I promise I haven't had a single one). The main reason being that macarons are fun to make and especially fun to share, whereas I doubt my family would really be amazed if I brought out a bag of chocolate M&Ms to give them a taste. I can just imagine they would think it was a joke, and when they realized it wasn't, they would just look at me with a strange look that would speak for itself: "You've always been the weird child in the family. We would say mysterious, but that would be sugar-coating it too much."

With macarons, I get looks of delight and happiness, requests to make more and billion-dollar offers. Just kidding about the money, although I wouldn't mind. Then again, I'm the weird child, and you don't entrust a strange person with that much money.

It might come as a surprise that I had never made chocolate macarons before, but I hadn't. I wouldn't say I overlooked them in the slightest, but I was always more attracted to butter, or salted caramel. Better late than never, though, right? These are perfectly silky and chocolate-rich, provided you take them out of the fridge at least 30 minutes before eating (otherwise the ganache is too hard). Oh, and provided you don't burn half of the chocolate for the tops like I did--I don't think it affected the taste much, but the tops should be a darker brown than they are on the picture.

As I said, macarons are fun to make, but even more fun if you're not alone. For the occasion, I teamed up with little sister of a friend of mine / amazing chocolate cookie-maker Eleni who had never made macarons before. Trust me: you couldn't tell--her macarons turned out beautiful and delicious. 

Hi Eleni!

So if you're looking to elicit squeals of delight from people you want to get something from (money, appreciation, a college recommendation) or even just those you want to please for the fun of it--the best part of baking--add these to the list. 

You can be sure they'll pick them over the M&Ms; if they don't, just steal the money you wanted and eat the macarons yourself.

Dark Chocolate Macarons
makes approx. 72

for macaron tops:
120g 100% chocolate
300g almond powder
300g confectioner's sugar
110g "liquified" egg whites (placed in a bowl and put in the fridge for at least 72 hours before use)
4.5g dark yellow food coloring
300g granulated sugar
75g mineral water
110g "liquified" egg whites

for dark chocolate ganache: 
400g heavy cream
360g dark baking chocolate (I used Ghirardelli 72%)
40g 100% chocolate
140g unsalted butter, room temperature and cut into pieces

-Sift confectioner's sugar and almond powder together. Add food coloring to the first bowl of "liquified" egg whites and mix. Pour onto the sugar-almond mixture, without mixing them together.

- Bring water and sugar to a boil, 118°C. When the syrup reaches 115°C, start beating second batch of egg whites with a stand mixer. Pour syrup onto the whites (which should be at soft peak stage by now), continue beating and wait until mixture is down to 50°C before incorporating it into the sugar/almond mixture. Fold everything in delicately.

- Pipe mixture onto a parchment paper-covered baking sheet, making round shapes approx. 3,5cm in diameter. Space them approximately 2cm apart from one another. 

- Tap baking sheet on kitchen counter, and let macaron tops crust for at least 30 minutes. Preheat oven to 180°C / 350°F. Bake tops for 12 minutes, opening oven door twice. After removing them from the oven, place parchment paper on counter or table.

- Make ganahce. Bring cream to a boil. Pour it, in three separate pours, into a heat-resistant bowl filled with baking chocolate and mix delicately. Once the mixture has reached a temperature of 50C (or when it feels warm to the touch), add butter. Beat until ganache is silky.

- Place in a deep dish. Cover with plastic wrap, making sure that it touches the ganache. Place in refrigerator until cold. 

- Pipe resulting cream onto half of the macaron tops, covering them with the remaining tops.

- Place macarons in the fridge for 24 hours, bringing them back to room temperature for at least 30 minutes before eating.

Sunday, June 6, 2010

Apples Sous Vide

Kitchen appliances keep amazing me. I can spend hours in a department store, deciding that I really need that 6 quart professional stand mixer. Or, hey, that gelato machine right over there! And who doesn't need a new five foot long barbecue?

What's that about the size of my apartment? Small. Yes, I know. But I'm actually starting to think that if I bought a huge barbecue, I could live in that instead and even have some extra space for the gelato maker, stand mixer, and even the see-through toaster. Plus, I wouldn't have to worry about being cold in the Winter.

Barbecue abode fantasies aside, there's one kitchen appliance I had never had the chance to see until I got up close and personal with it back home: the Sous-Vide Supreme. The name itself sounds quite regal, and I must admit seasons of watching Top Chef made me wonder what cooking sealed foods in a water bath would actually be like. Good for me, my Maman has a newfound love for this cooking technique and invested in one of these beauties. Hey, some people refer to cars as beauties, so I can do that for an appliance, can't I? "sous vide" actually means sealed, as in "all air removed", in French, and that is exactly the way you have to package your food before dunking it in the water bath.

Whoo-wee! Look at that lean mean sousviding machine!

So far, the SVS (it deserves an acronym) had seen flank steak, salmon, and other meats in its waters. True to my sweet tooth, I decided to try cooking apples sous vide. And if you haven't already been eyeing the SVS, I'll add it comes with a nice recipe booklet. The spiced apple recipe I went with came from this booklet and couldn't have been better.

Ready for bath time

Cooking the apples for two hours at 181F (or 83C) yields impressive results. I had cored the apples and placed a nice mix of spices and butter inside--but left the apples whole--and sealed them in a bag before cooking. Once they were out of the water bath, they were like butter. The apple melted in my mouth with a minimal amount of butter, something I had never experienced before. 

Bad lighting, good apple.

In general, I tend to prefer eating raw fruits because I love them so much au naturel, but this certainly changed my mind. I could have eaten ten of these, but that wouldn't be so good. I need to stay slim to fit into that barbecue.

Spiced Whole Apples
serves 4

Fill and preheat machine to 183F/83C.

4 small tart apples, peeled and cored
3 TB (or 45g) unsalted butter, softened
1 lemon, juice and zest
1/2 TS salt
1/2 TS ground cinnamon
1/4 TS ground nutmeg
1 TS brown sugar
1 TB raisins

Zest the lemon and reserve zest. Juice the lemon over the apples.

In a small bowl, mix together the butter, zest, salt, cinnamon, nutmeg, and brown sugar. Stir in the raisins. Divide the butter mixture among the apples, packing it well into the center core area.

Place apples, two per pouch, into pouches. Evacuate as much air as possible from the pouches and seal.

Place pouches into the slots of the pouch rack and invert the rack in the water bath to hold them in place, beneath the water surface, during cooking.

Serve apples straight from the pouch, topped with a dollop of sweetened whipped cream or vanilla ice cream.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Lemon Sticky Buns : High Hopes

I really wanted to love these. Really, I did. I had bookmarked the recipe for months, sending it around to everyone and planning to make them three times before I actually decided to go ahead and bake them already.

There are two things I really enjoy: lemon desserts and sticky buns. When I first read about a recipe mixing both, my eyes stayed glued to the pictures of oozing lemony filling and a soft, pillowy dough. I went on other blogs to see if anyone else had tried them out, and only read rave reviews. I got excited, like when you smell Cinnabon at the airport. Then again, when I do, I get excited for a second before remembering how awful they are for you. A few days ago, my sister and I settled for the Chips Ahoy McFlurry instead--not much better for you, I guess. But it sure tasted very nice!

Back to these lemon sticky buns. I had some sort of perfect idea of what the filling would taste like: tangy yet creamy, nice and zesty. In one word, perfect. Imagine a great lemon marmalade and that would be it. Oh, I had high hopes for these sticky buns. I imagined them becoming a staple in my brunch repertoire, even though I obviously don't have one. Lemon sticky buns were even set to appear on a French website, so I could share it in all its lemony glory with the world.

My tumble into disappointment started with the dough. Maman tasted it pre-lemon filling, and mentioned it had a strong taste of flour. Not these sticky buns, I thought. These are perfection in a baked good.

The next morning, I baked. They sure looked good. I was so excited I paced around the kitchen (over here, I can actually pace and not step from one for to the other for lack of space). They came out of the oven at the recommended temperature. They were ready to be served.

It turned out my lemon sticky buns weren't good. The dough was tough, tasted of flour, and the lemon filling had seemingly been absorbed by the dough--it was nowhere to be found. I was disappointed, and I'm sure even the squirrels and rabbits who feasted on them in the backyard didn't enjoy them as much as they do the stale bread they usually get.

A dry sticky bun is a sad sticky bun.

Any ideas on how this may have gone wrong? I compared the dough with my go-to sticky bun recipe, and this lemon one has a whopping extra cup of flour. I'll take that as a possible suspect, and think about adding less lemon juice next time so my filling isn't as runny. Will there be a next time? There better be. I want lemon sticky buns to be what I hoped they would be: amazing.

Anatomy of a sad sticky bun.

Lemon Sticky Buns
adapted from The Kitchn

makes 12 large rolls

Lemon Roll Dough
1 envelope (0.25 ounces, or 2 1/2 teaspoons) yeast

3/4 cup milk, warmed
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, very soft
1/4 cup granulated sugar
2 TS vanilla extract
4 1/2 cups flour
1/2 TS salt
1/2 TS nutmeg
2 lemons, zested
2 eggs

Sticky Lemon Filling
1 cup sugar
1/4 TS freshly-ground nutmeg
1/2 TS powdered ginger
2 lemons, zested and juiced (use less if the lemons are very juicy)

1 TB unsalted butter, very soft

Lemon Cream Cheese Glaze
4 ounces cream cheese, softened
Juice of 1 lemon
1 cup powdered sugar
In the bowl of a stand mixer sprinkle the yeast over the warmed milk and let it sit for a couple minutes. With the mixer paddle, stir in the softened butter, sugar, vanilla, and one cup of the flour. Stir in the salt, nutmeg, and lemon zest. Stir in the eggs and enough of the remaining flour to make a soft yet sticky dough.

Switch to the dough hook and knead for about 5 minutes, or until the dough is elastic and pliable. Spray the top of the dough with vegetable oil, and turn the dough over so it is coated in oil. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and a towel and let the dough rise until nearly doubled - about an hour.

In a small bowl, mix the sugar with the nutmeg and ginger, then work in the lemon zest with the tips of your fingers until the sugar resembles wet, soft sand. Stir in the juice of 1 lemon. (Reserve the juice of the second lemon for the glaze.)

Lightly grease a 13x9 inch baking dish with baking spray or butter. On a floured surface pat the dough out into a large yet still thick rectangle — about 10x15 inches. Spread evenly with the softened butter, then pour and spread the lemon-sugar mixture over top. Roll the dough up tightly, starting from the top long end. Cut the long dough roll into 12 even rolls, and place them, cut side up, in the prepared baking dish.

Cover the rolls with a towel and let them rise for an hour or until puffy and nearly doubled. (You can also refrigerate the rolls at this point. Cover the pan tightly with plastic wrap, and place it in the refrigerator for up to 24 hours. When you are ready to bake the rolls, remove the pan from the fridge, and let them rise for an hour.)

Heat the oven to 350°F. Place the risen rolls in the oven and bake for 35 minutes or until a thermometer inserted into a center roll reads 190°F. 
While the rolls are baking, prepare the glaze. Whip the cream cheese until light and fluffy. Add the lemon juice and blend until well combined. Add the powdered sugar and blend until smooth and creamy.
When the rolls are done, smear them with the cream cheese glaze. Serve while warm.