Friday, November 28, 2008

The Ugly Side of Deliciousness

It can hardly be a coincidence that no language on earth has ever produced the expression "As pretty as an airport." Airports are ugly. Some are very ugly. Some attain a degree of ugliness that can only be the result of a special effort. This ugliness arises because airports are full of people who are tired, cross, and have just discovered that their luggage has landed in Murmansk (Murmansk airport is the only exception of this otherwise infallible rule), and architects have on the whole tried to reflect this in their designs.

—Douglas Adams (The Long Dark Tea-Time of the Soul)

Things have been busy. Very busy. Of course, I take comfort in the fact that I am the only person in the world who finds the holiday season somewhat frantic. It makes my heart all warm and fuzzy to imagine everyone else just resting by the fire, without a care in the world. Santa bringing presents and elves fixing all the decorations, to avoid any of that holiday stress that was the bane of past generations. Sadly, my elves must have been lost in the mail.

In any event, I apologize for the lack of posts lately. But lack of posts does not imply lack of cooking—by any stretch of the imagination. Thanksgiving and no cooking? Are you joking?

I wanted to share one of my personal favorites from Thanksgiving (also one of the few that I was able to photograph). Unfortunately, it photographed rather badly. I was in a hurry, and it wasn't that pretty to begin with. But hot damn, it was fantastic.

I found the recipe here a long time ago, and have been waiting for an opportunity excuse to make it. My only regret is that I waited so long. Well, that and the fact that it turned out so ugly. But the beauty is on the inside. Or more accurately, the beauty when it's inside my stomach.

Pumpkin Cheesecake (stolen from The Joy of Baking)
1½ cup (150 grams) graham cracker crumbs
¾ cups (75 grams) finely ground ginger cookies, homemade or store bought
1½ tablespoon (22.5 grams) granulated white sugar
6-7½ tablespoons (84-90 grams) unsalted butter, melted

2/3 cup (145 grams) light brown sugar
½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
¼ teaspoon ground ginger
1/8 teaspoon ground cloves
1/8 teaspoon ground nutmeg
¼ teaspoon salt
1 pound (454 grams) cream cheese, room temperature
3 large eggs
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1 cup pure pumpkin puree (canned or homemade)

1 cup sour cream
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract or vanilla bean paste
¼ cup (50 grams) granulated sugar

Preheat oven to 350˚F and place the oven rack in the center of the oven. Butter an 8-inch springform pan.

In a medium sized bowl combine the graham cracker crumbs, finely ground ginger snap cookies, sugar, and melted butter. Pour the mixture onto the bottom of the prepared springform pan. Cover with plastic wrap to prevent crust from sticking to fingers; press crust into bottom of tin. Using a flat-bottomed measuring cup (or another object with a similar shape), lightly pound graham crackers flat. The crust should begin to move up the sides of the tin as the bottom becomes thinner. Continue pounding until thickness is roughly even throughout tin, pressing sides of tin as needed to ensure that crust sticks together and does not run over sides of tin. Cover and refrigerate while you make the cheesecake filling.

In a separate bowl, stir to combine the sugar, cinnamon, ginger, cloves, nutmeg, and salt. In the bowl of your electric mixer (or with a hand mixer), on low speed, beat the cream cheese until smooth (about 2 minutes). Gradually add the sugar mixture and beat until creamy and smooth (1 to 2 minutes). Add the eggs, one at a time, beating well (about 30 seconds) after each addition. Scrape down the sides of the bowl and beat in the vanilla extract and pumpkin puree.

Pour the filling over the chilled ginger crust and place the spring form pan on a baking sheet to catch any drips. Place a cake pan, filled halfway with hot water, on the bottom shelf of your oven to moisten the air. Bake the cheesecake for 30 minutes and then reduce the oven temperature to 325˚F and continue to bake the cheesecake for another 10 - 20 minutes, or until the edges of the cheesecake are puffed but the center is still wet and jiggles when you gently shake the pan.

Meanwhile whisk together the sour cream, vanilla extract and sugar. Pour the sour cream mixture over the top of the baked cheesecake and rotate the pan slightly to evenly distribute the topping. Return the cheesecake to the oven and bake about 8 minutes to set the topping. Remove from oven and place on a wire rack to cool. Loosen the cake from the pan by running a sharp knife around the inside edge (this will help prevent the cake from cracking). Then place a piece of aluminum foil over the top of the pan so the cheesecake will cool slowly. When completely cooled, cover and refrigerate at least ten hours, preferably overnight, before serving.

Serves 10-12 people.

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