Saturday, 24 November 2012

A trio to WIN

What are the 3 items you can’t live without? Take a moment to think of it; your boat crashes and you are stranded on an island alone like Tom Hanks in “Cast Away”. But instead of Coconut, Fish and Wilson; the volleyball companion you get to choose 3 items of food or drink, what would yours be? Away from the rationale behind body’s needed nutrition to survive, or what medication would save your life; think only of what your heart desires…

If I ask my mum, she’d say coffee, yoghurt and jam! My son on the other hand would definitely choose chocolate corn flakes with milk and raisins, all three choices combined in one.

Chocolate, cheese and coffee… those are mine! I can honestly live on those 3 and be perfectly happy. They are my comfort zone; my escape from stressful situations and definitely to kick start my days ... coffee in the morning & afternoon; cheese on almost any type of food & the self restrain needed not to eat chocolate daily.

So naturally my mind wanders off to any recipe that contains those ingredients. Yes I cook & bake outside of my “box” but whenever I search for new ideas online or go to the bookstore my eyes catch those first, then intentionally I force myself to check others. And I couldn't resist the temptation of trying a coffee & chocolate infused  cheesecake, they are for sure a trio to win. The idea crossed my mind while watching one of the food shows, not sure I remember the name of it or who was presenting (all goes back to my poor memory); anyways the lady added melted dark chocolate to the filling. That clicked in mind in a split of a second; seriously faster than my reaction to avoiding maniac drivers closing in on you on the highway. Usually I bake plain cheesecake with vanilla flavor; it is a light, airy and slightly sweet recipe without the dominant cheesy taste to it.
The original recipe of this cheesecake is from my mum’s memory. She doesn't know where she got it from, and admits to having substituted ingredients for they were not available in Egypt 20 years ago. Over the years, I kept modifying it and still do, hence trying this new blend out.

The outcome is wonderful; the smell is that of chocolate flavored cappuccino while the taste is rich & intense; thus hard resisting a second portion. It has a creamier texture than the plain one and if you want a stronger tang of cheese, simply swap the ricotta quantity with that of cream cheese and vice versa.  I admit it is heavy; my mind always calculates how many calories there are & often feel guilty for the workout needed to burn them off at the gym… but trust me every bite is worth it.  

Coffee-Chocolate Cheesecake

125 g unsalted butter, cold cut into small cubes
125 g sugar, white or brown
235 g all purpose flour
15 g unsweetened cocoa powder
1 large egg
1 tsp baking powder
Pinch of salt

500 g ricotta cheese
250 g cream cheese
250 g fresh cream
250 g sour cream or yoghurt
200 g melted dark chocolate, room temperature (use good quality as it does make a difference in taste)
50 g sugar, white or brown
5 large eggs, separated
50 g corn flour
2 tbsp espresso/coffee powder (can use coffee extract)
Pinch of salt
Chocolate topping
100 g dark chocolate (use good quality as it does make a difference in taste)
25 g unsalted butter

Preheat oven to 180°C (350°F). Butter/spray and flour a 28 cm or 30 cm (11 or 12-inch) spring form pan. 

In a large bowl mix flour, baking powder, salt and sugar together, and then add the egg. Add the butter cubes, working quickly with your fingers until the mixture starts to crumble and begin to form dough. Make sure there are no butter lumps; cover in plastic wrap and chill for 1-2 hours. Press dough onto the bottom of the prepared pan and up to the sides, about 3 cm (1 inch) high.

Using a hand-held mixer or kitchen mixer beat the egg whites with a pinch of salt until stiff peaks form, set aside. In another bowl beat the egg yolks with sugar until light and fluffy. Add the cheese, cream/yoghurt, corn flour and coffee powder, mix until incorporated. With mixer on low speed, slowly pour the melted chocolate, scraping the sides as necessary. Finally fold in the egg whites gently as not to deflate all the air in it.

Pour the filling into the prepared crust and bake in the preheated oven for 50 to 60 min or until a toothpick inserted comes out clean. Don’t worry if surface is cracked, it will be covered with the chocolate topping. 

Take out of the oven and place on a wire rack to cool down completely before removing it from the pan. Run a knife or thin spatula around the edges before releasing the spring form.  Refrigerate until chilled.

Chocolate topping
Melt the chocolate and butter in a heatproof bowl over a bath of simmering water. Let cool before spreading on the chilled cheesecake.

The beauty of this cake is that you can make it 1 or 2 days ahead, the longer it stays in the fridge, the more the flavors blend in to form an unforgettable experience.

Monday, 19 November 2012

The Debut of a new LIFE

I quit my job! Just like that, after 12 years of carefully establishing my career in Human Resources, reaching the managerial level, I decided to stop, take a detour and start in a totally new direction. Some call me crazy and some call me bold, but I want to be doing what my heart desires.
“Find something you're passionate about and keep tremendously interested in it” – Julia Child

And I've always been passionate about two things in my life: photography and baking!
I remember my first camera, a small black Kodak with a film in it; where you have to roll the knob until it clicks to be able to take the next picture. Where you would wait patiently for 3 days until the film is developed at the store and only then do you get to see what photos you took. Sometimes they were nice, and oh the heartbreak when they were hazy or not clear on this boat trip you had and cannot go back to. Then my dad gave me his camera - my first SLR – a Yashica. It was a beauty, and it took really good pictures. Et voila ; I had a new obsession. I would take my camera anywhere, to all trips, outings, travels, school performances… It was always there, part of me. And then came the day with my first digital camera, Toshiba 2 MP with an internal memory card and a changeable cover (don’t really know why, never cared to change it). Things moved faster ever since, with new technology being invented every minute and currently I am a proud owner of a Canon 550 D with various lenses. I still use the same tripod my dad gave me till now.

My passion about baking started later than my photography obsession. I always watched my mother do all our birthday cakes, decorating them beautifully (to my young eyes and mind). Most of the early recipes I learnt were from her, she has a great memory remembering measures of different cakes; I on the other hand rely on written recipes. My first attempt at doing a business out of my baking was end of high school/beginning of college. I was doing cheesecakes and selling them to friends. It wasn't a success as the concept of “cheesecakes” was fairly new to Egyptians and not really a jump-in taste experience for them, even though it was a baked cheesecake, moderately sweet and light in texture as the recipe calls for Ricotta Cheese as a main ingredient.
So one night, not long ago, I decided to take pictures of my baking, to show off to my friends, to maybe have another attempt at selling my treats or just to have a reference of all the things I am capable of baking/cooking. I tried and failed miserably as it doesn't matter how great they tasted, the pictures never served them right. They all looked repellent and even disgusting “sigh”! That was it for me; I needed to learn how to style and photograph the fine and exquisite taste of my delightfully baked cakes, cookies, pies, etc…
Researching online for “food photography” courses I came across the talented, charming and lovely ladies of Plate to Page team. Meeta from "What's for Lunch Honey?", Ilva from "Lucullian Delights", Jamie from "Life's a feast" and Jeanne from "Cook Sister!" are rare to find these days, they invest so much time and spare no effort in teaching and making sure the knowledge is transferred, stopping at nothing and coaching non-stop. I was blessed to have met them, learn from them, and even be courageous enough to start my own blog!

Now the only problem is rising to meet their expectations! The bar is just set so high, that every picture I take and every post I attempt to write, I get butterflies in my stomach thinking if will they like it? What would their “positive critique” be? Do I make them proud?
The very first post is a “Thank you” to my mentors for opening my eyes to a new world of possibilities and challenges.

Thank you Meeta, Ilva, Jamie and Jeanne!

P.S. Learning is a never ending process, the start is always so much different than the end, so stick around as I evolve from the beginner stage to one day a more professional one.