Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Caramel is evil

I was flipping through The Essence of Chocolate, and I see what appears to be a fairly simple recipe using ingredients I already have. There's only 5 ingredients, nothing seems overly complicated, what could go wrong? Nothing. On my third batch of caramel. On the bright side, sugar is cheap and plentiful. In one batch, i just dumped the sugar and water in the pot and put it on the burner. With so little water, I figured the sugar wouldn't dissolve, and I'd mix it in as it heated. I ended up with some dark caramel, with some completely undissolved sugar floating on top. Fail. On another batch, I did the unthinkable...I swirled too much, lots of sugar crystals formed on the sides, and I tried to scrape them off and mix them in. Fail. I ended up with an insane number of sugar crystals in the pot. Fortunately, the stars aligned for me on the third batch. Add water to sugar, mix thoroughly, put on burner, and ever so gently swirl occasionally. Exactly what the recipe said to do.

After finally getting the caramel made properly, I added the cocoa, and then the warm cream. Warm, not hot. Which immediately resulted in the caramel completely seizing. As the recipe states though, it did redissolve easily after heating it again.

The end result, a rich, chocolately, mousse-like dessert. Nom, nom! The caramel flavor wasn't very pronounced, but I probably could have cooked it a little longer. I probably pulled it off the burner a little earlier than necessary, in my desire to not screw it up a third time.

Cocoa Caramel Panna Cotta
by John Scharffenberger and Robert Steinberg
contributed by Michael Chiarello
from The Essence of Chocolate

Serves 8

2 1/2 teaspoons gelatin
1/4 cup cold water
1/2 cup superfine sugar
2 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder
3 cups heavy cream, warmed

1. Arrange eight 4-ounce molds in a baking dish, for easy transfer in and out of the refrigerator.

2. Combine the gelatin and 2 tablespoons of the cold water in a small bowl. Set aside to soften.

3. Combine the sugar and the remaining 2 tablespoons water in a medium saucepan, bring to a simmer over medium heat, and cook, without stirring, for 5 to 6 minutes, swirling the saucepan occasionally to cook the caramel evenly. Test the color of the caramel by drizzling a few drops onto a white plate. If sugar crystals form on the sides of the pan, brush with a wet pastry brush. When the color is medium to dark amber, remove the pan from the heat.

4. Stir the cocoa into the caramel until it has dissolved. Carefully pour in the cream. Some of the caramel may seize, but it will dissolve again as it is heated. Stir, being sure to incorporate any bits of caramel that may be clinging to the bottom of the pan, until all of the caramel has dissolved. Remove from the heat, and stir in the gelatin until dissolved. Set a fine-mesh strainer over a large liquid measuring cup or a bowl with a spout, and strain the caramel mixture.

5. Divide the mixture evenly among the molds. Refrigerate until completely chilled and set, at least 4 hours or, preferably, overnight.

6. To unmold the panna cotta, fill a bowl with very hot tap water. Dip a mold into the water, then lift from the water, dry the bottom with a towel, and invert onto a serving plate. If it does not slide out, re-dip in the water. Continue with the remaining panna cotta. Be sure to replace the hot water in the bowl as it cools.

7. Serve plain, or with custard sauce or a bowl of cherries or figs.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Laissez Les Bon Temps Roulez

The Mardi Gras festivities in New Orleans are currently in full swing, with Fat Tuesday coming up in a few days. Everyone is familiar with the brightly colored brioche style king cake, but when I was in New Orleans, I discovered a French-style king cake that I absolutely fell in love with. It is simply an almond paste filled puff pastry, but it was light and decadent without being overly sweet. I have yet to see it outside of New Orleans, so I have been forced to bake one myself. It is technically supposed to be eaten on the Epiphany, January 6th. However, we'll overlook that for now.

While the recipe is long, it's really not that complicated, though making pastry cream was an interesting experience. I had never made pastry cream before, and didn't know what to expect. As soon as it started to thicken up, I pulled it of the heat, and it continued to thicken, and I was very worried about how I was going to force this thick mixture through a sieve. After making an impressive mess in the kitchen, I forced most of it through the sieve. The remainder went directly into my tummy. :)

I halved the pastry cream recipe, and made that yesterday. Today I made the almond paste and assembled the galette. Now, if anyone has any advice on how to deconstruct puff pastry, that would be greatly appreciated. After admiring my beautiful puffy creation, the puff pastry fell apart as I tried to cut it.

Galette des Rois
Originally by Stéphane Vandermeersch and adapted in Paris Sweets by Dorie Greenspan at Serious Eats
- makes 8 servings -

14 ounces all-butter puff pastry, homemade or store bought, chilled and ready to roll
3/4 cup almond cream (recipe below)
1/4 cup pastry cream (recipe below)
1 tablespoon dark rum
1 large egg
1 trinket (see above)

1. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper and keep them close at hand. Divide the pastry in half and work with one half at a time; keep the other half in the refrigerator.
2. Working on a floured surface, roll one piece of the puff pastry into a circle that is about 1/8-inch thick. Using a pan lid or the bottom of a tart pan, cut a circle that is about 9 inches in diameter. Transfer the circle to a lined baking sheet, cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate. Roll the second piece of pastry out in the same manner, but this time cut out a circle that is about 9 1/2 inches in diameter. Place this circle on the other baking sheet, cover and refrigerate as well.
3. Whisk the almond cream, pastry cream, and rum together in a bowl, stirring just to blend the two creams, not to whip air into them. In a small bowl, beat the egg just to break it up.
4. Remove the smaller circle of pastry from the refrigerator and paint the outer 1 inch border with a light coating of beaten egg. Spoon the almond-pastry cream mixture onto the pastry and spread it smooth across the circle, stopping when you reach the egg-painted border. Put the trinket anywhere on top of the cream and press it gently into the cream. Cover the cream-coated circle with the top (larger) round of puff pastry, pressing it firmly around the border to glue the two pieces together. You have some choices here, you can press the edges together with the tines of a fork to both decorate and seal them, or you can use a small sharp paring knife to create a scallop pattern all around the border. Whatever you do, the important thing is to make certain that the edges are sealed.
5. Brush the entire top of the galette with the beaten egg, then, using the tip of a paring knife, decorate the top by drawing curved lines from the center of the galette to the edges. The lines will resemble backward C’s or quotation marks. Don’t worry about the design—even if you make straight lines radiating from the center out, your galette will be attractive. The only important thing here is not to pierce the dough. Cut a small circle of dough, a steam vent, out of the center of the galette, slide the galette into the refrigerator, and chill it for at least 30 minutes while you preheat the oven. (The galette can be covered and kept in the refrigerator for a day or wrapped airtight and frozen for up to 1 month.)
6. Center a rack in the oven and preheat the oven to 475°F. (If you are using storebought puff pastry, follow the temperature instructions on the package.)
7. Slip the galette into the oven and immediately lower the temperature to 400°F. Bake the galette for 40 minutes, until it is beautifully puffed and deeply golden brown. If, after 20 minutes, the galette is browning too quickly, cover it loosely with a foil tent. Remove the galette from the oven, place the baking sheet on a cooling rack, and allow the galette to cool for 10 minutes before serving. Many consider the galette at its best when it is served hot or warm, but it is still delicious at room temperature.

Keeping: Although the constructed galette can be chilled for a day or frozen for up to a month, once it is baked it should be served that day.

The Almond Cream
- makes about 1 1/4 cups -

6 tablespoons (3 ounces) unsalted butter, at room temperature
3/4 cup confectioners’ sugar
3/4 cup ground blanched almonds
2 teaspoons all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon cornstarch
1 large egg, at room temperature

Working in a food processor, put the butter and confectioners’ sugar in the workbowl. Process until the mixture is smooth and satiny. Add the ground almonds and continue to process until well blended. Add the flour and cornstarch, process, then add the egg. Process for about 15 seconds more, or until the almond cream is homogeneous. Scrape the almond cream into a container and either use immediately or refrigerate until firm. (Keeping: The almond cream can be packed airtight and kept in the refrigerator for up to 4 days or frozen for up to 1 month. Defrost, still wrapped, overnight in the refrigerator, then beat it with a spatula or spoon to bring back its original consistency.)

The Pastry Cream
- makes about 2 cups -

2 cups whole milk
1 plump, moist vanilla been, split and scraped
6 large egg yolks
1/2 cup sugar
1/3 cup cornstarch, sifted
3 1/2 tablespoons (1 3/4 ounces) unsalted butter, softened and cut into 3 pats


1 cup whole milk

1/2 tbsp vanilla bean paste
3 large egg yolks
1/4 cup sugar
1/6 cup cornstarch, sifted
1 3/4 tablespoons (0.875 ounces) unsalted butter, softened and cut into 3 pats

1. Bring the milk and vanilla bean (pulp and pod) to a boil in a small saucepan over medium heat. Cover the pan, turn off the heat, and allow the milk to infuse for at least 10 minutes or for up to 1 hour.
2. If the milk has cooled, it will need to be reheated now.
3. Whisk the yolks, sugar, and cornstarch together in a heavy-bottomed medium saucepan. Whisking constantly, drizzle one-quarter of the hot milk over the yolks. When the yolks are warm, whisk the remainder of the milk into the yolks in a steadier stream; remove and discard the pod (or save it to make vanilla sugar).
4. Put the pan over medium heat and, whisking vigorously, bring the mixture to the boil. Keep at the boil—still whisking energetically—for 1 to 2 minutes before pulling the pan from the heat and pressing the cream through a sieve into the small bowl. Let the cream sit for 5 minutes, then whisk in the butter. Cover the cream with a piece of plastic wrap—press the wrap against the cream—and refrigerate until thoroughly chilled. You can speed up the chill by putting the bowl in a larger bowl filled with ice cubes and cold water. (Keeping: Covered tightly with plastic wrap, pastry cream can be refrigerated for 2 days. To smooth the chilled cream, whisk it for a few seconds.)

Friday, February 20, 2009

Chocolate Epiphany

As soon as I saw this book on the shelf, I knew it was coming home with me. Fortunately, I was at the library, so it didn't set me back $35, but it also means I have to give it up in two weeks. :( This book is the stuff chocolate covered dreams are made of. With recipes like Triple Chocolate Financiers, Ganache-Meringue Kisses, Chocolate Churros, Trio of Chocolate Mousse Cake, Gateau de Crepes with Green Tea Cream, how could you not love this book? In his Dark and White Chocolate Napoleon, he uses chocolate covered phyllo dough between layers of chocolate mousse.

While many of the recipes are complicated and read like novels, there are a handful of recipes for the novice baker such as myself. And really, the pictures are so yummy I would still attempt the more complicated recipes.

I made pastry cream earlier today for a Galette des Rois for tomorrow which required just egg yolks, so I decided to make a quick and easy cookie recipe from Chocolate Epiphany to use the egg whites. The cookies have a shiny, crisp exterior, and a soft, warm, chewy center. They do spread, so I could only bake a handful of cookies at a time. And even with a silicon baking mat, they do stick.

Unfortunately, Tim left the camera at work, so no pictures for you. You'll just have to make them yourself if you want to see.

Flourless Chocolate-Walnut Cookies
Source: François Payard

2 3/4 cups walnut halves
3 cups confectioners’ sugar
1/2 cup plus 3 tablespoons unsweetened Dutch-process cocoa powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
4 large egg whites, at room temperature
1 tablespoon pure vanilla extract

Preheat oven to 350. Spread the walnut halves on a large-rimmed baking sheet and toast in the oven for about 9 minutes, until they are golden and fragrant. (1) Let cool slightly, then transfer the walnut halves to a work surface and coarsely chop them. Position two racks in the upper and lower thirds of the oven and lower temperature to 320. Line two large-rimmed baking sheets with parchment paper. (2) In a large bowl, whisk (or combine in an electric mixer on low speed) the confectioners’ sugar with the cocoa powder and salt followed by the chopped walnuts. While whisking (or once you change the speed to medium), add the egg whites and vanilla extract and beat just until the batter is moistened (do not overbeat or it will stiffen). (3) Spoon the batter onto the baking sheets in 12 evenly spaced mounds, and bake for 14 to 16 minutes, until the tops are glossy and lightly cracked; shift the pans from front to back and top to bottom halfway through to ensure even baking. Slide the parchment paper (with the cookies) onto 2 wire racks. Let cookies cool completely, and store in an airtight container for up to 3 days.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Puppy cuteness!

Who needs words when you have 5 week old puppy cuteness? This is my brother-in-law's newest foster pup.

Chocolate Lava Cakes

Ooey, gooey, chocolately heaven on a plate, I tell you. When we went on a Carnival cruise last year, their chocolate melting cake was one of the most popular desserts on the ship. So of course, I had to come home and look up the recipe. Most recipes for chocolate lava cakes basically just say to underbake cake batter. But I have issues with undercooked flour and raw eggs, so I went in search of a recipe with a ganache center, and found this beautiful creation. I was actually planning on making this on Christmas Eve, but got sidetracked, so my little ganache centers languished in the freezer for two months, until people on one of my message boards started making lava cakes for V-day, reminding me that I really should revive the little frozen truffles.

Things I learned while making these cakes.
1. Whipping egg whites by hand...not fun.
2. The recipe makes enough batter to fill four 7 ounce ramekins.
3. If you make round ganache centers, you will have to pile the batter on top of the ganache in a mound in the middle to cover the ganache completely. I'm thinking a disc shape might work better instead of round golf balls.
4. Four 7 ounce ramekins need to bake for about 20-22 minutes.
5. If you butter the ramekins and coat them with cocoa powder before adding the batter, the cocoa powder darkens and looks burnt, but still tastes mighty fine.
6. Make sure you have milk with this dessert. It's yummy and rich, and everyone wanted a glass of milk with it.
7. A dusting of powdered sugar or whipped cream would have made for a much prettier presentation, but I was at someone else's house, and it smelled so good I didn't care what it looked like, I just wanted to eat the chocolately goodness.

Chocolate Lava Cake
Source: teamsugar

Cake batter:
200 g dark semi-sweet chocolate
8 tbsp butter
1 tsp vanilla extract
3 eggs
1/3 cup flour
1/8 tsp salt
1/8 tsp cream of tartar
1/4 cup sugar

Chocolate Lava filling:
50 g dark semi-sweet chocolate
1/3 cup heavy cream
1 tsp butter

Chocolate Lava filling:
1. Chop dark semi-sweet chocolate into pieces. Place into a metal bowl. Heat heavy cream, pour over chocolate and whisk until smooth. Add butter and whisk until incorporated.
2. Place mixture into the refrigerator to cool. Every few minutes whisk the mixture until a frosting like consistency is reached. If the mixture becomes firm slightly rewarm.
3. Fill a pastry bag with the ganache. Pipe-out 6 golf ball sized balls. Place these babys into the freezer until ready to use.

1. Chop the dark semi-sweet chocolate into pieces. Place into a metal bowl, add butter. Melt over a simmering waterbath. Remove from heat.
2. Add vanilla extract and (3) egg yolks. Whisk together until chocolate mixture is smooth.
3. Add well sifted cake flour, and gently incorporated into the above chocolate mixture.
4. Place the (3) egg whites into a clean metal bowl, add salt and cream of tartar. Using a whisk, whip egg whites until soft peaks form. Continue to whisk while slowly sprinkling in the sugar.
5. Using a rubber spatula, carefully fold 1/3rd of the egg whites into the chocolate mixture. Then fold-in another 1/3rd of the egg whites. Then fold-in the last 1/3rd of the egg whites.
6. Deposit the batter into 6 large "non-stick" muffin tins - fill 3/4 full. Ramekins can also be used simply butter insides and dust with cocoa powder.
7. Push a Chocolate Lava Center into the center of each cake batter. This creates the molten lava center!

8. Bake at 375F degrees for 15 minutes. Do not over bake!
9. Remove from oven, wait 5 minutes, then unmold onto a wire rack to cool.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Tres Leche

It's always fun making something you've never had before. I had NO idea what to expect when I baked this. But we're having a Mexican themed dinner soon, and I thought this would be fun to try, so I wanted a trial run first. It's a very dense cake, but surprisingly, not overly rich. But sweet and tasty. I've seen some recipes that call for whipping the egg whites separately, but Alton Brown is my hero, so I thought I'd try his recipe first. I suspect whipping the egg whites would result in a taller, and slightly lighter cake. Reviews did say the cake was extremely sweet, so I reduced the sugar from 8 ounces to 6 ounces in both the cake and the whipped cream topping. The cake absorbs the tres leche mixture pretty quickly, bubbling and gurgling through the many holes poked through the cake. Then I just put it in the fridge for 3 days. Recipe says overnight, but most sources said the flavor was better with longer soakings.

Tres Leche
Source: Slightly modified from Good Eats on Food Network

For the cake:

* Vegetable oil
* 6 3/4 ounces cake flour, plus extra for pan
* 1 teaspoon baking powder
* 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
* 4 ounces unsalted butter, room temperature
* 6 ounces sugar
* 5 whole eggs
* 1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract

For the glaze:

* 1 (12-ounce) can evaporated milk
* 1 (14-ounce) can sweetened condensed milk
* 1 cup half-and-half

For the topping:

* 2 cups heavy cream
* 6 ounces sugar
* 1 teaspoon vanilla extract

For the cake:

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Lightly oil and flour a 13 by 9-inch metal pan and set aside.

Whisk together the cake flour, baking powder and salt in a medium mixing bowl and set aside.

Place the butter into the bowl of a stand mixer. Using the paddle attachment, beat on medium speed until fluffy, approximately 1 minute. Decrease the speed to low and with the mixer still running, gradually add the sugar over 1 minute. Stop to scrape down the sides of the bowl, if necessary. Add the eggs, 1 at a time, and mix to thoroughly combine. Add the vanilla extract and mix to combine. Add the flour mixture to the batter in 3 batches and mix just until combined. Transfer the batter to the prepared pan and spread evenly. This will appear to be a very small amount of batter. Bake on the middle rack of the oven for 20 to 25 minutes or until the cake is lightly golden and reaches an internal temperature of 200 degrees F.

Remove the cake pan to a cooling rack and allow to cool for 30 minutes. Poke the top of the cake all over with a skewer or fork. Allow the cake to cool completely and then prepare the glaze.

For the glaze:

Whisk together the evaporated milk, sweetened condensed milk and the half-and-half in a 1-quart measuring cup. Once combined, pour the glaze over the cake. Refrigerate the cake overnight.


Place the heavy cream, sugar and vanilla into the bowl of a stand mixer. Using the whisk attachment, whisk together on low until stiff peaks are formed. Change to medium speed and whisk until thick. Spread the topping over the cake and allow to chill in the refrigerator until ready to serve.

Friday, February 13, 2009

Phyllo dough. One of the greatest inventions ever.



* 1/2 cup vegetable oil
* 2 large onions, chopped
* 2 (10 ounce) packages frozen chopped spinach - thawed, drained and squeezed dry
* 2 tablespoons chopped fresh dill
* 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
* 2 (4 ounce) packages feta cheese, crumbled
* 4 eggs, lightly beaten
* salt and pepper to taste
* 1 1/2 (16 ounce) packages phyllo dough
* 3/4 pound butter, melted


1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F (175 degrees C).
2. Heat vegetable oil in a large saucepan over medium heat. Slowly cook and stir onions until softened. Mix in spinach, dill and flour. Cook approximately 10 minutes, or until most of the moisture has been absorbed. Remove from heat. Mix in feta cheese, eggs, salt and pepper.
3. Lay phyllo dough flat and cut longways into thirds. Brush with butter. Place a small amount of spinach mixture onto each piece of dough. Fold phyllo into triangles around the mixture. Brush with butter.
4. Place filled phyllo dough triangles on a large baking sheet. Bake in the preheated oven 45 minutes to 1 hour, or until golden brown.

Soft homemade pretzels!

Warm, soft, cinnamon sugary goodness. I only had one packet of yeast, which contained about 2.5 teaspoons. So I changed the amounts for the other ingredients, yielding 6 pretzels. The measurements I used are in parentheses. The dough was difficult to work with, so I only rolled them out to about 2 feet. That made for smaller pretzels, but they were fat and chewy. I would probably add just a little more salt, I thought the dough itself could use a little more flavor. And when you butter the pretzel at the end, use unsalted butter. It collects in the crevices, and I could definitely taste the saltiness of the salted butter. Also, when you bake the pretzel, tuck the ends under the pretzel. Otherwise, they stick out, and just aren't as pretty. Not that it matters, if you eat it fast it enough.

AUNTIE ANNE'S copycat pretzels

1 1/4 cup warm water (1 cup minus 1 tablespoon)
1 TB plus 1/4 teaspoon yeast (one packet)
3 3/4 cups all-purpose flour (2.81 cups or 3 cups minus 3 tablespoons)
3/4 cup plus 2TB powdered sugar (2/3 cup)
1 1/2 tsp salt (1.125 tsp)
2 teaspoons vegetable oil (1.5 tsp)
1 1/4 cups baking soda
1/4 cup butter, melted (3 tablespoons)
kosher or pretzel salt

Bath: 4 cups warm water

Salted: Kosher or pretzel salt
Cinnamon Topping: 1/2 cup granulated sugar, 2 teaspoons cinnamon

1. Dissolve the yeast in the warm water in a small bowl or cup. Let sit for a few
2. Combine flour, powdered sugar and salt in a large mixing bowl. Add water with yeast and vegetable oil. Stir with a spoon and then use your hands to form dough into a ball. Knead the dough for 5 minutes on a lightly floured surface. (Dough will be nice and smooth when ready). Place the dough into a lightly oiled bowl, cover
it, store in a warm place for about 45 minutes or until dough rises to double in size.
3. When dough has risen, preheat oven to 425 degrees.
4. Make a bath for the pretzels by combining the baking soda with the warm water
and stir until baking soda is mostly dissolved.
5. Remove the dough from the bowl and divide it into 8 even portions. Roll each portion on a flat non-floured surface until it is about 3 ft long. Pick up both ends of the dough and give it a little spin so the middle of the dough spins around once. Lay the dough down with the loop nearest to you. Fold the ends down toward you and pinch to attach them to the bottom of the loop. The twist should be in the miiddle.
6. Holding the pinched ends, dip each pretzel into the bath solution. Put each pretzel on a paper towel for a moment to blot the excess liquid. Arrange the pretzels on a baking sheet sprayed with non-stick spray. If you want salt, sprinkle pretzels with kosher salt or pretzel salt. DON'T salt any pretzels you plan to coat with cinnamon sugar. You will likely have to use two baking sheets and bake them separately. Bake the pretzels for 4 minutes and then spin the pan around and bake for another 4-5 minutes or until the pretzels are golden brown.
7. Remove the pretzels from the oven and let them cool for a couple of minutes. If you want to eat some now, brush them with melted butter first before serving.
7a. If you want the cinnamon sugar coating, make it by combining the 1/2 cup sugar and 2 teaspoons cinnamon in a small bowl. Brush the unsalted pretzels with melted butter. Sprinkle a heavy coating of the cinnamon sugar on the pretzels over a large plate.

Makes 8 pretzels (6 pretzels with my measurements).

Saturday, February 7, 2009

Go Team Border Collie!

Duke did his first frisbeedog demo today....and did great on a short little toss and fetch.

Then we played a frisbeedog relay race, where we were in teams of 4 dogs. We threw a frisbee for our dog, they retrieved it, and the next dog went. I was one of the suckers chosen as team leader and after I chose my team, I looked down and realized that I had picked 3 black and white border collies. It was team border collie. And Duke. I might need to get Duke a black and white weave so he could fit in. By this point, Duke had been out for hours, playing off and on, and meeting lots of people in between. So he was pooped. So he didn't do well on the relay race. Fortunately, the speedy BCs did a fab job making up for Duke's not-spectacular performance. My team won by a hair, thanks to the BCs, since we had a lot of penalty points to make up, due to my lousy throwing, and Duke not catching many throws.

I was dumb and forgot to recharge the camera battery, so my battery died less than an hour into the demo. As soon as it finishes recharging though, I'll post some of the pics I did take.

2/9/09 Pictures!

Friday, February 6, 2009

"It's a cross between ice cream and cheesecake"

says the husband as he takes the first bite. Do you NEED any more encouragement to make this cheesecake? Rich, yummy, and easy. I'm not loving the graham cracker crust though. I think I'm just going to use the Oreo crust from now on. That crust, I'm loving. I'm also undecided on the water bath. Everyone who's anyone in the world of cheesecakes uses a water bath. But the water bath seems to lengthen cooking time by about 15 minutes, and the top of the cheesecake almost seems dryer because of that. I may just be imagining things though, because I'm trying to rationalize not using a water bath, because I'm a lazy, lazy girl.

My camera doesn't think it can focus when I want pretend you can see all the vanilla bean flecks in this picture. Or just click on it to see a larger version.

Vanilla Bean Cheesecake
Source: The Cheesecake Bible by George Geary, p 57.

1 1/4 cups graham cracker crumbs
1/4 cup unsalted butter, melted

4 8 oz packages cream cheese, softened
1 1/4 cup granulated sugar
4 eggs
2 tablespoons vanilla bean paste
1 tsp freshly squeezed lemon juice

Preheat oven to 350.

Mix graham cracker crumbs and butter. Press into bottom of cheesecake pan and bake at 350 for 10 minutes.

In a mixer, beat cream cheese and sugar on medium-high speed until very smooth, about 3 minutes. Add eggs one at a time, beating after each addition. Stir in vanilla bean paste and lemon juice.

Pour over crust, smoothing out to sides of pan. Bake in water bath until top is light brown and center has a slight jiggle to it, 45 to 55 minutes. Crack oven and allow to cool for 1 hour. Cool for an additional hour before refrigerating for 6 hours.