Friday, July 31, 2009

National Cheesecake Day

One of the great pleasures in life is indulging someone who appreciates it. That's why my niece and I get along so well. I indulge her. She appreciates it.

Most of the time.

We had an unexpected day to ourselves yesterday, as my kids were both otherwise engaged. With my astute powers of observation*, I had gleaned that she had a special fondness for cheesecake. It was a perfect opportunity to put my painstakingly honed recipe** to work and earn some major Auntie points at the same time.

Me: So, I think we should make a cheesecake for dessert tonight.
Her: (jumping up and down) Auntie Shar! Can I help? Can I? I love cheesecake!
Me: Of course you can.
Her: Do you have graham crackers, Auntie Shar? I like the kind with the graham cracker crust. From Sam's Club. And it has cream on top. Is it that kind?
Me: Well, I think I might be out of graham crackers. I was thinking about maybe using animal crackers*** instead. What do you think?
Her: (mouth literally dropped completely open with awe at the thought) You can do that?

You bet we can. We get out the stuff and get to work.

Me: Guess what we need to add after the animal crackers? Sugar!
Her: (whispering, because she is almost paralyzed with happiness about how this is working out) Can I do that part?
Me: Of course.

She taste tests the crust. Two thumbs up. HUGE smile.

I get out the mixer and announce that we are going to make the cheesecake part now. She's up on the stool, dangling my keys over the bowl.

Me: I said CHEESEcake, not KEYS cake!
We howl with laughter for a good 10 minutes over this one. I am, by far, the coolest aunt on the planet.

She taste tests the filling. Loves it. I pass her the beater, the bowl and the spatula for good measure. Her mom's not home, and I'm in charge, so it's totally fine. Plus at least half of it is on her fingers and her face anyway.

Her: Auntie Shar, how much pieces of cheesecake can I have?
Me: It's up to your Mommy****.
Her: My Mommy said I can have between 6 and 7 pieces. That's what I get to have in Michigan.
Me: Wow. That seems like a lot of pieces.
Her: It's BETWEEN 6 and 7, so it's not that much.

We pop it in the oven. Then her parents come home to take her out house hunting with them.

Her: Mommy, we can't go on the outing because the cheesecake is not done and I'm the taste tester.
Her mom: Sweetie, you can't taste test the cheesecake right away. You have to wait.
Her: Do we have to wait all the 8 hours, Mommy?
Her mom: (Seeing my puzzlement over this exact wait time expectation) No, this cheesecake is not frozen like the one at Sam's Club.
Me: We get to eat this one today, right after dinner, for our dessert.


Her: Mommy, can I have my dinner now? I'll eat some chicken if you want.

The rest of the day goes by in a blur. She patiently waits for the sky to grow dark. She eats a whole carrot without complaint. She cleans up all the meat they put on her plate. She gets her jammies on. It's agony waiting, but she does it. At last, I unmold the cake with a flourish and set it on the counter in front of her. Cutting carefully, we present her with the first slice as the rest of the crowd waits its turn.

She looks concerned. She takes a tentative forkful.

Her: I don't care for this. Can I have a different dessert, Mommy?

My sister, however, has seconds. That's why we get along so well. I indulge her. She appreciates it.

National Cheesecake Day Cheesecake*****

For Crust:

Heaping 2 c. of hard, crisp cookies (gingersnaps are my favorites, but you can use animal crackers, chocolate wafers, cinnamon grahams, or whatever you like)
1/4 c. sugar
extra spices (optional, but helpful if your cookies are plain graham crackers)
5 Tbs. butter, melted

For Filling:

2 lbs. (4 8 oz. packages) cream cheese, softened
1 1/4 c. sugar
3 whole eggs and 2 egg yolks
1 1/2 tsp. vanilla extract
dash of almond extract
1 Tbs. heavy cream

Use a food processor to make your cookie crumbs by processing the cookies until they are finely and uniformly ground up. You should get about 1 1/2 to 1 3/4 c. of crumbs out of this. Process in the sugar and spices, if you are using any, then add the melted butter. The mixture should hold loosely together in clumps when you press on it. Press the mixture into the bottom and an inch and a half or so up the sides of a 10 inch springform pan. Refrigerate while you make the filling, about 20 minutes. If you're a super fast filling maker, put the crust in the freezer instead.

Preheat oven to 350.

For the filling, using an electric mixer, blend the cream cheese and the sugar together until light and fluffy. Blend in the eggs and egg yolks, one at a time, mixing well after each addition. Add the extracts and the cream, and blend until the mixture is completely smooth. Pour into the prepared crust, then bake for 40 minutes. Turn off the oven, open up the oven door and leave in for another 20 minutes. Cool to room temperature, then refrigerate until ready to serve, at least 3 hours or overnight.

* She ordered nothing else for dessert the whole time we were in Vegas. In what should probably have been a clue to me, she always had one bite, then my sister and I usually split the rest.
** My sister is a cheesecake fanatic from way back. Let's just say this addiction is definitely genetic. I have literally pored over and tested recipes from about a dozen cookbooks to come up with this one in order to even begin to approach her high standards.
*** Degree of difficulty here is zero. She's crazy for animal crackers, and I know it.
**** Like hell it's up to her mom. My house, my rules. However, I won't invoke this clause unless her mom makes a bad decision.
***** According to The Cheesecake Factory, July 30 is National Cheesecake Day. I may not be quite as cool as I thought, but you have to admit my timing is just uncanny!

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