The latest inspiration I received came from the post about scratch baking. In my childhood home, my mom baked many things - bread, cakes, and especially pies. She would not want me to tell the secret to her pie crusts (lard) but they were always the best. Everyone in my family still begs her to make pies when they come to visit, whether it is the holidays or not. My mom begrudgingly fulfills the requests, and everyone swoons at the end result of her hard work.
Unfortunately, the genes for baking were not inherited by me. Baking is a leap of faith that a control freak like myself just cannot bear. You mix up a bunch of ingredients into a runny gooey mess, then plop it in a pan, and pray the oven gods yield a delicious harvest. I am a cook - I taste as I go, adding layers of flavor as the food progresses, all under my constant supervision. Baking requires letting go of the control and trusting the recipe; baking also requires that you adhere to the recipe. The idea that what goes in the oven tastes and looks nothing like what comes out scares me, and the fear of following directions and letting go of control keeps me from baking.
Cheesecakes are the one thing I do bake and I bake them a couple times a year. I still cannot follow the directions though and this Thanksgiving was no exception. I set out to make a Pumpkin Cheesecake from a tried and true recipe but ended up with a Butternut Squash Chai Cheesecake. I fretted about the flavor due to the untested butternut squash and an overpowering cardamon perfume. Last night I brought the final product to a wonderful potluck dinner with some of my friends and the cheesecake was consumed with gusto and compliments.
Here is the recipe. Please let me know if you try it, and especially if you give it your own personal twist.
Butternut Chai Cheesecake
enough for a 10" spring form pan plus a little extra for a tester
1 package graham crackers (1/2 box)
15 ginger snaps
1/4 cup brown sugar
1 stick of butter
Finely crush crackers and snaps, a food processor works well. Mix in sugar and add to spring form pan. Melt butter and drizzle in pan while stirring. Press the crust into the bottom of the pan, coming up the sides about a 1/4". Refrigerate crust for 1 hour.
4 packages cream cheese, room temp
1 cup dark brown sugar
1 15oz can butternut squash puree (pumpkin works also)
4 eggs, room temp
2 T sour cream
1 T cornstarch
2 t vanilla extract
1 1/2 t cinnamon
1 t ginger (extra fine grated fresh or 1/2 t powder)
1 t allspice
1/2 t each powdered cardamon, nutmeg and cloves
1/4 t each cayenne, black pepper, salt and coriander
Mix cream cheese and sugar, then mix in butternut squash. Add 1 egg at a time, constantly mixing. Add sour cream, cornstarch, vanilla and spices one at a time. After crust has cooled, pour in cheesecake filling. Place spring form pan in a hot water bath for a creamier no-crack cheesecake. Place carefully in preheated 350 degree oven. Bake for 50 min and do not open oven.
Sour Cream Topping
Mix 16oz sour cream with 3 T brown sugar
Remove cheesecake from oven. Spread topping over cheesecake gently. Place back in oven for 10 min. Turn off oven and open the door a crack. Let the cheesecake rest in oven for 1 hour. Remove from oven and allow to cool completely. Refrigerate overnight.