Tuesday, November 16, 2010

How to Make a Birthday Dinner: Part One

Birthdays, even if they aren't my own, are times I always look forward to. After all, anytime you have an excuse to go out, eat at a fancy restaurant, consume cake and have a drink at your favorite bar is pretty much a good day for everyone involved.

So what happens when your birthday boy is sick of restaurants, is not a big fan of cake and hasn't yet found that perfect Cheers-quality bar?

Problem #1: Cake Apathy

I love desserts, in pretty much all its forms. I don't think that's a secret. The Husband, on the other hand, seems to have an underdeveloped sweet tooth. He regularly turns his nose up at cakes of all kinds, calling them too sugary, too fluffy, too dense, too boring, too bland (my response to this is usually "but its CAKE."). The one type of cake that he does like (other than cupcakes, due to a long standing and little understood dessert dispute with a friend --don't ask) is cheesecake, specifically pumpkin cheesecake.

For the past 5 years or so, I've made the same cheesecake for this man's birthday, despite my nagging desire to tweak everything I make more than once. He likes it how it is, and since it's his birthday, I restrain myself.  After all, I suppose it is pretty good as is.

Dave's Birthday Marbled Pumpkin Cheesecake
adapted from Renee at www.allrecipes.com

1 1/2 c crushed gingersnap cookies
1/2 c pecans, chopped fine
1/3 c melted butter

16 oz cream cheese, softened (Philadelphia is best)
3/4 c white sugar
1 tsp vanilla
3 eggs
1 c canned pumpkin (Libby's only)
3/4 tsp cinnamon
1/8 tsp nutmeg
dash of allspice and ginger
caramel sauce

1. Preheat oven at 350. Mix the crushed gingersnaps, pecans and melted butter together in a bowl. (I pulse the gingersnaps and pecans in a blender to crush them, though a food processor would probably work better. If you want to go low tech, a plastic bag and a rolling pin will also work just fine, though it will take more time.) Press the mixture into the bottom of a springform pan, and up the sides about an inch. Don't worry about getting it perfect; it won't really matter later.

2. Bake the crust in the preheated oven for about 10 minutes, and set aside to cool.

3. Blend the cream cheese, vanilla and 1/2 c sugar in a mixer until smooth. Add eggs one at a time, blending well between. Set aside 1 cup of this mixture.

4. To the remaining mixture, add the pumpkin and spices, blend well. Pour the pumpkin mixture over the cooled crust. Drop spoonfuls of the reserved cream cheese mixture on top and swirl with a knife.

5. Bake the cheesecake for 45-55 minutes, or until set. The top of the filling will begin to crack around the edges when it is done, but the filling at the center will still wobble slightly when the cake is shaken. This is fine: the cheesecake will continue to firm up in the pan while it is cooling outside the oven. If you cook it until it is completely firm, it will be overdone. Allow the cheesecake to cool completely, and leave in refrigerator for at least 4 hours before serving. Run a knife around the edge of the pan before releasing the springform.

6. Serve slices of cheesecake with drizzled caramel sauce. Personally, I think this is crucial; it really brings out the pumpkin flavor, and makes the entire dessert seem more decadent and special.

Well guys, that's one awesome cheesecake for you. In my next blog we'll cover, in admittedly backwards order, how to do a killer main course. Vegetarians beware, this one's not going to be quite as up your alley!

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