Baking: Emilio’s Square Cheesecake

Cheesecake is amazing. So many different varieties – you have the dense and creamy New York variety, to the almost sponge cake-like Japanese cheesecake. Many take a more traditional cream cheese approach, but some use ricotta, marscapone, or an even more exotic goat. I love them all. A younger me tried to bake cheesecake once, only to have it fall flat. What did I do wrong? Cheesecake is indeed a fickle friend.

My uncle is a chef so I have a lot to live up to, but at the same time he inspires me to try harder. How? All he has to do is make something amazing, and it has me wondering how he does it. Most recently it was a cheesecake with a chocolate cookie crumble crust. It was closer to the Japanese cheesecake variety but not quite as sponge cakey. Light and delicious, but not quite my favorite cheesecake. I’m sure my uncle will understand, because my favorite is loved by the San Francisco community. Anyway, it got me itching to try to make one that can rival my favorite.

If you haven’t been to Zanze yet, or been lucky enough to have tried their goods, drop everything and GO! Well, not exactly. Zanze Cheesecake is on Ocean Avenue in SF. It is owned by a loving elderly couple, a pair that has accomplished what I would love to have one day – a business and profession they love and works around their schedule. Great for them, but kind of sucks for customers. They are open for limited hours Monday-Saturday, and they close for multiple lengthy stints throughout the year (I’m talking like a month at a time). It’s what I call the Chick-Fil-A syndrome – you seem to always crave it when it’s closed! That’d be Sundays for you non CFA eaters. They have a few flavors, like original, mocha, sometimes pumpkin, sometimes cherry, and some kind of berry. You have to buy them whole, but trust me, you’ll need it.

Anyway, I digress – their cheesecake, which I’m convinced takes a swim in a waterbath, is divine. It is, hands down, my favorite in the whole wide world. It is light and impeccably smooth. This cake is so delicate the owners include a FISH WIRE so that you can get nice, clean, even cuts. A fish wire! Who the heck does that?? It is not too sweet. My inquisitive mind tries to figure it out every time I take a bite — how do they do it???

In the age of Google, what’s the first thing I do? Google it! I came up with this recipe. Of course I had to try it! I’ve also posted the recipe below, and include my notes.

Emilio’s Square Cheesecake

2 pounds cream cheese, room temperature — I used 4 packages of Safeway cream cheese, (2) full-fat and (2) 1/3 less fat. Believe me, any more rich would’ve been crazy. I’ll probably eventually try one with all of the lower fat cream cheese just to compare them.

1 stick unsalted butter, room temperature

1 tablespoon pure vanilla

1-1/2 cups sugar

1/2 cup less 1 tablespoon cornstarch

7 eggs — make sure you really beat these well. The first one I made tasted kind of egg custardy in some bites. I even considered adding one less egg. 7 may seem like a lot (it probably is) but also remember this recipe uses a 13×9 pan vs. a 9 or 10 inch springform like so many cheesecakes call for.

2 cups whipping cream

1/4 cup fresh lemon juice — (this is at least half a big lemon or a whole smaller lemon)

Berry topping (optional, see instructions)

Yield: 16-24 servings

Chill: 3 hours-3 days

Heat oven to 350 degrees with rack one-third down from top. Butter a 13×9-inch pan and set aside.

In large bowl of electric mixer (you can also try a hand mixer but I’d strongly advise doing this by hand. I dunno how you’d get anything smooth that way), beat the cream cheese and butter until soft and smooth. Remember, beater attachment, not whisking attachment…you can switch to the whisking attachment later. Triple check for lumps; as smooth as it looks, I kept finding lumps and they will not work themselves out during baking! Add vanilla, sugar and cornstarch. Add the cornstarch a shake at a time. Beat, scraping bowl, until smooth. Beat in eggs, one at a time, and add cream gradually with mixer on low speed. The mixture should be thin and smooth as honey. Add the lemon juice last and beat only to mix.

Spray the bottom of the buttered pan with nonstick baking spray. Pour batter into pan. Place pan in a larger pan that must not be deeper than the cake pan. Place the pan in the oven and pour hot water almost an inch deep into the large pan. If a little bit of the water falls in during this steps (oops. This may or may not have happened to me), just mix it in. Bake 30 minutes at 350 degrees. If you see the cheesecake rising higher than the pan, don’t worry – it will sink back down while it cools. Carefully turn both pans together front to back, then raise oven temperature to 375. Bake 10 to 15 minutes more (total baking time is 40-45 minutes). Bake only until the top is a pale golden brown. No need to check with a toothpick or anything. Overbaking only leads to weird chewy edges.

Carefully remove from oven and remove cheesecake pan from the hot water. Let stand until bottom of pan is completely cool. Do not refrigerate until cake has been removed from pan.

Cover cake with a large serving board or tray. A cookie sheet is perfect. Center the board or tray over the cake and hold board and cake pan firmly together and turn them over. Remove cake from its pan. It should come out cleanly. Refrigerate the cake as it is – upside down. There’s no crust anyway. Cut into squares and heap with berry topping.

Berry Topping: this is my suggestion, as compared to what’s posted. I happened to buy a pint of strawberries. The first cake I made, I sliced them up and put them all over the cake. This made it a mess to cut, but it was delicious! I also made a sauce with the frozen berry (raspberries, blackberries, and blueberries) mix from Costco that I was not particularly fond of and wanted to use up. In a nonstick pan, add the berries (I filled my 6″ pan with one layer, probably about 1.5-2 cups) and cook them down. Add some water as needed. I also added a little spoonful of strawberry jam to help keep it on the thicker side. Smoosh the berries down with a wooden spoon as they soften and break down. When the berries are almost completely cooked down, add 1/3 cup of sugar and incorporate. Cook to desired thickness. If you can’t get it to how you like it, consider adding a teensy bit of cornstarch, but be careful to mix it in well before it clumps. I also chopped up some fresh strawberries and mixed it in after. Yum!

Verdict? This cheesecake is rich and delicious! It’s not quite as dense as a good New York cheesecake, but it’s not as light as Zanze’s. This will stay in my repertoire, but I will continue on the hunt for something similar to Zanze. I’ll also work on trying to make these in cupcake/mini muffin tins for easier portioning.

*Recipe adapted from ”Maida Heatter’s Cakes” (Cader Books, 1997). Ms. Heatter adapted the recipe from one by Emilio Braseco that appeared in the New Yorker magazine, March 27, 1971.

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Looking Back at 2011 and New Years Resolutions

2011….ahh.  A year where the St. Louis Cardinals watched as the our Giants went through the pomp and circumstance during opening day/night, celebrating their championship, then turned around and WON the whole damn thing when nobody saw them coming.  A year where I really kindled my friendship with my KitchenAid mixer.  A year marred by sadness from when I got laid off.  Conversely, a year highlighted by my move back to San Francisco.  A year where I started this blog as a way of channeling some of my creative energies into something positive when I needed a coping mechanism.

I guess it’s that time of the year where we reflect on the last year and yadda yadda yadda…and make some resolutions and all that jazz.  The cynic in me says, “resolutions? when do you ever keep THOSE up?” but it’s at least worth a try, right?  All I know is that I am ready for 2011 to be over and for 2012 and all of the bright and shiny and NEW to take over.

-Be an attorney again. Damn it to all hell, that one has gotta come true.  I mean, what can I say? I’d take the backups as a food critic or travel writer =P but I’m gonna go out on a limb and say that becoming an attorney again is probably the most likely…

-Become more active, preferably outdoors. To me this means more hiking/exploring and walking around.  I’m not making any outrageous promises or setting goals that are too lofty, like I wanna be able lose x pounds, or I wanna be able to run a marathon. That just sets me up for failure. If I succeed at this and then some, then all the better!

-Eat less meat/learn to cook more vegetarian entrees. Don’t get me wrong. I love my meat. In fact, I post this question to you all: If you had to give up chicken, pork or beef, which would you give up? I have a hard time answering that question since I have favorites within each of those that I might not be willing to give up (fried chicken/wings, bbq pork and bacon, steak), but I am curious what others think about this.  Anyway, back to the point – not giving it up, just trying to be more creative in cooking completely vegetarian meals.

-Eat out less: WHAT?? I know. This one is huge because I love going out and trying new restaurants and foods and sharing those experiences with others.  My goal is to refrain going out during weekdays as much, and to bring lunch more to work.  My goal when I started this current job was to bring lunch about 3x a week at least. Not a bad goal.  4 would be better, but I relish taking a walk outside of the office and grabbing a bite to eat with coworkers. But then again, this goes hand in hand with saving more moolah. This way I’ll have the freakin’ weekend to look forward to, right??

-Remember there’s a bigger difference between “want” and “need”, and thereby save more $$. Those law school loans aren’t gonna pay themselves.  If I “want” something, I always find a way to convince myself that I need it. It’s the worst! I also discovered that I have a hard time grasping long term financial goals, and though I may still be young, it’s never too early for figuring that stuff out.

-Continue to be thankful.  I try to be thankful daily for all that I have (health, happiness, family, friends, etc) but there are some days that are definitely more trying than others.

-Learn to cook something very complex (in time and technique). This one is super vague, but for good reason.  I have no clue what I should cook, so I’d be glad to take any suggestions!

-Start volunteering again somewhere on a more consistent basis.  Just a few times a year ain’t enough.  I volunteered with Glide recently and a legal clinic. It sparked that love for community service that is so embedded in me (thanks APhiO!).

-Use all my positive juju to will the Giants into winning another World Series.

Alright, I think that’s long enough…see you all on the flip side. Happy 2012!

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Fallen off the face of the blogosphere

So it turns out I haven’t blogged since August.  It may or may not have had to do with starting a new temp job, and moving, and all this other craziness…but that’s life, yeah?

So instead of attempting to catch you up on everything, I’ll let the pictures do the talkin’.

Went to a corn maze even though I really didn't want to. Wandering around in the dark isn't exactly my idea of fun. Being dubbed "Killjoy Cheng" by Thomas (below) may have given me a complex so I went. Wow, combine this with the entry below and you'll know that I spent my formative years relatively sheltered. After 2.5 hours? Victory!


Went to Disneyland for the first time in ten years. No joke. We'll be back sooner next time. I even was brave enough to ride some roller coasters. For those who know my fear of heights and/or seemingly unsturdy things, you know what a big deal that is. Oh what, you can't see me in this picture? Maybe because I was hiding behind Chris like a big weenie.

Couldn't convince him to buy the R2D2 hat =( he did get the Darth Tater pin though

Shredding a block of cheese for homemade chili - did you know that pre-shredded cheese has all sorts of things like potato or corn starch, cellulose, etc. keeping it "fresh"? Gonna shred my own from now on. Plus, it's so much fun to do/look at.Braised beef cheeks in the dutch oven

Pineapple banana nut bread. Why not?

Visited Davis =( miss it! Living nearly 8 years somewhere will do that to ya...

Korean BBQ (w/ dook sam/rice papers) at Road to Seoul, Los Angeles.

Embraced public transportation. from MUNI busses, metro, BART, and everything in between.  This really put a pep in my step that morning.  The F is my new favorite line. Seriously.  If you know MUNI, you know what MUNI buses/metro normally are like.

Chic-Fil-A nuggets and waffle fries, duh. Fairfield

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