Monday, February 20, 2006

Cheesecake and Biscotti

Having spent many formative hours in New Jersey diners, gazing at the rotating cake displays, perusing the endless offerings of the laminated menus (despite the fact that anyone knows the only things to get at a diner are breakfast, burgers, and Greek salad) and drinking endless cups of washy coffee, I'll always have a fondness for cheesecake, especially the kind with enormous aspic-gelled strawberries or goopy cherries on top. Eating cheesecake at diners is what you do in Jersey in high school when your best friend has a car and you're too young to go to bars.

And hot coffee and last night's cheesecake eaten cold straight from the fridge is still the best breakfast ever.

All this to say that cheesecake is diner or suburban-bakery food to me--I don't know that I've ever baked one. But now that my phone number is just two reversed numbers away from Junior's, the mythical cheesecake place on Flatbush, I get a lot of calls from acolytes seeking cheesecake. Perhaps I could make my fortune keeping them on the line long enough to order a cheesecake from me instead of the production line in Fort Greene. It's a thought...would you buy a cheesecake from the Pie Queen?

Also in very local news, I'll be subletting my apartment this June, when I go off to Arkansas to cook and write. So if you know a swell, responsible, NONSMOKING person who will be kind to my stuff and my neighbors for a month, let me know.

What I have been making this week: not cheesecake, but chocolate biscotti. The first round was baked for last week's pre-snow dinner party, to accompany the ginger-poached pears made in lieu of Nora Ephron's elusive caramelized baked pears. These were quite tasty, peeled and poached in a syrup of sweet white wine, water, sugar, lemon, cloves, and candied ginger, with the syrup strained and cooked down and then ladled over the cooling pears so it formed a softish gingery jelly. For the biscotti, I used the delectable-sounding and rich recipe from the Missouri baker/sheepherder who posts over at Farmgirl Fare, adding toasted hazelnuts and a bit of espresso powder. They were nice, but not as chocolate-y as the recipe (which calls for 4 ounces of bittersweet chocolate plus 1/2 cup of cocoa powder) might lead you to believe. And they crumbled mightily during the cutting and rebaking process, although this may have been the fault of my blast-furnace oven.

Up next: the chocolate-pistachio version in December's Food & Wine. Ahhh--these are tasty, even though they were, if possible, even more insanely crumbly. But the crumbly bits, as everyone knows, contain no calories, and so may be eaten with abandon. Note that the method is really strange, but works. You may need to add a teaspoon or two of water to make the dough hold together enough to press into logs. The bright-green pistachios look really sci-fi and cool against the dark cookies.

Chocolate Pistachio Biscotti

Whisk together:
2 cups flour
3/4 cup dutched cocoa (such as Droste)
1/2 tsp baking soda
pinch of salt

Using a hand-held or stand up mixer, beat in 3 eggs to make a crumbly dough. In a separate bowl, cream:

1 1/4 cups brown sugar, packed
4 tablespoons soft butter
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
1 tsp almond extract
1 tablespoon strong coffee or espresso (fine to use espresso powder and water)

Now scrape butter mixture into flour-and-egg dough, and mix til you get a soft, crumbly dough. Stir in 1 cup chopped pistachios and 1 cup chocolate chips. Add a few drops of water if necessary. Form into logs about 2 inches wide and 3/4 inch high. Bake at 350 degrees for 20-25 minutes, until tops are set and springy when pressed. Let cool on racks for an hour or so. Slice each log into skinny slices and place on cut sides on baking sheets. Bake for another 30 minutes (or until firm and crunchy) at 200 degrees, flipping cookies over halfway through. Let cool and store in airtight container.

Today's obsession: knitting the "kitty-ears" hat from Debbie Stoller's book Stitch and Bitch. So far, I've done everything BUT the kitty ears, and have a very cute pink-and-white, vaguely Heidi-looking hat, with earflaps and long cords hanging down off the flaps, ending in puffy little pom poms. The question now: do I add the kitty ears to the top? 1. YES, so witty! so cute! 2. NO, you will look insane. your thoughts?


Shifra said...

Mmmm... cheesecake...

I have to admit that although I love kitty ears on hats for small children, I have not gotten used to the archness (tres hip archness though, don't get me wrong) of seeing them on adults. So I vote against the kitty ears.

Stephanie J. Rosenbaum said...

I agree--but then again, when I'm home alone and itching for a new knitting project--I might just end up adding those ears. Luckily, though, I'm distracted making a poncho for my 2 year old niece right now. And my other niece wants her own kitty hat--pink and purple, with aqua kitty ears--so perhaps that will get out my pointy-eared ya-yas.

Anonymous said...

Hi Stephanie,

We've not met but I found your blog after remembering you from Bay Guardian days (I still read the food reviews and correspond with Dan(i) Leone now and again).

Just wanted to recommend Nigella Lawson's New York cheesecake from the Goddess book. I agree that her recipes are untrustworthy but can vouch that the NY cheesecake is the very best I've every had, anywhere. They love it so much at work that my coworkers collect a few bucks for ingredients so that I'll make several cakes to divide up here. (The other amazing recipe from the same book is her gingerbread. It doesn't look like the photo - her amounts for the lemon glaze barely covers the bread, but it tastes wonderful and stays fresh for days and days in a tin and the little scrape of glaze that you get turns out to be the perfect amount.)

I'd wear the hat a bit and see if you still want ears. - Chrissy