I pride myself on making the best cheesecake in the family. And none of that “no-bake” nonsense unless I want a full on Italian revolt on my hands. No, this family likes their cheesecake thick, dense, high and smooth. Every Christmas Eve I kick all the pickers and lickers out of the kitchen to create my masterpiece. This year my timeline was thrown off because we were a little late putting the cornbread for Christmas morning breakfast in the oven (we like to do as much cooking prep the day before to make our Christmas Day restful), so I started measuring out my ingredients at 7:00pm.
Sidenote: I like to pre-measure all my ingredients in little glass bowls and line them up in sequence. Part OCD, part Julia Child idol worship. When I was younger I used to pretend I was hosting my own cooking show…ok, sometimes I still do, but only in my head 😉
The cream cheese was perfectly softened and I was in my groove…until I opened the creamed cottage cheese. Or should I say, what should have been creamed cottage cheese but was in fact dry curd cottage cheese. Little cheese pellets that look like a cross of rabbit droppings and poutine plastic cheese. I stared at the container dumbfounded for a solid 30 seconds before hysterics broke out.
“No, no, no, NO!! Oh no! OH. NO! Okay, I can fix this. I can work with this. NO! No, this WON’T WORK. WAIT! I’ll just use another recipe. I’ll make white chocolate cheesecake. No cottage cheese in that recipe. Oh no! I don’t have enough white chocolate!!!”
Can I just clarify that in the face of crisis I am usually the calm one in this family. When Dad misplaced my plane ticket in a Heathrow airport men’s restroom? I was calm. When I watched my car being towed stranding me and Mom downtown? Cool as a cucumber.
But this? All I could hear in my head was “No cheesecake? You ruined Christmas!”
My Dad came to the rescue grabbing his car keys and insisting on going to the store.
“Dad, it’s Christmas Eve. Everything is closed. It’s okay I’ll figure it out.”
“No, there has to be something open. I’ll check the corner store and the gas station.” And off he went. My hero.
Stop 1: The Grocery Store. Closed.
Stop 2: The Gas Station. Expired cottage cheese.
Stop 3: Small Asian grocer in town. He bought their whole stock.
I was back in business beating, whipping, pouring and folding.
“Where’s my extra large springform pan?”
“Um, we had to throw it out at Thanksgiving because the clasp broke, remember?”
No problem, I’m adaptable. I’m a problem solver. I’m the middle child. I WOULD NOT PANIC. The pan I had at my disposal was slightly smaller but it was also taller so the baking time would just have to be adjusted slightly. In to the oven the cheesecake went and the sweet aroma of vanilla extract began to permeate every room in the house.
My recipe is very specific on cooking time. 1.5 hours in the oven at 350 degrees and then another 2 hours in the oven with the door closed and the oven off. I even stick a note on the door threatening life and limb of anyone who dares crack that door open.
One of the arts of baking a cheesecake is deeming it cooked through before it starts to crack. Cheesecakes rise and then settle down during the cooking process so minor cracks are usually unavoidable (a water bath helps), but because this pan was taller than usual my cake had more room to rise…and fall. Like the walls of Jericho, the outer perimeter of my cake had cracked in perfect circumference leaving 1/2 inch higher and more brown than the rest. Once it cooled overnight, I gently trimmed off that portion with a serrated knife so that cake was completely uniform. No amount of aesthetic damage that a healthy dollop of glaze and strategically placed strawberries couldn’t conceal.
The moment of truth came Christmas evening when I sliced down the centre of the cake and lifted the first portion out. I inspected it like it held the answers to all the world’s secrets before placing it on a dish. Eyes closed I took the first bite and focused.
Taste profile? Check.
Texture? Grrr. Not as smooth as it should be.
The ingredients had settled while the “Cottage Cheese Hunting Expedition” was under way. But it would do. Christmas dessert was saved and the lack of leftovers meant that the discerning palettes of my family and friends had been satisfied.