We’ve reached the end of another month, and you guessed it: another Daring Baker challenge. This challenge month has been special because it marks my first year as a member of that lovely group. One year of fun, and learning about more than just baking: a year of having the opportunity to get to know some of the nicest people I’ve met. Ever.
As far as the learning goes, the challenges are a springboard for me. Sometimes a technique is featured about which I don’t know as much as I should. Other times, an opportunity to focus on something that I know I need to work on presents itself — even if it may not be a challenge for others. If there is one thing that I do know about myself with respect to cooking, and baking in particular…no, wait…make that life. There is always something I can learn. Always.
It’s called attitude.
So welcome to Daring Baker’s Challenge number 12 for me: Cheesecake Pops, hosted by the great team of Deborah of Taste & Tell, and Elle, from Feeding My Enthusiasms. The original recipe, which can be found here, was created by Jill O’Connor in her cookbook, Sticky, Chewy, Messy, Gooey.
Cheesecake is my favorite dessert. Period. For as long as I can remember, it’s been my birthday cake of choice. Clearly, I know my cheesecake, and since I’ve tried my hand at quite a few, I’m also familIar with the method often referred to as a bain marie, or water bath. It can be used both in the oven and on the stove top to surround a dish, often custard, with moisture, cooking it gently.
To create a bain marie, you need two pans: one large enough to contain a second, with enough room to allow hot water to be poured into the outside pan, surrounding the inside pan about half way up the side. The size of your pans depends on the size of your oven and the amount of food you are preparing. To use a bain marie, heat a kettle of water. The quantity of wanter needed will be dependent on the size of your pans, so it is important to experiment before baking time to find out the quantity of water needed to rise about half way up the side of your cake pan. On the counter, place the smaller pan in the larger pan and fill the smaller pan with the food you are preparing — in this case, the cheesecake mixture. Place both pans on the center rack of a preheated oven. Push the oven rack most of the way into the oven and then carefully pour the very hot water in the larger pan so as not to splash into the cheesecake mixture. Slowly push the rack all the way into the oven, being careful to not make "waves" with the hot water. Bake for the required time.
I halved the recipe and my cheesecake cooked at 350 degrees F on a convection setting for 25 minutes.
So what was my particular challenge with this technique? Well. Have you ever wondered whether a silicone baking pan would work in a bain marie? I did. You’re laughing already, right? I knew I wasn’t going to scoop my cheesecake to make the pops. I wanted to cut squares and diamonds, so needed an easy way to remove the entire cheesecake when finished. I knew that after cooling, I’d be able to "pop" — get it? Pop? Okay, whatever. I’d get to pop the cheesecake out of the silicone with no problem. Plus, my cakepan is square, eliminating waste — no rounded pieces to mess with!
The other concern with using silicone in general is that it always needs to be on a sturdy surface like a baking pan so that it can be moved easily without dumping the ingredients. The first time you use silicone, if you haven’t thought of this, it’s pretty funny. There’s no way you can lift that pan. You can, however, sort of drag it onto a baking sheet if you have one handy. How do I know this? Because I learn certain things the hard way. Moving right along…Since I’d have the silicone pan in the larger roaster, and was more focused on whether the pan would float or not, I didn’t think about removing the pan after it was cooked. And the water would be scalding hot.
The silicone cake pan did float at first — even filled. But as it cooked, it settled a bit. Regardless, it wasn’t a problem. The silicone doesn’t heat up, so I was able to grab the edges and lift the cooked cheesecake out of the bain marie with no mess and no burns.
Another "challenge" for me this month was thinking about how I’d present my pops. These cheesecake pops just scream "Kid’s Birthday Party!" All my kids are nearly grown, with the youngest being nearly 16, so a kid’s party was out. And there was no dinner party planned, unfortunately, but we do often have them and I think people would really think these pops are fun — especially since you can just pick them up and not have to fuss with a plate. So I enjoyed my planning for that experimenting with squares and diamonds with the theme of a Black & White Ball. I think if I worked on it more, it could be pretty elegant with all the combinations possible. I thought of using dragees, but they’re not recommended for consumption, so I passed on that one.
Here’s what I experimented with:
Dark Chocolate (Ghirardelli 60% cacao)
- white non-pareils
- shredded coconut
- shaved white chocolate
- melted white chocolate
White Chocolate (Girardelli)
- chocolate jimmies
- shaved chocolate
- cocoa powder
- melted chocolate
I cut the recipe in half and measured the 9-1/2 x 9-1/2" finished cheesecake so all the pieces would be as similar as possible. Each square or diamond weighed 2 oz. I inserted paper sticks into the chilled cheesecake on a flat side for half of the squares, and on the point for the rest before popping the pops into the freezer for about 3-4 hours.
I used the smallest sauce pan possible to melt the chocolate so I’d have enough to dip my square pops into. After removing them from the dip, I turned the pop to allow the chocolate to begin to harden on the stick before sprinkling non-pareils, or placing the pop into the coconut.
Working with the dark chocolate was not a problem. I’m fortunate to have chocolate burner on my stove so can leave it directly on the heat, keeping it warm between dips.
Working with the white chocolate was not as easy. It coated the pops differently, and did not harden as quickly. Plus, my experimentation with the diamond shaped pops became my greatest challenge. Two of the sticks broke through the cheesecake and it all crashed into the chocolate.
ARG! The diamond pops were too heavy to dip into the chocolate with the stick positioned at the point. I’ll have to go back to the drawing board on this one, most likely pouring the chocolate over the pop while resting on a baking rack and then turning to coat the back side. That means quite a bit more chocolate and a bigger mess.
In retrospect, the pops needed a longer freezing time — at least for the white chocolate. As far as the coatings went, the cocoa (which was mixed with icing sugar and sifted before coating the white chocolate bars in it) tastes great, but didn’t match my theme. It wasn’t dark enough. Maybe if I’d put it on the dark chocolate, it would have looked better. The shaved dark chocolate was the same. I was going for a truffle effect on both of these coatings, and I just didn’t like the way they turned out appearance wise. Picky picky, right?
Another challenge for me was thinking about how I’d present these at a dinner party, and the jury is still out. I think they need to be propped in something, and I did try that, but clearly I need to think on it more. Florist supply shops have blocks of green squishy stuff that I think will be perfect. It can be easily disguised inside a box, or container and then wrapped or filled with raffia to look festive.
All in all, these were very easy to put together, so if you know how you’d like to decorate them, it’s a fun way to entertain your adult guests, too. I’m already thinking of other options, like, caramel and chocolate and nuts…Mmmmm….
Oh, and by the way, they’re great for breakfast on a Sunday morning with coffee while blogging!
Don’t forget to check out the other Daring Bakers to see what creative ideas they’re featuring with Cheesecake Pops.