Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Second Time's the Charm

Edit #2: oh my god it's March.  At this point, there just isn't any excuse for how long this has taken to write up.  The good news is that I have made several other recipes since the Super Bowl potluck.  Hopefully each of those won't take a whole month to get finished.

Edit #1: This used to be a wonderfully amusing write-up of what I made for K and B's Super Bowl potluck. I saved it multiple times, got the pictures exactly the way I wanted them, and even bothered to spellcheck the post.  And then, for some unknown reason, everything except the first couple of paragraphs disappeared.

So the entire post is gone, never to return.  Instead, I will leave you with the best part of it:

That is the team with possession of the ball for the first play of the game loosing control of said ball and then everybody running crazily after it.  It set the tone for the rest of the game.

K and B had a potluck at their new place to watch the Super Bowl.  B was interested in watching because he's from Alaska and the Seattle Seahawks are the closest football team to Alaska, so he grew up rooting for them.  The rest of us were just there to have a potluck and hang out.  Luckily, the Denver Broncos played so badly that we all sat around and laughed at them for 2 hours.  It's nice to have something to bond over.

The "second time" in the title is actually a reference to the fact that I used the potluck as an excuse to fix a couple of recipes that hadn't turned out well the first time but which had promise (and to try something new, of course).  In January, I had tried making a nutella cheesecake and Nigella's gooey chocolate stack.  The cheesecake never solidified but tasted great and the chocolate stack melted but tasted great.  My course was clear: get the great tasting desserts to have the right consistency.  I also made a batch of cookies just in case things didn't work out.

The original attempt at a nutella cheesecake was for New Year's Eve.  The traditional method for baking a cheesecake involves a water bath (see instructions here) but there are also a lot of "no bake" cheesecake recipes where you use cream cheese as the filling and put the cake in the refrigerator to firm up.  Since that type of recipe didn't work, I decided to take a more traditional cheesecake recipe with baking and just add nutella to the filling.

Jo's cheesecake recipe involves baking but not a water bath and has excellent reviews.  I add half a jar of nutella to the filling and poured half of that into a bowl, and then added the rest of the jar of nutella to the other half of the filling.  I put the darker filling (more nutella) into the pan first and then put the lighter filling on top of that.  The filling is liquid so I was careful when I poured it to make sure that the two layers didn't mix very much.

The cheesecake took about 45 minutes longer to bake than the original recipe called for because of the added nutella.  After baking it for the time given in the recipe, I checked how much it had baked every 15 to 20 minutes by jiggling the pan.  The center should not be liquid at all, and should be fairly solid.  I needed to balance baking the center with not over-baking the edges.  Since this cheesecake is baked at 250 degrees, you can leave it in for a longer period of time without burning the edges.

When I was googling nutella cheesecake recipes, I found an interesting recipe for a devil's food cake with a hazelnut-chocolate crunch topping.  I figured that if the cheesecake didn't turn out so well I could disguise it with the hazelnut crunch topping.  This was actually pretty fun to make, since it goes in the freezer to solidify and then you break it up into little pieces by hand.

Tips: Graham crackers are difficult to find outside of the US.  The closest alternative is digestive biscuits.  This is a nice discussion of alternatives for making a cheesecake crust if you don't have access to graham crackers.   You can also make your own (smitten kitchenKing Arthur flourMartha StewartAlton Brown) but these are usually quite a bit better than the store-bought ones and are too good to be used just for a crust.  And yes, Graham crackers really were invented as an aid to stop masturbation.  God only know what the Reverend Graham would have thought of s'mores.

You do need to use a springform pan or you will have a very difficult time getting the cheesecake out of a regular cake pan.  I decided to try putting a piece of parchment paper at the bottom of the springform pan before putting in the crust so that I could just lift the cheesecake out of the bottom of the pan and peel the paper off.  It didn't work very well and I don't recommend trying it.

It may seem like the crust recipe doesn't have enough butter but there is enough.  When you pat the crust into the pan, you can leave the crust a little bit raised on the outside edges to hold the filling in or you can flatten the crust out completely.  I used a tiny butter knife to push down the edges and make it completely flat.

You can buy roasted hazelnuts, either at Trader Joe's or in the baking section of the supermarket.  It makes life a lot easier if you don't have to roast the hazelnuts yourself.  If you can't find hazelnuts, the hazelnut crunch recipe will still work.  It will just be slightly less hazelnutty and less crunchy.

I melted the chocolate and butter in a double-boiler I made by putting a large bowl in a pan with a small amount of water, where the bowl was larger than the pan so that the bottom of the bowl didn't touch the water.  I used a roux whisk (aka a flat whisk) to make sure that there were no lumps.  You can also just melt the butter and chocolate in the microwave.  Be sure to microwave in small time increments (like 15 seconds or so) or you will burn the chocolate.

I spread the crunch out on a cookie sheet covered with a piece of parchment paper to get it flat, and then I just put the parchment paper directly in the freezer.  This meant that I didn't have to waste a cookie sheet by leaving it in the freezer for several hours.

There were some larger chunks of hazelnut crunch that didn't break up very easily when I first pulled it out of the freeze, so I let it sit for about 10 minutes and the chocolate loosened up enough to break everything up.  The hazelnut crunch stayed cohesive at room temperature and didn't melt, but it did start to melt a bit when I was breaking it up by hand.  It turned out fine.

Nutella Cheesecake with Hazelnut Crunch Topping
Original cheesecake recipe from Jo Cooks; Devil's food cake with hazelnut crunch from Bon Appetit

Nutella Cheesecake


For the crust:
  • 3 cups (10 oz) of graham crackers
  • 1/4 cup granulated sugar
  • 1/2 cup melted butter

For the filling:
  • 800 gr of cream cheese (25.6 ounces)
  • 4 eggs
  • 3/4 cup of sugar
  • 3 tbsp flour
  • 1/4 cup of milk
  • 1 jar nutella (optional)
  • 1 tsp vanilla


In a food processor, add the crackers, melted butter and sugar and pulse until well mixed. Take the mixture and spread over the bottom of the cake pan, pressing down to cover the entire bottom of pan and a little bit up the side. Place pan in the fridge while you're making the filling.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

For the filling, add the cheese, sugar and flour and mix in a mixer on medium speed for about 2 minutes until the cheese is smooth. Scrape down the sides of the mixing bowl, then add the remainder of the ingredients and mix again on medium for another minute or so.  If you're adding nutella, mix it in now.  The filling should be very smooth.

Place the filling in the pan and bake in the oven at 350 for 15 minutes. After 15 minutes turn the oven down to 250 degrees and bake for another hour and a half (with an extra 30 to 45 minutes if you've added nutella). Take out of the oven and let cool out for about an hour, then place in the refrigerator for a couple hours to completely cool.

Hazelnut Crunch

  • 1/4 cup hazelnuts
  • 2 ounces semisweet or bittersweet chocolate (do not exceed 70%)
  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 1/2 cup nutella
  • 3 cups toasted rice cereal (aka Rice Krispies)


Preheat oven to 350.  Line a rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper.  Spread out nuts on sheet.  Toast until fragrant, about 6-7 minutes.  Coarsely chop nuts; set aside.  Line same baking sheet with a fresh sheet of parchment paper; let cool.

Combine chocolate and butter in a medium heatproof bowl.  Set bowl over a large saucepan of simmering water.  Heat mixture, stirring often, until melted and smooth.  Remove bowl from over saucepan.  Stir in hazelnuts and nutella.  Fold in toasted rice cereal.  Spread mixture out on prepared sheet; don't worry about spreading it evenly.  Freeze until set, about 30 minutes.  Using your hands, break crunch into small pieces.

Hazelnut crunch can be made 4 hours ahead.  Cover and chill.

My 9" springform pan.

Upside down, with half of the extra parchment paper cut off.

Right side up, with the parchment paper to be used as a base.

Graham crackers.  They taste like they look.

Pulsed in the Cuisinart.

With the butter added.

I used a small knife to even out the edges.

After being refrigerated.

Adding nutella to the cheesecake batter.

In the San Francisco Bay Area, you can get milk in glass bottles from a local dairy.

Cream plug at the top.

First half of the cheesecake batter in the pan, with more nutella.
Second half of the cheesecake batter in the bowl, with less nutella.

My homemade double boiler for melting the chocolate and butter.
That is a roux whisk, flat on the end for use in pans and pots.
Crunch ready for the freezer, spread out using the cookie sheet.

In the freezer.  Also, that paneer tikka masala from Trader Joe's is really good.

Baked cheesecake.  The air bubbles did not deflate during baking.

Crumbling up the frozen hazelnut crunch.

The finished cheesecake.

Since the cheesecake turned out so well, I was a bit overconfident with success and I decided to create a new dessert based on pictures from the internet (always a good idea) and the total failure I'd had earlier with Nigella's gooey chocolate stack.  Here is the picture Nigella uses to illustrate the recipe:

Guess whose version doesn't look like that!

The meringue and chocolate creme patissiere were easy to make and tasted wonderful but my attempt didn't look like this at all.  The problem was that the creme patissiere wasn't solid and squished out when I started stacking the meringue disks.  Meringues aren't heavy at all since they're basically air on the inside, and I couldn't figure out what I had done wrong.  I assumed that I hadn't cooked the creme patissiere enough so it wasn't as solid as it should be.  But then I started googling and discovered that most people had exactly the same issue.  It wasn't just me (1, 2, 3, 4)!

I had also tried to create a marbled version of the meringue disks instead of completely mixed meringues.  At some point, I had been googling for recipes that use pomegranates and I found this recipe, with awesome swirled meringues and pomegranate seeds and whipped cream and it all looked so good!!!  This is the blog that inspired me to make the raspberry-pomegranate pavlova.  I decided to try to make swirled meringue disks to go with the chocolate creme patissiere.

The big thing I discovered is that you shouldn't mix the colors together very much at all.  When you spoon the meringue out onto the cookie sheet, you will end up mixing it together more as part of the process of smoothing it out and getting it where you need it to go.  If you mix the colors together to the amount you want it swirled before you put the meringue onto the cookie sheet, then it will mix a lot more than you wanted and you will loose the swirly effect.

This is the amount of swirling that I wanted the meringue disks to have.

There was too much mixing and all of the brown streaks were folded in.

There was also an adventure in the middle of this attempt when the plumber came by to fix a leaky faucet in the kitchen.  I was in the middle of making the creme patissiere when this happened:

That's my kitchen sink with the faucets sitting in the soap dish.
Plumber: It smells really good in here!
Me: Thanks.  And no offense, but I'm going to need the kitchen sink pretty soon.

Nigella suggests putting the pot of creme patissiere in a sink full of ice water to cool it down quickly.  I didn't have any ice but I did have several bags of frozen veggies and fruit, so my creme patissiere was cooled by spinach and mango.

Don't try this if you've opened the bags.
I had the finished meringues and creme patissiere, so it was time to start stacking.  And the problem became clear:

Oh, this is not good.
It just got worse from there:

I cleverly attempted a distraction by using raspberries.  It also didn't work.

Finally, I scooped up as much of the overflow as I could and dumped it in the sink.
I couldn't figure out what I had done wrong since I followed the recipe.  Fortunately, the pictures on this blog made everything clear: there's too much creme patissiere.  The recipe said to use one-third of the creme patissiere per layer and it was an oozing mess.  But this blogger used only a small amount per layer and it came out fine.  My guess is that the creme patissiere part of the recipe makes so much because it uses 6 egg yolks to match the 6 egg whites used in the meringue part.  But I bet that you really only need about half or even a third of this amount to use in the layers.

So all of that was done several weeks before the Super Bowl potluck.  I wanted to try making swirled meringues and the creme patissiere again but I would also need to carry whatever I made on public transit.  I decided to make a combination of the two inspiring recipes: small swirled meringues with dipping sauces.  I remade a smaller amount of the creme patissiere and a batch of raspberry-pomegranate sauce for the bite-sized meringues.

I remade the chocolate creme patissiere to check and see if it would get thicker if I cooked it for a longer time, and it didn't.  After that experiment I had a bowl's worth of it so I brought it to the potluck as well.

Making sure not to over-mix the colored meringue with the white meringue worked like a charm. To make the swirly effect, I made the meringue batter and then took a small part of it and added some pink food coloring.  Then I mixed that back in to the white meringue, only stirring it together about three times.  It did not look like it was mixed enough, which was the point.  When I scooped out small spoonfuls and made the round motion on the parchment paper, the colors mixed together.

The "round motion" comes from the fact that you need to shape the meringues before you bake them.  The meringue batter is surprisingly solid, and it will stay in whatever shape you put it in.  If you just drop spoonfuls onto parchment paper, you will end up with oddly shaped lumps.  Instead, you can swirl the tip of the spoon around the meringue from the outside to the inside to make it nice and circular and give it that little peak in the middle.  This will also mix the colors together.

I brought meringues, chocolate creme patissiere, raspberry-pomegranate sauce, and whipped cream as toppings for the meringues, and inevitably the people at the potluck ate all of the meringues and none of the toppings.

Tips: making the meringue batter takes patience because you really do need to add the sugar in very slowly.  If you dump a whole bunch of it in at once, you will end up with liquidy egg whites and a clump of sugar at the bottom of the bowl.  It usually takes me between 5 and 10 minutes to add in the cup of sugar.  I hold the beater with my left hand and pour a very thin stream of sugar from the measuring cup in my right hand.

The meringue batter should be handled with care since you don't want to deflate any of the air bubbles.  This means that you can't stir it very hard or it will collapse.  To make a swirled effect, you need to take a small amount of the batter (about 1/4 cup or so) and mix it very gently with a small amount of food coloring.  This will deflate it a bit and it will be slightly more runny than the rest of the batter.  Then spoon the colored batter back into the white batter and give one or two turns with a spatula.  This will make one or two large ribbons of color in the batter.  When you scoop out spoonfuls to make the small meringues, scoop across the ribbons to get a mixture of colored and white batter.

Once the meringues have baked for an hour, turn the oven off and leave the meringues in the oven with the door closed as it cools down (about 30 minutes or so).  This will make the meringues crispier on the outside and chewier on the inside.

Chocolate Meringue Stack with Chocolate Creme Patissiere (aka Gooey Chocolate Stack)
Recipe at Nigella's website

Pink-Swirled Meringues with Raspberry-Pomegranate Sauce
Original idea from drizzle and drip; recipe from the post on the raspberry-pomegranate pavlova


  • 4 egg whites
  • pinch of salt
  • 1 cup granulated sugar
  • 1 teaspoon vinegar (white, balsamic, or red wine)
  • 2 teaspoons cornstarch
  • food coloring (optional)


  • 2 cups raspberries
  • 16 ounces pomegranate juice
  • 1 cup granulated sugar
  • 2 cups water



Pre-heat the oven to 250 F.  Beat the egg whites until frothy like bubble bath.  Slowly pour the sugar in while beating the egg whites, until the whites are firm.  Gently fold in the vinegar and cornstarch with a spatula.  Spoon the meringue onto a sheet of parchment paper, either in one or several large circles or in many small circles for individual portions.  Bake for 60 minutes, then turn off the oven and leave the door closed until the oven has cooled down (about 30 minutes to an hour).

Carefully wash the fruit and make sure to remove any stickers or other non-fruit little bits.  Be especially careful if you're using raspberries or blackberries.  Put the fruit in a saucepan with 4 cups of liquid (plain water or water and juice) and 1 cup of granulated sugar.  Turn the heat to high so that the liquid is boiling and cook for 30 to 45 minutes, until the volume is visibly reduced.

Strain the sauce into another container to remove the raspberry seeds if desired or pour the sauce into another container.  Let the sauce cool to room temperature.

The meringue batter should be thick enough to hold the beaters upright.

Mixing a small amount of batter with food coloring.

The very saturated result.

Slightly mixing the colored batter into the white batter.

The baked meringues.

The third recipe was something I found when I was looking for dairy-free, gluten-free birthday cake recipes.  Why on earth would you want to eat a dairy-free, gluten-free birthday cake?  A friend asked me to make him one since he is lactose and gluten intolerant.  I ended up using a kosher-for-passover recipe, but also came across this recipe for coconut-oatmeal-chocolate chip cookies, which sounded amazing.  The recipe uses coconut oil instead of butter.  This also got me excited since I use coconut oil on my bad patches of excema and it is the only non-steroid treatment that works.  I just liked the idea of using the same ingredient for skin care and cookie making.

Coconut oil is useful for all kinds of beauty stuff.  People use it on their hair and on their skin, and it's become much easier to find in grocery stores in the last 5-10 years.  Here's a list of 101 things you can use coconut oil for (but not with latex condoms!  Thanks, wikipedia!).  Coconut oil melts around 75 F (25 C), and is white when it's solid and clear when it's liquid.  I keep a large jar of it in the bathroom so I just scooped out what I needed for this recipe and melted it in the microwave.  Coconut oil also has a low smoke point (temperature where it starts to burn) so you need to be careful if you're cooking with it.

Usually when I see pictures of chocolate chip cookies that accompany a recipe, the chocolate is melted and oozing and gooey and the cookies look so soft and chewy, but my cookies never turn out like that.  The pictures on this blog were another showcase of somebody who has figured out the secret to chocolate chip cookies that I have never learned, so I wasn't expecting my cookies to end up soft and chewy with gooey chocolate bits.  And yet, they did.  There's something about this recipe that lets even somebody with my chocolate chip cookie karma produce perfect cookies.

The recipe says to use chopped chocolate instead of chocolate chips, which I did.  These cookies are dense and thick because of the oatmeal and coconut and they need larger chunks of chocolate instead of small chips.  I also baked them for 9 minutes instead of 11 minutes because I like slightly undercooked cookies but they were in no danger of become too crispy even at 11 minutes.

Tips: My brown sugar was very lumpy so I let it sit in the warm coconut oil for about 5 minutes to absorb the liquid.  The solid chunks of brown sugar broke up easily after that.

The recipe says to blend the coconut oil and brown sugar until smooth, but I couldn't get them to stay mixed together.  The coconut oil always separated out.  The batter smoothed out once the eggs and milk were added.

There are several different types of oats (read more about that here).  This recipe calls for quick oats, which are also called quick-cooking oats.  You can substitute rolled oats for quick oats as well.  Steel-cut oats won't cook as fast and they will need more liquid to cook so I would be surprised if you could substitute those in for quick oats.  You definitely do not want to use instant oats since they are basically powder and you will not get the right consistency.

When you start mixing in the oats and the coconut it will seem like there isn't enough wet batter for all of it, but keep mixing and the oats and coconut will mix in.  The oats will absorb some of the liquid and swell up slightly.  I used sweetened coconut since I have a sweet tooth but this recipe will taste very similar with unsweetened coconut.

I dropped very large tablespoons of dough onto cookie sheets, to the point where I thought that they cookies wouldn't bake through because they were so big.  They didn't flatten out as much as plain chocolate chip cookies do and they were baked all the way through.  There were also more cookies than I thought there would be.  It didn't seem like there was a lot of dough but I ended up with about 20 cookies or so.  The last five were actually baked in a cake pan because I ran out of space on my cookie sheets.

Chewy Chocolate Chunk Coconut Oatmeal Cookies 
Recipe from ambitious kitchen

  • 1 1/4 cup quick oats
  • 1 1/4 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 3/4 cup melted coconut oil
  • 3/4 cup dark brown sugar
  • 1 large egg
  • 2 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 cup shredded coconut (sweetened or unsweetened)
  • 3.5 ounces semi-sweet chocolate, coarsely chopped
  • 2 teaspoons milk


Pre-heat oven to 350 F.  In a large bowl, whisk together flour, oats, baking, soda, and salt.  Set aside.

With an electric mixer, beat together the coconut oil and brown sugar until smooth.  Add in the egg, milk, and vanilla.  Beat for 2 minutes or until smooth.

Add in the flour and oat mixture to the wet ingredients, mixing well until combined.  Slowly add in the coconut and chocolate chunks.

Drop the dough by large rounded tablespoons onto ungreased cookie sheets.  Bake for 9 to 11 minutes or until the cookie edges just begin to turn a golden brown.  Do not over bake.  Remove from the oven and let cool a few minutes on the cookie sheet.  Transfer to a wire rack to finish cooling.

Makes 2 dozen.

If you want thin, chewy, flat cookies, then reduce flour to 1 cup and bake as directed.

If you want thicker cookies, increase flour to 1 1/3 cups.

All of the wet ingredients.  It will look like a very small amount of batter.

Adding the oats.

Ready to bake.

The finished cookies, actually looking like the pictures in the original blog post.

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