Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Mini Rosey Red Cupcakes

Personally, I never thought Valentine's Day was a big deal. To me (and a lot of people), it's really just a way for organizations to get consumers to buy their products by convincing them that there's a special/important occasion they can't ignore. And of course, they feel obligated to do so or else their other half will probably throw a fit. It's a little silly how worked up some people can get over days like these. But really, if it makes people happy then that's alright. I enjoyed Valentine's Day this year simply because I was surrounded by good friends and my family. And for that, I am grateful.

This year I decided I should spread some love. I proposed to a group of my friends that we play a little game of Secret Valentine with a limit of 50 dirhams per gift; just a fun way to get everyone to spread some good vibes. Truly, it's just a way for me to guarantee I'm getting a gift.. But yeah, let's get back to selflessness. We all met up in university during lunchtime, (im)patiently waited for the latecomers, and finally exchanged our gifts. I was probably the only person who stuck to the price limit. Stingy or creative? I'm not sure anymore :P It was super fun and was a nice way of getting to know each other better. 

Gifting just one person wasn't enough, though. Since I can't afford to give out more than a dozen roses (student allowance wohoo!) to all my family and friends, I thought roses on mini cupcakes would be more appropriate. The whole goal was to make someone happy so, I hope these put a smile on someone's face.

These cupcakes are just like the ones I made last year except I used this vanilla cupcake recipe instead. A lot of people thought they looked like roses before so tinting the cream red was just too tempting not to do this time around. It can't be healthy to get this excited over colored frosting. I hope you enjoyed Valentine's Day if you do celebrate it and if you don't, then just keep spreading the love anyway.

Happy Baking!

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Chocolate Swirl Cheesecake

Simple words typed out on a blank screen and beautifully colored with rich vocabulary won't be able to describe how much I've missed blogging.

I fractured my arm in November and had to deal with the incompetence of some doctors which winded me up in two different casts for 6 slow weeks. Boy, that was a tough one. I wouldn't say I'm an impatient person but having to wrap my cast in a plastic bag before every shower I took was not my cup of tea. I had to quit basketball, badminton and the gym and worst of all: I had no interest in baking because that would just take much longer than usual while using one arm.

Some of the stuff friends drew on my cast :)

But of course, I tried my best to stick to the positive side of everything. I went on a university trip to Istanbul (yay, I love Turkey!). I thought my fracture would stop me from having a good time but it didn't; other than taking forever to get a sleeve through my arm, it was one of my most memorable trips where I made lots of new friends and strengthened bonds with some old friends. Later that November, I took part in the 3rd BakeFest DXB where I challenged myself to bake up batches of 3 different menu items to sell. With the help of my wonderful mother, I managed to bake an impressive amount of goodies. I even got lots of help at BakeFest and made a humble profit (much love goes out to Hana Younes, Wajiha Said and Devina Divecha for everything they kindly did for me that day. You girls were amazing!). I guess the most thing that kept me preoccupied was university. I'm on my final year now so my courses are a lot more demanding than before. Projects started piling up and exams were right around the corner with every passing week. Thankfully all that hard work and dedication paid off at the end; I was very happy with my grades! Unfortunately, it meant I had to neglect Red Panda Bakes a lot, I guess you can't have it all.

I've been baking a lot of cake lately. Partially because I've been feeling lazy after long days at university and also because, well, I love cake. But I've been getting a lot of demands from my family at home [read: from my mother] to bake a cheesecake. But I wanted to try something new. So I decided I just had to give the chocolate swirl cheesecake a go. I've been thinking about making it for the longest time and never got around to trying it out. So here it is in all its glory!

The thing I love the most about cheesecake is that making the crust makes me feel like I'm playing in the sand at the beach. The crushed biscuits stick to your fingers almost the same way damp sand does.

Making the cheesecake filling is part therapeutic and part gluttony. The therapeutic part comes from the beauty of watching all the creamy ingredients come together and smelling the burst of lemon zest once it's added. The glutton is... Me. I love licking what's left over from the filling off the spatula and the inside of the bowl. So if I share that with you then take that as a sign of true love. It's pretty serious.

I can safely say this was just as easy as making a plain cheesecake. Completely fuss free! I made these in mini cheesecake pans but you can definitely make this in a normal spring-form pan too!

Chocolate Swirl Cheesecake adapted from Tyler Florence's Ultimate Cheesecake

What You'll Need:

2 cups (200g) finely ground graham crackers (about 30 squares)
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 stick (100 g) unsalted butter, melted

1 pound (450 g) cream cheese, softened
3 eggs
1 cup (180 g) sugar
1 pint (450g) sour cream (I usually put 4 heaped tablespoons)
1 lemon, zested
1 dash vanilla extract
100g of chocolate buttons or any chocolate that can be used for melting
The How To:

For the Crust
  • Preheat the oven to 180°C. 
  • In a mixing bowl, combine the ingredients for the crust with a fork until they are evenly moistened.  
  • Lightly coat the bottom and sides of an 8-inch spring-form pan with non-stick cooking spray. 
  • Pour the crumbs into the pan and, using the bottom of a measuring cup or the smooth bottom of a glass, press the crumbs down into the base and 1-inch up the sides. Refrigerate for 5 minutes. 

For the Filling:
  • In a double boiler, melt the chocolate. Set aside to cool. 
  • In the bowl of an electric mixer, beat the cream cheese on low speed for 1 minute until smooth and free of any lumps. 
  • Add the eggs, 1 at a time, and continue to beat slowly until combined. 
  • Gradually add sugar and beat until creamy, for 1 to 2 minutes. 
  • Add sour cream, lemon zest, and vanilla. Periodically scrape down the sides of the bowl and the beaters. The batter should be well-mixed but not over beaten. 
  • Scoop out 3-4 tablespoons of the batter into the now cooled melted chocolate. Mix it together to get a chocolate batter. 
  • Pour the filling into the crust-lined pan. Spoon the chocolate batter on top of the filling; try to put a dollop of chocolate batter a bit further away from each other. 
  • With a spatula or blunt knife, swirl the chocolate batter into the creamy batter creating a swirl-y effect. Don't fuss over this bit, it's all going to taste great in the end! 
  • Bake for 45 minutes. The cheesecake should still jiggle (it will firm up after chilling), so be careful not to overcook. 
  • Let cool in pan for 30 minutes. Chill in the refrigerator, loosely covered, for at least 4 hours. Loosen the cheesecake from the sides of the pan by running a thin metal spatula around the inside rim. 
  • Unmold and transfer to a cake plate. 

Happy Baking!