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hen your children are growing up, if you're a baker (and sometimes even if you're not), you bake a cake for their birthdays. I wonder if that's still true? Most of the time my kids' parties were simple affairs---celebratory and fun, to be sure--but sort of cake and ice cream parties for a bunch of their buddies or maybe even just the family and neighbors.
(below: Sean, a marvelous cook, making his world-renowned pizza--one of my frequent requests. He's also a fine brewer. Nice combination, huh?)
As they grew, and our budget expanded, we might have extended the celebration a bit to include supper out (pizza) or to have a sleepover with pizza ordered in. But the cake remained. Mom made the cake. And it wasn't always a cake, per se.
Sometimes there was a request for pie, cupcakes, or even for lemon bars. My famous brownies came up on the list. Actually, they still do. And my friends all know I'm good for a birthday sweet if they only say the word or tell me what they want. I just like to have an excuse to bake.
(right, above: Sean, the dog whisperer)
...they're not always around on their birthdays. But if they are, they still get their choice of a treat. This year, for Sean's XX birthday, (I won't spill his beans or mine.) I didn't ask him what he wanted. He, like his Dad, likes cheesecake. Dave--the basic, no frills, heavier than lead version:
And while Sean loves that one, he also loves the souped-up version called "Turtle Cheesecake." This year, I changed a few things --lightened it up just a tish--and, I think, improved it. If you're adding caramel sauce, chocolate, and toasted pecans, the lightened cheesecake (less sweet and less heavy) just makes sense.
mom's turtle cheesecake
A not-too-sweet vanilla cheese cake with chocolate swirls on a nutty crust. Served gar-nished with salted caramel sauce* and toasted pecans
CRUST: (above photo)
- 1 cup graham cracker crumbs
- 1/4 cup toasted and finely chopped--or ground-- pecans
- 2 tablespoons brown sugar
- 1 tablespoon cocoa
- 2 tablespoons melted butter
- 1 tablespoon peanut butter
CHOCOLATE SWIRL (above and right photos)**
- 1/4 cup heavy cream
- 4 ounces (1/2 cup) chopped bittersweet chocolate (or 1/2 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips)
- 2 pounds (32 ounces) room temperature low-fat cream cheese
- 1 cup plain, non-fat Greek yogurt
- 2 tablespoons fresh orange juice
- 1 1/4 cups granulated sugar
- 3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
- 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
- 1 teaspoon almond extract
- 4 eggs, beaten
- 1/4 cup milk
GARNISH: 1 cup toasted pecans
To Make: Place in 8-inch skillet over low heat for 6-7 minutes until toasted.
- Preheat oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit and place rack in center of oven.
- CRUST: In a large bowl, by hand, or in the food processor, mix together all of the ingredients for the crust very well until the mixture resembles moist, coarse sand. Press crumb mixture into the bottom and about 1-inch up the sides of a 10-inch springform pan. Place in refrigerator.
- CHOCOLATE SWIRL: Heat cream over low heat in a small sauce pan. Add chopped chocolate and stir until just melted. Stir well and set aside to cool.
- FILLING: In a food processor, in a large bowl using a hand mixer, or in a standing mixer, process or beat together the softened cream cheese and yogurt until smooth. Add orange juice, sugar, flour, and extracts, and mix well.
- Pour in beaten eggs and process or beat until very smooth and completely mixed. Pour in milk and mix until just combined.
- Pour half of the batter into the springform pan. Dot evenly with tablespoons of the chocolate filling, and swirl using a sharp knife. Pour the other half of the batter on top and dot with tablespoons of the remainder of the chocolate filling. Swirl again with a sharp knife.
- Bake 20 minutes. Reduce heat to 350 degrees Fahrenheit and bake approximately 45 minutes or until toothpick, inserted at center of cake, comes out just almost clean. Cool on rack. Cake may crack. Chill eight hours or overnight.
- Cut and serve with a generous drizzle of caramel sauce and a few toasted pecans.
* Salted Caramel Sauce: I used Carole Bloom's Classic Caramel Sauce, to which I added a good pinch (1/8 teaspoon) of kosher salt at the very end of preparation. Use any caramel sauce you'd like or pick up a jar at the store, though it's very easy (and much tastier) to make it. It's a bit of a chemistry experiment, but fun!
**Chocolate swirl recipe from epicurious
Cook's Note: Make this cake when you have a little time to spare. It deserves a good part of the morning or half the afternoon so that you needn't rush and can really pay attention to it. The caramel sauce needs all of your undivided attention. Try not to have the mail woman ring the bell needing postage due if you can help it. Or to drop your checkbook in the dog's water while you're trying to find change. That's what happened at my house.
Celebrate ALL birthdays. Enjoy each moment, Sean.
Sing a new song,