Victorious Pumpkin Cheesecake

It's been quite a December for me. A bit coo coo ca choo if you will. I decided to part ways with the lovely Williams-Sonoma, a company I had been working at for over 8 years! Major WOAH, right? During my last week there, I felt like a chicken with it's head cut off. While I was wrapping up my work to dos and fully utilizing my corporate discount (why of course I need a Snowflake Cakelet Pan and a couple Spoonulas), the company had another baking contest for all the Pottery Barn brand teams. This was my last shot at partaking in a work baking contest, so I couldn't not enter, ego shot from the last failed contest or not! I discussed dessert ideas with a coworker and she brought up the idea of making a pumpkin cheesecake, mostly because it's a favorite of hers (smart girl). I'm a big fan of this dessert as well and I've had experience making it a few times so this plan was fully a go! I knew I had to use my "crack cheesecake crust" (the name I lovingly gave to Momufuku's Milk Bar's Graham Cracker Crust because it's rightfully addicting), and I wanted to try out a new pumpkin cheesecake recipe I've been eyeing. It's a dicey move to make something new for a contest, i know, but I felt like I needed to go balls out for this last one.

As I've mentioned, cheesecake takes for evs to cook- I'm talking hours upon hours upon hours. You've got your baking time, cooling time and more cooling time that adds up to about 11 hours. It's insane, but strangely always worth it in the end. So, I tackled this recipe the night before the contest, but made the mistake of starting rather late. Not wise. That meant I had to set several alarms to wake my ass up to tend to the cheesecake. Alarm #1: turn oven off after cheesecake had baked for almost 2 hours. Alarm #2: take cheesecake out of oven after it had sat in oven for 1 hour, put on cooling rack. Alarm #3: put cheesecake in fridge to cool for 8+ hours.

Like I said, it's strangely worth all the hassle in the end, and this time was luckily no different, when it really mattered. Friends, I placed in the contest! And by "placed," I mean I got 3rd place. Yes, it's not the gold or silver, but it's bronze friends and it's a beautiful metal to me. This win was the perfect ending to my career at Williams-Sonoma. 

As I walked out the door of my beloved workplace for the last time, I tucked the empty cheesecake pan under my arm, still wearing a satisfied victory grin. Special shoutout to Mr. Williams and my fabulous work peeps- hugs all around!

Victorious Pumpkin Cheesecake
Yield: Roughly 12 servings, but it depends on how generous you are with your slices.
Crust Recipe from Momofuku Milk Bar
Filling Recipe from Foodnetwork.com

Ingredients – Crust
Yield
: Makes about 340 g (2 Cups)
Note: if you want a thicker crust, double this recipe! I did.
190 g (1 1/2 cups) graham cracker crumbs
20 g (1/4 cup) milk powder
25 g (2 tbs) sugar
3 g (3/4 tsp) kosher salt
55 g (4 tbs) butter, melted, or as needed
55 g (1/4 cup) heavy cream

Ingredients – Filling
2 pounds cream cheese, at room temperature
2 1/2 cups sugar
1/4 cup sour cream
1, 15 -ounce can pure pumpkin
6 large eggs, at room temperature, lightly beaten
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
2 1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground ginger
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
2 cups sweetened whipped cream
1/3 cup toasted pecans, roughly chopped

Directions – Crust
1.  
Preheat over to 325 degrees Fahrenheit.
2.  Brush a 10-inch springform pan with some melted butter.
3.  Toss the graham crumbs, milk powder, sugar, and salt with your hands in a medium bowl to evenly distribute your dry ingredients.
4.  Whisk the butter and heavy cream together. Add to the dry ingredients and toss again to evenly distribute. The butter will act as glue, adhering to the dry ingredients and turning the mixture into a bunch of small clusters. The mixture should hold its shape if squeezed tightly in the palm of your hand. If it is not moist enough to do so, melt an additional 14 to 25 g (1 to 1½ table- spoons) butter and mix it in.
5.  Press the crumb mixture into the bottom and up the sides of the pan, packing it tightly and evenly (Pro Tip: OR do what I did and just spread a thick layer on the bottom). Bake until golden brown, 15 to 20 minutes.
6.  Cool on a rack, then wrap the outside of the springform pan with foil or slow cooker liners (these are fool-proof!) and place in a roasting pan or a larger pan.

Directions – Filling
1.  Boil a kettle of water to have ready for your water bath.
2.  Toast your pecans at 375 degrees until you can barely start to smell them (5ish mins), set aside to cool.
3.  Lower oven temperature to 325 degrees.
4.  In a larger bowl or stand mixer, beat the cream cheese until smooth. Add sugar and beat until just light, scraping down the sides of the bowl and beaters as needed. Beat in the sour cream, then add the pumpkin, eggs, vanilla, 1 teaspoon salt and the spices and beat until just combined. Pour into the cooled crust.
5.  Gently place a roasting pan (or any pan that is larger than your springform pan) in the oven (don't pull the rack out) and pour the boiling water into the roasting pan until it comes about halfway up the side of the springform pan.
6.  Bake at 325 degrees until the outside of the cheesecake sets but the center is still loose, about 1 hour 45 minutes. Turn off the oven and open the door briefly to let out some heat. Leave the cheesecake in the oven for 1 more hour, then carefully remove from the roasting pan and cool on a rack. Run a knife around the edges, cover and refrigerate at least 8 hours or overnight.
7.  Bring the cheesecake to room temperature 30 minutes before serving. Unlock and remove the springform ring. To finish, place a dollop of the whipped cream on each slice and sprinkle with the toasted pecans.

Chuck Williams' Birthday Bake Off

image courtesy of Williams-Sonoma Inc.

Chuck Williams, the founder of Williams-Sonoma (where I work), turned 99 on October 2! Having a 99th burfday is no joke, so in light of this, the company decided to turn it up to 11 and spread his birthday celebration over 7 days. On one of the last days, they hosted a Chuck Williams Birthday Bake-Off, where any associate could enter. There was no question about whether or not I should compete. It would be a nasty slap to the face of this blog if I didn't enter...not to mention there were handsome prizes for the winners:

  • A KitchenAid Stand Mixer 
  • Williams-Sonoma Goldtouch bakeware and an electric hand mixer 
  • 7-piece Wüstof Classic Ikon knife block set 
  • Set of three Le Creuset cookware

Nice little line-up, eh? I was excited to get my baking on for Chucky-boy (he probably wouldn't like me calling him that). There were four categories for the contest: Best Tasting, Best Presentation, Most Creative; and Best Use of Chuck's Finds. To be honest, I didn't target any of the categories and instead chose desserts I have previously made that stood out in my mind. The rules stated that competitors could enter multiple desserts so I knew I'd at least enter a few to increase my chances of placing. I decided on these two crowd pleasers: Chocolate Guinness Cupcakes with Bailey's Buttercream Frosting and Banana Pudding with Salted Caramel Sauce. I thought these provided enough differences from the other but were still equally yumtastic.

I felt confident enough about my decision, until I arrived at the bake-off. While I excitedly set up my two delights, I immediately sized-up my competition. There were 32 desserts there, some looking rather average (sorry) and some looking pretty impressive. I gazed at my dessert friends one last time, gave them a good luck nod and headed back to work. After getting into the office, I quickly realized I wouldn't be able to make the actual bake-off due to <insert something important sounding that really isn't as important as the bake-off in my humble>. I was a sad panda, but whatareyougonnado?

 One of the judges judging my pretties

One of the judges judging my pretties

I wasn't able to get any information about the bake-off until the following day. I was eager to hear how it went and who took the gold, all while trying to keep my expectations low. An email finally went out with the lowdown. Williams-Sonoma Test Kitchen chefs were the judges and apparently, Chuck Williams (in-the-flesh!) attended the bake-off as well at Tyler Florence. Whaaaa?! Amazing, right? The results weren't great for the Dessert Fiend though. I sadly didn't even place <insert frowny emoticon>, but here are the list of winners, in all their glory:

Most Creative:
Winner: Bannoffee Pie
RU: Yogurt Cheesecake with Passion Fruit Topping

Best Presentation:
Winner: Almond Buttercream with Meyer Lemon Curd
RU: Pavlova

Best Use of Chuck’s Finds:
Winner: Chocolate Hazelnut Crepe Cake
RU: Chuck’s Tool Belt

Most Delicious:
Winner: Hazelnut Mocha Daquoise
RU: Almond Cake with Chocolate Mousse

There is, however, a big silver lining to my loss: the Bake-Off was featured on our company website and this very blog got a SWEET plug! Dessert Fiend will take a pimpin' wherever she can. Also, apparently my cupcakes were the talk of the town and several people wanted my recipe. At least I'm a winner in somebody's eyes! ;-)

Until the next bake-off friends!