Friday, April 2, 2010

A Roomful of Memories at Easter


When I woke this morning , after making my coffee, I turned on the oven for some baking I planned on doing. As I turned the knobs and listened for the gas burners to begin I realized that this simple act brought so much comfort. It's an act that I have repeated thousands of times in the past but never really paid attention to it. Maybe because it's the beginning of the Easter Week end and all those childhood memories are coming back. I was raised as a very strict Catholic so the days preceding Easter Sunday were always somber and quiet days. I remember wanting to practice the piano one Good Friday and was stopped by my father in the middle of playing. I won't subject you to the lecture I received about the solemness of the day and how I should be thinking of sacrifice and the meaning of Easter. You've been there too ? My father was a quiet man , he had a gentleness within him, but was just stern enough to stop my fingers from any further frivolity on the piano keys that day. That memory stays with me today, even though I have drifted far from the church and have found my own spirituality.


But that little motion of turning the oven knob seemed to turn the door knob, opening a room full of memories revolving around this holiday. Dyeing Easter eggs and wanting pretty pastel colors and not the bright colors the dye produced; opening the refrigerator and smelling my mother's potato salad and quietly lifting the lid of the Tupperware cover and sneaking spoonfuls when I thought no one was looking. Watching my mother bake our Easter Paska, a Slovenian sweet and cheese filled bread that was only made at Easter. I can still hear her admonishing me to stop peeking under the towel at the dough - I didn't understand the rising process and was so curious to watch that clump of dough grow into something so puffy and smelling of sweet yeast and cheese. And then Sunday morning , just before church she would make  City chicken that she had  prepped the night before. No one made City Chicken like my mother's !

That was the final step before we all put on our new Easter clothes and piled into the car for the drive to church. Sitting on the hard wooden pews and kneeling on those wooden kneelers, all I could think of was the wonderful food waiting at home for us. I'm surprised I wasn't struck by lightening for those thoughts of food instead of concentrating on the church service !

And then arriving home Easter baskets filled with chocolate bunnies,yellow and pink marshmallow peeps, and foiled wrapped chocolate eggs and what seemed like hundreds of jelly beans hiding in the green shiny straw lining the basket. All this incredible wonderfulness was wrapped in pink or clear cellophane and tied with a huge bow. The cellophane was meant to keep us from sampling chocolate before dinner but we were very clever children and always found ways to sneak our little hands in through a little break in the cellophane, pull out a bunny and take a bite from the bottom of the bunny,placing it back in the basket so no one would notice !
My sister, brother and I won't be sneaking into any Easter baskets on Sunday. We will have our traditional ham and my sister will make potato salad that tastes just like the salad we grew up with. Me, I'm going to surprise them with City Chicken and a new treat-"Cinn-a-Bun Cheesecake" .

Holidays are such wonderful times to wrap yourself in childhood memories. They feel like your favorite soft and worn blanket wrapped around you while you sit with your morning coffee waiting for the oven to heat up.

Mom, it's been such a long time since we were in the kitchen together, I know you are with me, watching me do all those things I watched you do when I was  growing up...Happy Easter and love and warm Easter wishes to all of you and your loved ones.

You can find the recipe for City Chicken here. And while there are hundreds of different versions of Easter Paska I found this recipe at Chow, published by Maggie at Doghill Kitchen, it was her great-great grandmother's recipe and is closest to what I remember about my mother's recipe. And the Cinn-a-Bunn Cheesecake was adapted from "a passion for Baking" by Marcy Goldman. If this book isn't in your kitchen library, it should be. You can buy it here.

 "Bake to celebrate-Bake to nourish-Bake for fun"
My kind of mantra !

Cinn-a-Bunn Cheesecake
adapted from Marcy Goldman's "a passion for Baking"

1 1/2 cups finely crushed cinnamon raisin cookies or other spice cookies
(I used Alki Bakery Snickerdoodles and Alki Bakery Ginger Molasses cookies at a ratio of 2 Snickerdoodles for each Ginger Molasses)
1/4 cup unsalted butter, melted
2 tablespoons brown sugar

1 1/2 lbs creme cheese,room temperature softened
1 cup sugar
1/2 cup of sour cream (or whipping cream)
4 large eggs-room temperature
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
1/4 cup all purpose flour
1 cup coarsely chopped cinnamon raisin cookie or other spiced cookies
1 cup raisins (plumped for a few minutes in hot water, then drained and dried off)
1/3 cup Hershey cinnamon chips-this is optional if you can find them they are delicious
1/4 cup butterscotch sundae topping-I used Dulce de leche and melted it in the microwave so it was pourable.
3 tablespoons ground cinnamon mixed with 1/4 cup sugar ( I used my vanilla bean sugar-it's the cannister I place all my used vanilla beans into )

Finishing touch
Confectioners' sugar

Preheat oven to 325F and line a baking sheet with parchment paper.

For the crust:
Toss the crushed cookie crumbs,butter and brown sugar together in the bottom of an 8" springform pan.  Press the crust into bottom of pan ,clean the sides of any stray crumbs and spray the sides lightly with a nonstick cooking spray.

For filling:
In a mixer bowl, blend cream cheese,sugar,and sour cream until smooth, scraping bottom and sides of bowl to incorporate everything, about 3-4 minutes.  Stir in eggs,vanilla and flour and blend well for 2-3 minutes on low speed.  You don't want to beat and incorporate air into your batter.

Place the springform pan on the parchment lined cookie sheet. Spoon one third of the cheesecake filling into prepared pan and top with half each of chopped cookies,raisins, and cinnamon chips.  Drizzle on the butterscotch or dulce de leche topping.  Dust on some cinnamon sugar.  Cover with another third of the cream cheese filling and then layer on more cookies,remaining raisins,more cinnamon chips, and more cinnamon sugar.  Add the last bit of filling and finish the top of the cake with cookie crumbs,coarsely chopped cookies in small pieces, cinnamon chips, and a good dusting of cinnamon sugar.  Don't put raisins on top or they will scorch.  You want to end up with what looks like a streusel type topping. This will be full to the rim, almost overflowing-deep breathe-it's ok, it will bake beautifully.

Bake 45-55 minutes.  Turn off the oven, open the oven door about 6 inches and let the cheesecake cool down inside the oven for 1 hour. Don't be alarmed if the center appears jiggly prior to chilling it-it should and it will firm up.  Once cooled move it to the refrigerator and chill for at least 6 hours-12 hours is best. Carefully loosen the springform pan from the cheesecake-you may need to slide a flexible metal spatula which has been dipped in hot water around the inside ring of the cheesecake to loosen it. I didn't find that necessary but I was very gentle and very slow in opening the ring and working it away from the cheesecake.

Dust with confectioners' sugar before serving.

Sit back and enjoy the rave reviews !


bellini valli said...

I do remember dressing up on Easter Sunday and heading for church in our new Spring coats, gloves and Easter bonnets. Living in Canada I also remember it being wishful thinking that it would be warm enough to do so...but that didn't stop us. Cheesecake somehow reminds me of Easter. This version sounds delicious!!

Tiffanee said...

Love the memories. Easter holds such fond memories for me also. The cheesecake looks devine!! I wish I could have a piece of it right now. We have something in common I too was transplanted in the Seattle area almost 2 years ago. Glad to have found your blog. I am off to check it out more...