In Schoharie County, indulging in a decadent cheesecake has become a holiday tradition, thanks to the students at SUNY Cobleskill.
Each year, students in the college’s Pastry Arts Club make hundreds of cheesecakes for their annual fall fundraiser. Orders are taken weeks in advance and a marathon baking weekend happens the third week in November.
The cakes are made to be eaten fresh on Thanksgiving Day, but according to club members, many families buy multiple cakes and freeze them for Christmas.
It’s a good strategy because cheesecake that has been frozen tastes great as long as people wait for it to thaw completely before they try to eat it, the club president, Elisha Webb, said. Just allow it to thaw in the refrigerator overnight before serving it.
300 LBS. of cream cheese
Each year, approximately 800 eggs, 300 pounds of cream cheese and 60 pounds of sugar are delivered to the college for the cheesecake project. The club had more than 200 pre-ordered cakes this year but will make several dozen extra for latecomers. They also supply cakes for the college’s holiday dinner.
Any extra cakes are brought to local food kitchens and senior centers.
This year’s cakes were 7 inches in diameter and 2 inches deep, much thicker than in previous years. They came in four flavors: classic vanilla bean, double chocolate, cranberry walnut and pumpkin gingersnap.
“We know these are holiday cakes, so we always think up festive flavors,” said JoAnne Cloughly, associate professor of culinary arts and the club’s adviser.
The recipes are of the school’s own design, and each variation is tested and baked several times to ensure the best quality for customers.
The cakes have become an annual tradition for locals for the past seven years.
“One year we were going to do cookies and people got angry,” said Cloughly. “We won’t be making that mistake again.”
The money raised from this year’s sale will go toward a trip to Washington for club members in the first week of December. The group plans to visit chef Julia Child’s kitchen on display at the Smithsonian.
The college’s two pastry kitchen labs contain 16 large convection ovens. Nearly 40 cakes can be baked at one time.
Webb and Cloughly said the trick to baking the perfect cheesecake is to bake it and let it cool inside a water bath. This is done by placing the cheesecake tins within larger tins filled with water. It prevents the cakes from cracking.
They also suggest baking the cakes at a lower temperature for a longer period, explaining that 325 degrees for an hour and 15 minutes should suffice.
“Cheesecakes are egg-based and often the egg can set too fast, causing the crack. That’s a complaint we hear a lot,” said Coughly.
Webb commented, “It takes a lot of patience to make a good cheesecake, but it’s not as difficult as most people think.”
She said someone who feels comfortable baking should not get nervous entering cheesecake territory. It can be a fun learning experience.
This is Peter McArdle’s second year participating in the fundraiser. He is a 47-year-old Hudson resident who returned to school to become a pastry chef. His favorite part of the process is watching the cheese filling get made in such a large quantity.
“The volume is outstanding,” he said.
He said trade books still rank cheesecake the No. 1 restaurant dessert chosen by customers.
“It’s something you don’t have all the time “ said Cloughly. “It’s decadent and rich and good for special times.”
Webb said that’s why it has become a holiday staple.
“Don’t worry about putting on pounds,” she said. “That’s what the holidays are for, to indulge yourself.”
The following recipes are from JoAnne Cloughly’s collection.
Chocolate Peppermint Cheesecake
2 cups chocolate creme cookies (like Oreos), finely ground
2 pounds cream cheese, room temperature — not low-fat
1 cup sugar
4 large whole eggs
1/4 cup sour cream
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 teaspoon peppermint extract
1/3 cup peppermint candies, crushed
1 1/2 cups sour cream
3 tablespoons sugar
1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/4 teaspoon peppermint extract
For crust: Wrap outside of 9-inch diameter springform pan with aluminum foil, making sure foil extends up the outside of the pan by at least 2 inches. Press cookie crumbs into bottom and up sides of prepared pan, as far as crumbs will allow — no more than 1/8-inch thick.
For filling: Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Beat cream cheese in large bowl at low speed until smooth, scraping bowl often.
Add sugar and mix until well blended. Add eggs one at a time, beating until blended after each addition.
Beat in sour cream and extracts. Stir in crushed peppermint candies.
Slowly and gently, pour filling into crust.
Set pan inside another deeper baking dish and add enough water to extend a half-inch up the sides of the pan. Place pan on center rack in oven.
Bake cheesecake until filling is set in center and edges are puffed, about 1 hour. Batter will lose its shiny color. Cool in water bath for 10 minutes.
For topping: Stir sour cream, sugar and extracts in small bowl to blend. Pour mixture over hot cheesecake, covering completely.
Return cheesecake to oven and bake until top begins to set, about 8 minutes.
Cool completely in water bath and then chill 8-10 hours.
Carefully remove pan sides.
Chewy Spice Cookies
Makes about 5 dozen.
3/4 cup butter, softened
1 cup granulated sugar
1 whole large egg
1/4 cup molasses
2 cups all purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
1/2 teaspoon salt
Additional granulated sugar for rolling, about 1 cup
Preheat oven to 375 degrees.
In a mixing bowl, cream butter and sugar. Add eggs and blend. Add molasses and mix well.
Combine dry ingredients and add to creamed mixture.
Chill overnight — or at least 8 hours.
Shape balls into 1-inch rounds. Roll in granulated sugar.
Place 2 inches apart on ungreased or paper-lined baking sheet and bake until edges begin to brown.
Cool before serving.