Wednesday, May 23, 2012

LSU Graduation & The Ultimate Cheesecake

A love letter to LSU
Long post today, but there is so much love to discuss

After four wonderful years at LSU, each one a little different from the last, but all full of hard work and fun, I graduated last Thursday and Friday.  And, the end of my experience at LSU was just as amazing as the beginning.  In fact, Friday was one of the best days of my life. But, I’m getting ahead of myself …

I walked with the LSU Honors College My roommate Haley graduated with top honors and was hooded. I was so proud of her! It was nice to attend a commencement together and to take pictures decked out in our regalia.  Haley and I actually met via the Honors College in a HNRS course for FOCUS, an organization run by honors students that introduces kids from underserved high schools to higher education. (Haley describes the program quite nicely here.)

With my pretty (and bright) roommate.

It all started very early in the morning, with the main 9 a.m. commencement — which meant a 6:00 a.m. alarm.  My parents were excited to make the early morning drive from home to Baton Rouge because we had received some exciting news earlier in the week about the Chancellor's speech. Chancellor Martin mentioned me in his speech about grads with noteworthy plans. I think this was my favorite ceremony, and not just for the speech, but also for the company.   I was able to sit with my dear friends Jake and Emily.  They were fantastic company and singing the alma mater together one last time is something I will remember about graduation forever.

Oma and me outside the main commencement.

We went back to my place between ceremonies, where I got a HUGE surprise. My honorary sister Rachael and her husband Johnny knocked on the door, what a pleasant surprise.  Then, two more guests popped into view: My sister Julie and her husband Andrew! They live in DC so this was a big shock.  Seeing them meant the world to me and I owe a big thanks to all of my friends who were in on it and didn’t tell me (especially Emily and Jake who waited in line for extra commencement tickets for my family).

My family reunited at my place.

We then ventured together to the Journalism Commencement where Bob Schieffer spoke — he was amazing which goes without saying. I also almost cried when I saw my professors and mentors before me, knowing that I will never sit in their classes again. And, of course, it was strange to see my Student Media colleagues walk off the stage, leaving college journalism and onto the "real world" — except for those of you going to grad school.

Jake, me and Slack after the J-School Commencement. They were my comrades in Student Media.

Me and Robert (already a graduate) also met in LSU's Student Media.

That evening included dinner downtown and as my family toasted I felt oh so special and incredibly loved. I looked around the table at my old friends Rachael and Johnny, my new brother, the best big sister in the world, my Oma who I am so blessed to still have in my life, my cute boyfriend and my wonderful, supportive parents, and thought low lucky I am. 

In a 48-hour period, I was fortunate enough to spend time with my biological family and the one I had created over the past four years at LSU.  My graduation was greater than I expected it to be and it is all owed to the fabulous people in life — as are my successes and happiness at LSU.  Thank you.

The Ultimate Cheesecake
Oma's cheesecake recipe that she has titled "The Ultimate Cheesecake" 

I have a relative (who will remain nameless) who has worked for LSU's Athletic Department for ... ever? When Oma was in her 50s or 60s, she and my late grandfather had season tickets and lived for LSU football.  They would make the drive to Baton Rouge, and Oma would have her famous purple and gold LSU cheesecake in tow. Oma would give the treat to our relative, and sometimes players would get to enjoy it after the game.  This cake bleeds purple and gold, so it was only appropriate to have it at my graduation party. Below is the recipe dictated by Oma and typed by my mother

A piece of cake at my Graduation crawfish boil.

  Ingredients and Recipe for Crust:
-       3 cups all-purpose flour
-       ¾ cup sugar
-       3 egg yokes
-       1 ½ sticks unsalted butter
-       1 ½ teaspoons vanilla
-       1 ½ teaspoon lemon zest
-       9” bottom, 3” high spring-form baking pan (no smaller)
       Preheat oven to 400 degrees F, grease sides and bottom of a spring-form baking pan.  Remove side of spring-form pan and set it aside.  In a medium size bowl, combine the flour, sugar, and lemon peel.   Form a well in the center of the dry ingredients, and cut the butter into small pieces and into the well.  Add the egg yolks and vanilla to the well.  Quickly mix all ingredients with fingertips until it holds together and you have a smooth ball of dough. Break off a small piece and roll it with your hands into a long strip that will fit the circle of the spring-form: set it aside. On the bottom of the spring-form pan, roll out dough to cover the bottom of the spring-form pan, right to the edge of pan (the thickness of a cut-out cookie, about 3/8 inch).  Bake this for 6 to 8 minutes (do not over bake: it will be baked again with filling).   Cool on rack.  Pat the rest of the dough all around rim wall of the pan (3”high).  Assemble spring-form rim piece with the cooled bottom piece.  Take the reserved strip of dough and press it as a leak-proof seal all around the edge of where the rim dough meets the bottom crust.  Set the spring-form pan aside.  Any dough not needed for crust can be saved & baked into cut-out cookies.

Ingredients and Recipe for Filling:
-       5 8-oz. packages cream cheese (2½ pounds cream cheese) set in large bowl to room temperature
-       ¼ cup heavy cream (NOT WHIPPING CREAM!)
-       1 ¾ cups sugar (regular granulated is good, fine is best, but NOT confectioner’s extra fine)
-       1 tablespoon lemon juice (fresh is best)
-       2 teaspoons vanilla
-       5 eggs + 2 egg yolks (rest to room temperature first)
-       4 tablespoons flour
-       6 oz. real sour cream
-       Electric mixer- preferably heavy duty hand mixer or a stand mixer!

Preheat oven to 450 degrees F.   Set out the eggs & cream cheese to rest at room temperature.  In a large bowl,  start mixing (SLOWLY at first) the cream cheese and sugar.  Cream these two ingredients thoroughly until fluffy.  Add the cream, and alternate it slowly and with mixing in the flour until the mixture is evenly blended and smooth.  Add the eggs one by one and then the yolks, thoroughly blending in each egg.  Use low mixing speeds for blending, not beating.  Add the lemon juice and vanilla and blend.  By hand, stir the sour cream last- just mixed enough to blend: do not over beat cream.
Pour cheese mixture into prepared crust in the spring-form and bake for 15 minutes at 450 degrees.  Reduce oven temperature to 250 degrees and bake another 60 minutes.
Testing for Doneness, Cooling, Chilling, and Topping the Cake
The cake is done when the outer edges are just turning light brown, are slightly higher than the center, and just begin to pull from the wall of the pan.  The raised edge will be more done, more firm than the center, but the center will be set and glossy.  The center should have some firmness, not be “uncooked.”  Press lightly with a finger and it resists the pressure.  REMEMBER: The center will continue to cook more as the cake cools for several hours on a rack.
When the cake is done, remove it gently from the oven.  Place it on a rack with legs so air can circulate under the spring-form pan and evenly cool the cake from all sides.  Allow the cake to cool to room temperature (4 to 6 hours).  Use a serrated knife to loosen crust from spring-form wall: slowly slide the knife around the cake between the crust and the spring-form wall.  Do not remove cake from spring-form until after cake has chilled in the refrigerator.  If the cake is completely cool, it can be glazed at this time with the desired topping. 
Cover the cake to seal out other food odors before chilling. Chill the cake in a refrigerator for least four hours before serving.  Check to make sure crust is free from spring-form wall before unlatching the pan.  The cake can remain on the spring-form bottom or moved with a cake-mover (over-sized spatula) to a cake plate.

Oma uses blueberry and pineapple or lemon glaze to make the LSU colors. She's been known to marble them in the past. 

Blueberry Glaze:
-       1 pint fresh or frozen blueberries
-       1 can  blueberries in syrup, or 1 can blueberry pie filling
-       ½ cup granulated sugar
-       2 tablespoons cornstarch
-       ¼ cup of blueberry liquid drained from canned blueberries
-       1 teaspoon butter
-       1 teaspoon lemon juice
-       1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Drain liquid from canned blueberries and reserve.  Add fresh or frozen berries and mash until there is one full cup of blueberry pulp.  In a small saucepan, stir and dissolve the cornstarch in the blueberry liquid and the granulated sugar. Add the blueberry pulp to the mixture and heat to boiling.  Stir it constantly while letting it boil for two minutes. Remove the mixture from the heat, and stir in the butter, lemon juice and vanilla extract. Pour in any remaining blueberries, fresh or frozen, and gently stir once.  Let the glaze cool to room temperature and pour over cooled cheesecake.  Chill in refrigerator for 4 to 6 hours.

Lemon Glaze:
-       1 tablespoon unsalted butter
-       1/3 cup granulated sugar
-       1 large egg
-       1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
-       1 teaspoon lemon zest
-       1 teaspoon vanilla

Use a double boiler (or use a stainless steel bowl placed over a saucepan of simmering water):  melt the butter in the top bowl. Whisk together the eggs, sugar, and lemon juice until blended and pour into the top bowl. Cook and whisk constantly (to prevent  the egg from curdling)over the simmering water. Keep whisking until the mixture becomes pale in color and thickens to the consistency of sour cream (160 degrees F  on a candy thermometer).  This will take 10 minutes of steady whisking!  Remove from heat and immediately pour through a fine strainer if there are any lumps. Keep the cooked lemon mixture off the heat, and stir in the lemon zest and vanilla extract.  Let the glaze cool to room temperature and pour over cooled cheesecake.  Chill in refrigerator for 4 to 6 hours.

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