I have something important to tell you.
In a world that boasts thousands upon thousands of food blogs, I have to tell you what makes my little corner of the web something special.
Foodbuzz is hosting Project Food Blog, a competition to crown the next food blog star. Willow Bird Baking is a contestant, and the first challenge isn’t a challenge for me at all. It’s simply to tell you why I’m here, and what I stand for — something I’ve been convicted of over and over again.
Listen, I cook accessible food. I try to take lovely photos. I write in tune with my personal life — sometimes laughing, sometimes crying, always eating. Those things are special, but they’re not what makes me unique.
What really makes me unique are two things: Chocolate Peanut Butter Bliss Cheesecake, and a stranger’s 91-year-old grandfather.
This rich cheesecake was more than just a cheesecake. It was an experiment. It was a gift. It was an experience. It embodies what makes Willow Bird Baking unique:
1. I believe in creativity. I dream of combining individual desserts into super desserts, mixing dessert with breakfast, and drizzling caramel all over everything. Maybe a few dollops of cookie dough, too? I’m constantly creating and improving food. Over the past year, it’s been so rewarding to see photos and read accounts of how your creativity was sparked by a recipe here!
This cheesecake was born of my desire to innovate. A peanut butter sandwich cookie crust instead of an chocolate sandwich cookie crust? Sure! I’m smitten with fun ideas. Sure enough, with a creamy chocolate cheesecake slapped into that crust and a cool, soft peanut butter mousse spread on top, it was the best peanut butter and chocolate dessert combo I’d ever tasted.
2. I believe in challenging yourself. Like any home cook, I have family recipes I love to make, but I’m also adamant about the value of trying new things. Especially fancy things that make you want to say, “Oh, that’s lovely, but I could never do that.”
My culinary journey was one of continually tackling challenging recipes, and with every puffy puff pastry or foot-ed macaron, I felt proud of myself. It’s an incredible feeling to know that by encouraging you to take on these challenges as well, I can give you that sense of pride and accomplishment. For instance, the Croissant Challenge on Willow Bird Baking inspired 17 readers to make homemade croissants in their own kitchens for the very first time — and many more have committed to do so! I have never had a prouder blogging experience than seeing those beautiful croissant pictures roll in.
3. I believe in cooking impressive meals for those you love. This Chocolate Peanut Butter Bliss Cheesecake was made on a whim. Mike was coming to visit and I knew I wanted to make him dessert, but having just started teaching with a heavier load than usual, I was exhausted. I decided to make some simple bar cookies and began gathering supplies in the grocery store.
Somewhere near the butter aisle, though, I realized that we only get so much time to show our love to the special people in our lives. After imagining his face upon seeing a ridiculous surprise cheesecake in the fridge, I replaced the bar cookie ingredients and set about gathering cheesecake supplies. I worked all evening to create this recipe for him. It was so worth the effort to see him enjoying each bite, and I think it did more for my heart than it did for his.
You can have take-out days. We all do that. But every now and then, you need a recipe that you can set in front of your family to say, you are so important to me. I’ve got those for you.
Speaking of sharing love through food, there’s one last story to tell: the story of how a stranger’s 91-year-old grandfather reminded me of my blogging purpose.
Almost a month ago, I went to explore a blog post that had linked to my Peach Cobbler Cupcakes.
What I found was Songs of the Self, a blog by Jessica, a mom from Georgia. The post recounted how she’d made the Peach Cobbler Cupcakes for her grandfather’s 91st birthday party. As I read about her experience, I saw a photo that gave me pause — one of her husband helping her to sprinkle streusel on each cupcake and smiling for the camera.
photos used with permission by Jessica
I don’t know why it hit me like it did, but suddenly I was reading through tears. I realized that this was a family somewhere, working together to make a recipe that I created, following each little direction. The post from the next day shows the birthday party: her sweet grandfather in a silly party hat blowing out candles, her grandmother laughing, her tiny daughter Olivia representing the youngest generation.
At the end of her post, Jessica noted, “My cupcakes were beyond a hit! Everyone ranted and raved about them! …Yippee for crafty me!” Being able to participate in her special occasion in some meaningful way, and especially knowing that my recipe had a part in making her feel proud of herself reminded me of why I blog. As I closed her post with a filled heart, I thought of my friend Maranda’s proud post after making her first batch of homemade croissants — a post that inspired a similar effect in me.
The truth is, I blog to create a virtual communal table. Come sit, bake, eat, learn, and enjoy. Come try new things within a comfortable web of support. Come forgive yourself for your flaws, laugh at your kitchen flops, and ponder your life with a popsicle in hand.
Perhaps most of all, come and eat some Chocolate Peanut Butter Bliss Cheesecake. I saved a piece just for you.
Please take a look at my Project Food Blog profile and consider voting for Willow Bird Baking on September 20, 2010. Thank you so much for your support — you are precious to me!
Chocolate Peanut Butter Bliss Cheesecake
Recipe by: Willow Bird Baking, pieced together from Jerome Chang (peanut butter mousse), Joelen (chocolate cheesecake)
Yields: 15-20 pieces
1 pack (32) of peanut butter sandwich cookies, processed into crumbs
5 and 1/3 tablespoons butter, melted
4 packages (8 oz. each) of cream cheese, room temperature
1 cup sugar
1 teaspoon of vanilla extract
4 eggs, room temperature
3 (1oz) squares semisweet bakers chocolate (melted and cooled)
Peanut Butter Mousse Ingredients:
1/2 teaspoon powdered gelatin
2 tablespoons cold water
1 cup heavy cream
2 large egg yolks
1 1/2 tablespoons sugar
3 tablespoons salted smooth peanut butter
Directions: Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. For the crust, mix the crust ingredients together and press into bottom and up the sides (about 3 inches) of a springform pan. Set aside.
For the cheesecake: Mix cream cheese and sugar in a large bowl until well blended and creamy. Add the eggs and continue mixing until combined. Add chocolate and continue mixing until combined. Pour mixture into prepared crust and smooth top with a spatula.
Bake for 55 minutes or until center of cake is almost set. The top may crack, but it doesn’t particularly matter, since you’ll be covering it anyway. Let the cake fully cool. When almost cool, place it in refrigerator to chill while you prepare peanut butter mousse.
For peanut butter mousse, dissolve the gelatin over the water in a small bowl and let stand for 5 minutes. In a saucepan over moderate heat, cook the cream until it bubbles around the edges. In another bowl, whisk together egg yolks and sugar. Temper the eggs: pour about 1/2 cup hot cream into the egg yolks slowly while whisking vigorously. Then slowly pour the egg mixture into the saucepan of cream (whisking constantly). Cook over low heat, stirring constantly, until thickened, about 3 minutes. Remove from the heat and whisk in the peanut butter and the gelatin. Place mixture into a wide bowl to allow it to cool for a bit, then chill it for just a little while — not until set, but until it’s not so runny. Pour the mixture onto the top of the pie and refrigerate at least one hour or overnight. You can pipe on melted chocolate and decorate with chopped Reese’s cups, if desired.
When completely chilled, loosen the cake from rim of springform pan by wrapping the pan in warm dishtowels. The remove the springform pan. Refrigerate the cheesecake for one day or overnight before serving. Garnish with fresh whipped cream if desired.