Cheesecake 101: Baker basics from cooking instructor Joan Donatelle

Cheesecake with berries
zingyyellow via Flickr.com
​Happy National Cheesecake Day! Sure, you can rush out to the Cheesecake Factory to celebrate in, um, style, or you could wait until next week to take a Cheesecake 101 class at Byerly's St. Louis Park with Joan Donatelle, Culinary Shop Manager.

We talked with Donatelle about her tips for crack-free cheesecake and how being a Gemini affects her cheesecake tastes.

1. You mentioned you'll be teaching students to make savory cheesecakes in the 101 class. Which ingredients do you change or add to switch from sweet to savory?

The savory cheesecake we'll be making is made with mascarpone and cream cheese [instead of just cream cheese] with layers of sun-dried tomato pesto.

2. What is your favorite style of cheesecake?

I don't really have a favorite cheesecake. I think the four that I'm doing for my class are some of my favorites. Any cheesecake that is made with care, with fresh ingredients, I think is good. I like to say I've never met a cheesecake I didn't like.

I have a ricotta cheesecake [for the 101 class], and that's going to be different than a New York cheesecake, as is the mascarpone. I really like different styles as long as they are of quality ingredients. I guess I'm a Gemini, and we can't make a decison on one thing. We like many styles. There's a place for all the different styles. Some people like a lighter style, some people like a heavier.

3. What's the weirdest cheesecake flavor you've ever tried?

As far as the weirdest, you'd have to talk to Andrew Zimmern.

4. Which restaurants in the Twin Cities make the best cheesecake, in
your opinion?

I'm not really up with what's the latest in restaurants. A few years ago I liked the cheesecake at Muddy Paws.

5. What do you tell people who want to make low-fat cheesecake?

There are people who ask, "Can I make this with low-fat ingredients?" Or if I use butter in something, they'll say, "Can I use margarine?"

Usually I'll say yes, you can, but it is going to alter the flavor. What I try to stress is if we control portion size and have some of these things for special occasions and watch what we eat instead of having cookies or dessert every day, then when you have a special occasion you can have something truly wonderful and have a satisfying experience, instead of having empty calories that aren't as satisfying, that don't really have a pure flavor.

6. Can you share one of your cheesecake-making secrets with us, like how to keep cheesecake from cracking?

A little bit of cracking is fine, and it's pretty hard to not have cracking. I think that's why it's so popular to have a layer of fruit topping on top to kind of disguise it. A few things people do is put a shallow pan of hot water in the bottom shelf of the oven to increase the moisture or bake the cheesecake in a water bath.

Basically cheesecake is really a baked custard. It's not really a cake at all, so you need to bake it in a low, slow oven at 325 degrees.


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