Monday, 6 February 2012

Many a Bowl for the Super Bowl (XLVI)

Good evening, sports fans, and the non-sports fans among you! I write to you all following the aftermath of last night's Super Bowl between... New York and New England? I think? Clearly that's not where my focus was, at least not until the last play of the game. Indeed, continuing my annual tradition begun last year, my focus was kept in the kitchen as I worked on my takes on two recipes that recently made their way to my Facebook wall. On last night's menu, I present: Bacon Wrapped Cheddar Wurst Jalapeño Fritters, and Neufchâtel Nutella Cheesecake Brownies.

And of course, we should naturally begin with dessert. Last Monday, I forewarned fellow Facebookers that this past Sunday, i.e., yesterday, was none other than National Chocolate Fondue Day AND World Nutella Day. In response, Elizabeth, a.k.a. half of the Simple {Baking} Machines duo posted this recipe for No Bake Nutella Cheesecake. Of course, that wasn't "good enough" for me and so I had to put all of the airy cheescakey goodness on top of a brownie. I went with my chocolate pudding brownie mix minus the pudding mix recipe (though, I'm beginning to think that's a necessity for this particular brownie recipe to actually work). I won't belabour that whole process, as I've made it numerous times (albeit with inconsistent results), but do start out the prep work by mixing together your brownie batter and get that into your preheated oven according to the recipe you're using. If you're using the brownie as the base (as opposed to the Oreo crust the My Baking Addiction recipe calls for), you want to be sure it's cool enough to work with; so, the sooner you get this into the oven, the better and the longer you can let it sit out to cool. Also, get an 8 oz tub of frozen whipped topping into your fridge to thaw if it isn't already ready to go. With my thin sheet of brownie, I prepped it for three different presentations, using some brownie to make crumbs, some to cut out two rounds and the rest for a mini sheet cake.

Since I made Nutella cheesecake, it makes sense to top it off with hazelnuts (plus the original recipe calls for it). With the brownie batter baking away, this would be the best time to work on shelling the hazelnuts (for this time around, I shelled 25 or about two and a half handfuls). Once shelled, note each hazelnut still has a stubborn skin surrounding it. Get the hazelnuts in an oven safe dish; after your brownie has finished baking, get the hazelnuts into the oven. As has been done before, toast the hazelnuts at 350°F for about 10 minutes or so; you can leave them a bit longer, but do be mindful of them as they could easily become over toasted and essentially scorched. 350°F also happened to be the same temperature for the brownies so that worked out quite well. When they come out, get them onto a dish rag and rub them to remove the skins. The longer the hazelnuts have toasted (without burning) the easier they'll fall right off; in some case, you may be able to crush the hazelnuts with your hand, and with little need for a knife. However you go about it, when the hazelnuts have cooled, give them a rough chop and leave them to cool completely.

While this method works for me (and I have some leeway here because I'm not too picky with the skins), My Baking Addiction's previous post to this No Bake Nutella Cheesecake follows Alice Medrich's approach which includes an intermediary step of boiling the hazelnuts in water with baking soda. Since I didn't have any baking soda to actually test this out (not that I doubt it works), I went with the aforementioned method, but by all means try it out for yourself especially if you want the skins removed completely.

As the hazelnuts were toasting, I got started on the bacon wrapped cheddar wurst. The original recipe I based this version on came from Thrillist: Minneapolis and its receipe for Bacon-Wrapped Cocktail Wienies in a Buffalo Fritter. Thinking about other fried foods worthy enough for a football game, I thought about also wanting to make jalapeño poppers; and then it occurred to me it could be possible to combine these two into one Super Food.. to be put in a bowl.. . Anyway, since I would already be using cream cheese in for the cheesecake, I didn't want to use any more for this savoury concoction. That being said, I turned to cocktail wienies and hot dogs that may already have cheese inside them. Among my grocery shopping finds, I saw cheddar wurst on sale and decided to go with that. Cutting three wursts into eight pieces each, and six slices of bacon into quarters, I wrapped each of the wursts with bacon and set a dozen to a skewer and then onto a hot flat pan, one skewer at a time. The Thrillist recipe calls for these to be baked; however, since I haven't had the best of luck baking with bacon, I decided to stick with the method I know best (i.e., in pan frying).

After a few minutes on each side, carefully take the wursts off the skewer and thoroughly brown any uncooked bacon. Once sufficiently pan fried, get them onto some crinkled paper towel to cool.

Rendering the bacon fat does take time, so while that's sizzling away, you can get to work on the Nutella cheesecake. In a large bowl, blend together one 8 oz package of cream cheese (in my case, I went with the Neufchâtel which has less fat than cream cheese; though, I didn't go with a lighter version of whipped topping) with 2/3 c (eyeball this amount and feel free to indulge as you wish) Nutella. For the second time, I went ahead and used my standing mixer for this one.

When you can barely see any white streaks, give the sides of the bowl and the whisk attachment a bit of a scrape down and add 1 tsp vanilla extract before giving it a final blend. Next, take your thawed whipped topping and fold it in until no white streaks remain. You should end up with a light mousse-like shade of brown.

Meanwhile, your first skewer of bacon wrapped cheddar wurst should be done and you should be ready to go with the second skewer. As that's now going, get your Nutella cheesecake "batter" into a piping bag (or in my case, a plastic baggy); with the tip of the baggy cut, this will make it a lot easier and cleaner to lay on a chocolatey Nutella-y layer onto your brownie in whichever form you wish. For the first presentation, I took two layers of brownie and sandwiched a layer of the Nutella batter, keeping it all in my moulding ring. To ensure it kept its shape before removing the ring, I set this into the freezer. While this first presentation was setting, I got to work on the batter for the bacon wrapped cheddar wursts. Before whisking anything together, get some vegetable (or canola) oil heating on medium. The original recipe calls for regular pancake mix; I went with my most recent pancake batter recipe. Saving 2/3 c for some random hour when I'm in the mood for pancakes (though all told, I probably could have saved 1.5 c and still have more than enough batter for the soon to be fritters), I added to the remaining batter about 3 tbsp honey barbeque sauce and one large jalapeño diced.

With the batter ready, slightly lower the heat and test the oil by dropping in a drop of batter; the oil is ready to go if the batter is slowly frying away (as opposed to the extremes of barely frying or immediately turning black). Your batter at this point will most likely be on the runnier side and as such it may seem rather difficult to get the diced jalapeño to stick long enough to actually fry up with the wurst. The solution I quickly found was to dunk the wurst into the batter and use the flatter side (a result of the way it was cut) as a type of plate to rest some of the diced jalapeño. Carefully drop this into the hot oil--as best you can without actually touching the oil--flat side up. What should happen is, on contact, the oil will fry the pancake batter and anything sticking to the batter at that instance will fry as a single unit. After about 90 seconds, the bottom of the fritter should be a nice golden colour; flip this over with wooden chopsticks or better yet a metal spatula/strainer to cook the other side. When finished cooking, transfer these over to some crinkled paper towel to cool.

As I neared the end of the rounds of frying, I took the cheesecake sandwich out of the freezer, took off the moulding ring and then piped more cheesecakery onto the top brownie layer, topping all of this off with a chopped mix of the toasted hazelnuts and a handful of dark chocolate chips (check out the photo at the top of this post for the final result).

Next up, I set crumbled brownie in the bottom of small dessert glasses, and then topped these all off with the chocolate hazelnut mix.

Finally, the rest of the batter was globbed and swirled onto the brownie layer, and finished off with the remaining topping. After the photo rounds, each serving was then wrapped in plastic wrap to fully set and store until consumption.

Getting back to the fritters, the two dozen wurst pieces were deep fried to perfection but inevitably left quite a bit of leftover pancake batter, including quite a bit of diced jalapeño. Waste not want not, I fried up the rest of the jalapeño, dropping the diced pieces into the oil and letting them cling to each other as they did. Especially as these were being cooked, the fritters tasted like the individual components that went into it with the bacon flavour present and the hearty texture of the wurst evident.

The pancake batter wasn't dense and because it was light, added a slight crunch. As for the jalapeño, it definitely didn't taste hot but I wonder if that's because of the addition of the honey barbeque sauce or some other chemical reason of which I'm unaware.

As for the cheesecake brownie, I'm quite a fan, and I'm not one who usually goes for cheesecake. But then again with Nutella in the mix it's hard to totally dismiss the dish as a whole. The whipped topping adds to the airy quality to it the dessert while the Neufchâtel brings out the natural creaminess and cheesecake heaviness (and don't forget the Neufchâtel isn't as fattening as the regular cream cheese I could have used). Amidst all this, the brownie is an important textural element just as much as the toasted hazelnuts and the dark chocolate chips. Indeed, this is quite the dessert that can stand up to the Super Bowl. Next year, I'll have to work on making a Nutella chocolate fondue so I can celebrate both food events; and by next year, I do mean sooner rather than later. For the entire album, click here.

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