Say cheesecake

November 17, 2004|EMILY TOADVINE

If Paula Spears' dreams came true, they might include delivering one of her cheesecakes to Toby Keith while on a deep sea fishing trip.

Spears, a third-grade teacher at Woodlawn Elementary School, is well known for her baking skills, especially cheesecake. On vacations, she likes to attend the country music star's concerts or reel in some big fish.

"I'm a big fan of Toby Keith. I travel all over the United States to see him in concert," she says.

When not playing her fan role, Spears might be found on a fishing boat.

"I've caught some good-sized fish," she says, adding that she only recently started bass fishing.

Living in Columbia, S.C., 20 years ago was the reason she began making cheesecake.

"Growing up in New York, I wanted a New York cheesecake and they didn't have it in the South."

After a few years of making her own, Spears modified the New York cheesecakes recipes to suit her taste.


"I began to shy away from the New York-type and try to do the richest, creamiest, most chocolate kind there was."

She has found baking to be good therapy and delved into it even more as a way to unwind.

"The more upset I was, the more desserts I cooked. When people realized the connection, they asked, 'Are you in a good mood or a bad mood today?'"

One with caramels is a favorite

Her children obviously have been taste testers. Alex, 25, and Mallory, 19, mostly request a cheesecake made with caramels.

"Turtle Cheesecake is my children's favorite. I've been known to make it late at night for birthdays."

When Spears wants to try a new recipe from her big cookbook of cheesecake recipes, she may test it on her co-workers at Woodlawn where she has worked for 15 of her 28-year teaching career.

"I call them my guinea pigs."

Her taste testers obviously didn't mind sampling one of her latest works, Leslie's Layered Cheesecake from "Perfect Cakes." She asked for comments and received several rave reviews. Many times, her friends and co-workers call on her to buy a dessert.

After several years of trial and error, Spears has a few tips for making perfect cheesecake, even down to serving them. Cheesecake tends to stick to the serving apparatus and for a clean slice, she recommends fishing line.

"They say use dental floss, but since I fish, I have fishing line."

A knife can be used.

"If you want to use a knife, make sure you wipe it off each time so it doesn't leave crumbs on the side."

Water bath recommended

She also recommends using a water bath to make the cakes. A springform pan used to be her method, but now she uses a 3-inch deep round cake pan, puts parchment in the bottom and butters it.

She places it in a water bath, which is boiling water, 1-inch deep in a roasting pan.

"It helps keep heat in it evenly."

A baker does not test cheesecake to see if it is done by poking a toothpick in and seeing if it comes out clean.

"You want it to be firm 2 inches in from the sides and jiggle in the middle. It cooks as it cools."

In case a cheesecake's appearance is less than perfect, Spears says whipped cream or fruit can hide the problem.

"That hides a multitude of sins," she says.

Outside of cheesecakes and other sweets, Spears says she doesn't cook much, but that works out fine for her family and dinner guests.

"I recommend serving cheesecake after a simple meal and it will make it more special. Most people think cheesecake is so rich and elaborate."

With most people anxious to sample her cooking, the only hint that Spears has trouble following is to allow a cheesecake to reach room temperature before serving.

"Mine never get to that point."


Chocolate cookie crust:

1 3/4 cups chocolate wafer crumbs

5 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted

Cheesecake batter:

1 1/2 pounds cream cheese, softened

1 cup sugar

Pinch of salt

3 large eggs

8-ounces sour cream

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

7 ounces semi-sweet chocolate, melted


16-ounces sour cream

1/4 cup sugar

3-inch deep, 9-inch springform pan, bottom buttered and lined with parchment or wax paper

Position a rack in the middle of the oven and preheat to 350 degrees.

To make crust, put the cookie crumbs in a bowl and stir in the butter with a fork. Press the mixture evenly and firmly over the bottom and most of the way up the sides of the pan.

To make the batter, in the bowl of a heavy-duty mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, beat the cream cheese, sugar and salt on low speed until smooth. Beat in eggs, one at a time, stopping often to scrape down the bowl and beater. Beat in sour cream and vanilla.

Pour half the batter into prepared pan.

Stir melted chocolate into remaining butter and carefully pour it over the plain butter.

Bake the cheesecake for 40 minutes.

While the cheesecake is baking, prepare the topping. Stir the sour cream and sugar together until smooth.

Pour the topping over cheesecake and smooth it with spatula. Increase the oven temperature to 450 degrees and bake for 10 minutes.

Cool the cheesecake in the pan on a rack, then wrap in plastic and refrigerate until firm. Unmold.

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