Chef News

Anatomy of a Cheesecake with Beth Goldwater of Bertha's Cafe

See also: Asparagus and Havarti Panini from Bertha's Cafe

When you're cooking, it's all about a dash of this and a splash of that. But baking is another matter, an exact science. In this series, we're going behind the bakery case and into the kitchens of some of Phoenix's finest purveyors of sweets (and some savories). Fresh out of culinary school, Chow Bella contributor Mabel Suen will work with local chefs to learn their tricks for making perfect pastries, baked goods, and desserts. Stay tuned for findings once the flour settles.

The Baked Good: The Cheesecake The Chef: Beth Goldwater The Place: Bertha's Cafe

Bertha's Cafe is one of those awesome "secret" spots that everyone knows about, which explains the packed lunch crowd still going strong well past one o'clock on a weekday.

Sure, it's lunchtime and all, but we bet that many patrons simply use lunch as an excuse to go for a slice of one of owner Beth Goldwater's signature cheesecakes. Flavors rotate on a regular basis -- many inspired by other classic desserts -- and include baklava, tiramisu, white chocolate raspberry, banana cream and Kahlua brownie, to name a few.

The bakery case in the modest storefront contains all kinds of homey delights -- the kind that immediately dance across the mind when someone mentions the phrase "from scratch." Think cookies, cupcakes and luscious dessert bars loaded with heavy doses of chocolate chunks, caramel, toffee, or coconut.

Set on the bottom row (perhaps a marketing technique to steer customers' eyes toward other goods first), only a few pieces fan favorite fluffy banana cream cheesecake remain for the day. Walking around her shop with a brand new bouncing baby in tow to the delight of many of her regular customers, petite Goldwater epitomizes sweetness in her quaint little cafe.

To Goldwater, the perfect cheesecake is a bit light and fluffy as opposed to the super dense and heavy dessert that most people are accustomed to. The body of the cake is primarily off white in color with a creamy texture, the top is a light golden brown and edges of the crust are a slightly darker. Additional flavorings should be subtle, not overpowering, and each cake comes topped with a layer of whipped cream. The Tools: A stand mixer, a rubber spatula, a springform pan, and a good oven.

Terminology: Many cheesecake recipes suggest baking the cake in a water bath for even cooking and less risk of cracking. Goldwater prefers to go without. Experiment with both methods to see which yields best results in your oven.

Technique: Ensure that all ingredients are at room temperature before starting so it can incorporate smoothly without lumps. Scrape down the sides of the bowl constantly to aid the process. Do not over-mix.

Goldwater demonstrates how to measure out parchment for lining a springform pan and how to properly combine ingredients for an even, smooth batter:

Tips and Tricks: Experiment with different types of crusts. When adding extra components like bananas or blueberries, watch out for water content, or you could end up with a soupy mess. For more consistent results, take whole fruit and put it into a different form, such as pureeing to add flavor and/or swirls to the cake. Also, write everything down! Record your experiences as a reminder of what worked and what didn't. Keep in mind that you can't bake a cheesecake and plan to eat it the same day. Be prepared to refrigerate it for at least eight hours so that it is able to set and have parchment paper removed from the bottom.

Troubleshooting: Cracking results from overbaking. A correctly cooked cheesecake should have a light brown top with a slight jiggle. A thermometer inserted into the center should be as close as possible to 155 degrees farenheit.

Recommended reads: "I'm obsessed with ringed recipe binders and books put together by churches, schools and communities. They have the best old school recipes like the kind grandma used to make in them," says Goldwater, adding that using them requires a little bit of fun experimentation on the readers' part to fill in the blanks.

Try this at home: Chantal's New York Cheesecake from Allrecipes, Chocolate Rum Cheesecake from Brown Eyed Baker, Five Best Cheesecakes from Epicurious

See what else The Baker's Lab has examined: Anatomy of a Fondant Covered Cookie with Tammie Coe of Tammie Coe Cakes Anatomy of a Marshmallow with Tracy Dempsey of Tracy Dempsey Originals Anatomy of a Chocolate Chip Cookie with Brady Breese of Urban Cookies Anatomy of a Polvorón with Minerva Orduño Rincón of Muñeca Mexicana Anatomy of a Vegan Cupcake with the Sizemore Sisters of Treehouse Bakery Anatomy of a Brownie with Eileen Spitalny of Fairytale Brownies Anatomy of a Scone with Candy Lesher of Baci d'Amore Truffles and Scones

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Mabel Suen
Contact: Mabel Suen