This brings me back to Clearwater, Florida. After the end of our internship, Kristen and I set off on a 14 hour road trip which brings us from Washington D.C. back to her hometown. My longest road trip till date, we drove for a good 7 hours, have a night in one of the lodging houses along the highways (they have a lot by the way, I’m wasn’t grown up to these, sure is something interesting!), then continue on the other 7. I have no idea how Kristen managed to drive 7 hours only with a short break in the middle; she’s really on it.
At Kristen’s place, or mostly everywhere in America, it’s a sugar sugar world; cakes are brushed on that extra layer of simple syrup, gigantic swirls of whipped cream on every cake you order, which I’m so not used to! K once mentioned to me during her school days in the French Pastry School, she had this chef from China and she told K, “Hand any Asian an American dessert and they will tell you its too sweet.” She didn’t feel how true it was until she met me, because I would grimace every dessert I try, that would be the only bite I took. And yes, as surprising it is to everyone as it is to me, I make desserts but am never a dessert person. I’m not sure if I’m weird, I hope I can find someone whom can relate to me…it’s just the sugar!
When we took a trip to Anna Maria Island, which is about an hour’s drive away from Clearwater, Kristen got these pecan bars (they were similar to like a 7 layer bar) right before we set off on the road home again. She would claim it’s the BEST THING on Earth and I was dubious for a second, thinking probably it’s not the best for me, you know, desserts and me... but then Kristen insisted I had to try no matter what, even if it’s a small bite. And holy cow, to my surprise, the pecans on top were baked to crisp, followed by a layer of somewhat a mixture of caramel and buttered crumbs, like graham crumbs, then another layer of pecans again topped on top of this extremely mysterious layer of goodness I have no idea what it was – trust me I tried asking K to ask that shop how the hell they made something so delish and what did they put in there. Haha but you know they never tell! Ugh. So good.
So I tried my very best in creating something somewhat similar – but this time I used cream cheese because nobody hates cream cheese and it’s a festive ingredient especially when Christmas is around the corner ;) I’ve tried using different cream cheese but I always religiously go back to Philadelphia because I personally think it is creamier, richer and the texture is much smoother, it doesn’t have a strong buttery taste which some other would consists of. Being in the market for more than 100 years, people naturally think of cream cheese when you mention Philadelphia, (or Philly some would call) let’s pause for a self-check, am I right? Always trust the good ol’ stuff. One of the many reasons why I like to work with cream cheese is because, it’s really an easy ingredient to deal with, the possible recipes you can churn out are endless, like really. Spread it over a toast, top it off with smoked salmon and you get a quick fix. Throw in sour cream and little sugar, put it in a chiller for a night and you get an easy no-bake cheesecake, how sweet is that? You’re welcomed :)
The original recipe has a brown sugar/ flour kind of shortbread layer beneath and I felt that was brown sugar overdose. I can never take that. I did a simple switch to the classic cheesecake graham/digestive biscuit (whatever you call it), and there we go! These are the kind of desserts you want to put on your Christmas party tables even before the party starts because you know everyone’s hands are never going to stop revisiting this communal platter. Just saying ;)
Festive Pecan Cheesecake with Philadelphia Cream Cheese
(Partially adapted from positivelysplendid.com)
2 cups digestive biscuits
2 tbsp. granulated white sugar
½ cup unsalted butter - melted
16 oz. Philadelphia cream cheese, softened
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 cup milk
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
Pecan pie layer
3/4 cup firmly packed brown sugar
1/2 cup light corn syrup
1/3 cup butter, melted and cooled slightly
3 large eggs, lightly beaten
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 1/2 cups pecans
Preheat oven to 175 deg Celsius.
For the crumb layer: In a small bowl combine the graham cracker crumbs, sugar, and melted butter. Press mixture evenly over the bottom of the prepared pan. Bake in preheated oven for 10 minutes. Set aside to cool.
For the cheesecake layer: Place Philadelphia Cream Cheese in the bowl of a stand mixer outfitted with a paddle attachment, and beat at medium speed until smooth. Beat in sugar. Add milk and 2 teaspoons vanilla, and beat until combined. Pour the cream cheese mixture over the cooled shortbread layer. Bake for 15 minutes; remove from oven and cool slightly, about 10 minutes.
For the pecan pie layer: In a medium bowl, combine the remaining 3/4 cup brown sugar, corn syrup, and melted butter. Gently stir in the eggs, salt, and remaining 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract. Stir in 1 1/2 cups pecans. Pour pecan mixture over cooled cheesecake layer. Bake for 35-40 minutes, or until center is set and pecan pie layer is a rich brown color.
Enjoy the crunchy pecan crumbs in every bite! Exactly 1 more week to Christmas! :)
Oh and if you’re looking for ways to incorporate cream cheese into your cake décor, here’s one idea that doesn’t require too much effort and will always be pleasing to the eyes; rosette swirls! I used to do crazy swirls almost every weekend, but I have stopped taking orders for such cake designs. They will be good memories, and I’m thankful for everything that happened and all the support I have received, time to move on to bigger things ;)
I also tried making the classic Spinach & Artichoke Chip Dip using Philadelphia Cream Cheese which makes the dip extra creamy and oh so ethereal. The perfect dip for chips to serve your guests at your Christmas party this holiday ;) I will be sharing it with you guys on IG soon.
Philadelphia Cream Cheese is great to cook with, not just because it’s rich and creamy but because of its versatility and dependability. Go ahead and experiment with your own bakes with Philadelphia Cream Cheese this Christmas season and share them with your loved ones! If you would like to discover more recipes you can do with Philadelphia Cream Cheese, you may take a look at the following link: