I don’t mind if fall, and the cool weather, is here to stay. As long as it means that I can have a slice of this gluten free Maple Butter Tart Cheesecake.
At the end of July, I had the opportunity to bake this cake in one of the test kitchens at Kraft Canada in Toronto, Ontario. This recipe was picked as one of the top 5 cheesecakes in Canada, and I was competing for the title of Cheesecake of the Year. You can read more about that HERE.
First off, a big thank you to those that have emailed or messaged me asking how things went. Long story short, I didn’t win. BUT, it’s not just about gaining the title (although that would have been really nice), I also had a fabulous time in Toronto, meeting some of the friendly faces behind Kraft, staying at a gorgeous hotel, and making a few new friends along the way.
So, here’s a little recap (scroll down if you just want the recipe).
The weekend before flying to Toronto, I caught a summer cold. Really? Now? Ugh, I didn’t really need to add “curing the common cold” to my list of things to do before flying out on Monday. Getting the kids (and dog) all packed and off to family for the week, plus preparing for my trip to Toronto were more than enough.
Immediately upon landing, I met Maria, another finalist from Winnipeg. Ends up that I was sitting right behind her the whole flight, but I wasn’t sure what she looked like, so only realized it after we got into the same limo taking us to the hotel. Out of 5 finalists 2 of us were from Manitoba. In a country where Vancouver and Toronto usually dominate, it was pretty neat to have the two of us make it to the top 5.
That night all the finalists met in the diner at the hotel for dinner. I won’t lie – it was awkward. We didn’t now each other. There was no one to introduce us to each other. And we were all there to compete against one another. There were some awkward silences during dinner, but it was great to meet the other gals. We all called it a night early, since we had a big day ahead of us the next day.
Tuesday morning, I don’t think any of us needed our alarms to wake up. We were all excited about heading out to the Kraft Kitchens, where we were left speechless by our introductions. When we entered the Kraft building, they introduced us by name, all the employees were around the entry way (going three floors up), and cheering for us. We definitely did not expect a welcome like that! Once the hoopla ended (and the employees went back to work), we got a tour of the Kraft Kitchens facility. They had four kitchens, where they do a lot of their testing, that are set up like home kitchens. It was in these kitchens that we were going to be baking our cheesecakes. Once we were done the tour, we had a quick lunch with a number of people from Kraft and Real Women of Philadelphia. I’m think I can speak for all the finalists when I say, we just wanted to hit the kitchens. We were all there, prepped and ready to go – no need to delay it any further.
We were given two hours to bake our cake. They rang the bell to signal the beginning of our two hours, and I have to say, my heart did a stutter step at that point. But, I took a breath, slowed down, laid out all the ingredients I needed for each step of my cake, and began baking. It was fun. It was a lot of fun. There were windows between the kitchens, so I could see into two of the finalist’s kitchens while we were baking. We all kept it pretty light by waving and smiling at each other. Those two hours were FUN! My cake went together effortlessly, and baked up beautifully. I was pleased with how things had turned out. But would the judges be impressed?
Wednesday was our day of judgement. We headed off to the Kraft Kitchens again, and prepared to present our cake to the judges, who consisted of Kraft employees, an editor from Chatelaine magazine, and a local blogger. We had one hour to do any final preparation before presenting, and since my cake doesn’t have anything fancy on top, I was ready in about 3 minutes. The time I needed to remove the ring and transfer the cake to the pedestal stand. We then each got a few minutes in front of the judges, telling them about our cake, what it consisted of, how we came up with the recipe, things like that. I felt a little flustered here – we had a quick photo shoot right before judging, and my cold was causing my nose to be stuffed the whole morning. But, I did my best.
What’s next? WAITING! We returned to the hotel, where I met up with a great friend of mine from the Toronto area, Marisa of Tasty Delights. She came down to the hotel to hang out with me for the afternoon, and she joined me at the cocktail reception that evening. The cocktail reception, held at the rooftop lounge at the hotel, was where the winner would be revealed. We wandered around, checked out the view (it was beautiful), and chatted amongst ourselves. We really had no idea who anyone else there was, and they didn’t recognize us as being the finalists. We were only introduced at the end of the evening, right before they revealed the winner.
Before announcing the winner, we got to watch a video that was compiled of pictures and video that they had taken of us over the two days. It was really fun to see how it was all put together. You can view it by clicking HERE.
In the end, Ronda’s Caramel Pretzel Cheesecake was given the title of Cheesecake of the Year 2014. I knew it was going to win – I could just tell. 😉 You can get her winning recipe HERE. Her recipe is easily made gluten-free by simply using gluten-free pretzels for the crust and garnish. Congratulations, Ronda, it was an absolute pleasure to meet you!
To answer some of the questions you guys had on Facebook:
- I did indeed bring along my measuring cups, but am kicking myself for not bringing my own baking pan or oven thermometer. Definitely something I would do next time!
- I don’t think nutritional value is taken into consideration at all in this contest – the recipe was for a holiday indulgence.
- No, we did not get to taste each others cakes. That would have been really great, even though I wouldn’t have been able to partake, since the other cakes weren’t gluten-free.
- I actually came home from a cheesecake bake-off without ever tasting any cheesecake! They had mini cheesecakes at the reception, but they were not gluten-free. I wish they had mini cheesecakes replicating the five finalists cakes at the reception, that way the people attending would have had a chance to taste what the judges tasted. Maybe next year. 😉
There you have it – my recap from the Cheesecake of the Year Bake-Off. It was a lot of fun, and I met some really great gals. I’d definitely do it again! Alright, back to the recipe for the Maple Butter Tart Cheesecake that I promised you!
- 1 cup finely crushed gluten-free pretzels
- 1/2 cup finely chopped pecans
- 2 tablespoons brown sugar, packed
- 1/4 cup unsalted butter, melted
- 3 (250 gram) packages Philadelphia Cream Cheese, room temperature
- 1/2 cup brown sugar, packed
- 1/2 cup granulated sugar
- 1 cup sour cream
- 1/4 cup cornstarch
- 1 large egg
- 2 egg yolks
- 1 1/2 teaspoons maple extract
- 1/2 cup coarsely chopped pecans
- 1/3 cup brown sugar, packed
- 1/3 cup maple syrup
- 1/3 cup raisins, rehydrated
- 1/4 cup unsalted butter, melted
- 1 large egg
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Use a strip of parchment paper to form a collar that sticks up 1-inch past the top of a 9-inch springform pan.
Stir together the crushed pretzels, finely chopped pecans, 2 tablespoons brown sugar, and 1/4 cup melted butter. Press into the bottom of the prepared pan.
In the bowl of a stand mixer, beat the cream cheese with the 1/2 cup brown sugar and the granulated sugar until no lumps remain.
Add the sour cream and cornstarch and mix until blended, scraping down the bowl as necessary. With the mixer on low speed, add the egg, egg yolks, and maple extract. Mix until just blended, you don't want to over beat your cheesecake filling or it will crack when baking.
Pour the filling over the crust, and level the top with the back of a spoon. Bake in preheated oven for 45 minutes.
While the cheesecake is baking, prepare the topping. To rehydrate the raisins, measure them out before pouring simmering water over them. Let them sit for 5 minutes, draining the water before using.
Whisk together 1/2 cup pecans, 1/3 cup brown sugar, maple syrup, raisins, 1/4 cup melted butter, an egg, and vanilla extract.
After the cheesecake has bake for 45 minutes, carefully slide the oven rack out, pour the topping over the cheesecake, making sure to spread the raisins and nuts evenly over the top. Close the oven, and continue baking for 10 minutes.
Turn the oven off, and leave the oven door open a few inches. After 30 minutes, remove the cheesecake from the oven, and place it on a wire cooling rack. Once the cheesecake has come to room temperature, refrigerate for at least 4 hours before removing the collar and serving.
To get nice clean slices, immerse the blade of a long, sharp knife in hot water, wiping off the water just before making a cut. Repeat this process between cuts. This cake is perfect for entertaining, as it can be made days in advance. It is just as good on day two or three as it is on day one. Enjoy!