More Than Just a Cheesecake

Three years ago today, I went on a blind-date with Claire. Little did I know that 6 months later, I would propose and less than a year after we met, we would be married. I always think of the cheesecake that I made, and the lessons Jesus taught me through it. So here is the original post in honor of three awesome years!

A Cheesecake that is more than a Cheesecake
originally written Sept 14, 2009

As wedding favors, we gave little bags of chocolate malt balls with the recipe for the Cheesecake

Some friends recently set me up on a blind-date. Usually I am not a big fan of blind-dates, but for whatever reason, I quickly agreed to the idea. It took a couple of weeks to find a time that worked for all of our schedules, but we finally set a date, in which we would all meet at this couple’s house for dinner and games.

I was asked to bring a dessert, so I immediately started the internal conversation with myself about what to bring. Obviously I was not going to pick up something, nor do brownies from a box, but neither was I going to go all out and make something extravagant (I can’t after all show all of my cards!). Originally, I settled on a cheesecake, namely an old fashioned cheesecake. Having made this and other cheesecakes dozens of times before, it would be easy enough for me to do, yet would still show some thought and care. Not to mention it was safe…chances for failure were close to zero.

But here is where things got interesting. The night before I was going to make the cheesecake, I was relaxing at my parents’ house, enjoying a bowl of chocolate malt crunch ice cream. About half way through the bowl, I had a stark revelation…these flavors would make an excellent cheesecake. All night I thought about how I could pull this off and as I thought about it more and more, I literally felt the Holy Spirit urging me to go ahead and try it. To create, to experiment, to risk, instead of sticking with the safe, easy old fashioned cheesecake.

Here is how I planned the cheesecake in my mind. The crust would be a combination of chocolate graham crackers and crushed Whoppers. The cheesecake itself would be flavored with chocolate malt and Hershey’s chocolate syrup (I did find recipes for chocolate malt cheesecake, but tweaked the recipe). I figured the Hershey’s syrup would provide a sweeter chocolate taste than say melted semi-sweet chocolate to mimic the flavor of the ice cream. I would top the cheesecake with a Kahlua-chocolate ganache. And finally, right before serving it I would top the cheesecake with crushed Whoppers. I did not think Whoppers inside the cheesecake would hold up to baking plus refrigeration, mainly because I was afraid that the Whoppers would get soggy.

I made the cheesecake, and was quite happy with how it all came out. The crust did not turn out as I had hoped—the Whoppers candied up during baking, so that it became really chewy, plus I added too much butter to the crust. It still tasted great, but it was not what I wanted.

As I thought about the cheesecake, and the process of creating a cheesecake without a recipe—my first by the way—I began to wonder if me making it had a deeper meaning than me just exercising my knowledge of food. I could have played it safe and stuck with the old fashioned cheesecake, and it would have been enjoyed by all. But I chose to not do this. I chose to risk making something that had the possibility of tasting great, instead of just good. I had a pretty good hunch that the cheesecake would turn out really well, having made enough cheesecakes and trusting my prior experience with flavors. There was still, however, the risk that the cheesecake would fail, and taste like shit (pardon my French). But it was a risk worth taking because the rewards were much sweeter.

Maybe I need to take this attitude more often. Throw away the recipes and risk. Those recipes were and are needed, as they provide the framework and structure for me to create a new cheesecake. But there comes a point where I need to trust my training and my experience to risk and show people who I really am, not only as a cook but as a person. I need to risk and show people what I am truly made of instead of playing it safe. Yes, at times my shit will come out, and yes, at times I will fail, and yes, people might not like what they see or taste, but the rewards are greater as people will know me and not just the safe, contained Andrew, which is not bad; it’s just not the full, flavorful Andrew that has lied buried for way too long.

Crazy how a simple cheesecake can turn into a deep metaphor that God uses to teach me about myself and life.

Oh…and by the way…the cheesecake and the date turned out really well. Neither is final; both are works in progress, but the process is exciting and fun, yet at the same time incredibly scary.

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