Cheesecake is one of those culinary delights that’s simple but still so hard to get right. Choose an inferior ingredient or cheat on a step and it shows.
Michaleen “Mike” Richardson knows how to get it right. She made thousands of them as co-owner of Olympia’s beloved Desserts by Tasha Nicole. The longtime dessert company that occupied a familiar spot on Capitol Boulevard for 20 years closed June 29 after Richardson and co-owner Terry Smith were each sidelined by health concerns. Tasha and Nicole are the names of Richardson’s daughters.
Richardson’s career began decades ago when she made desserts for coffee roasters Dick Batdorf and Shannon Bronson. Desserts by Tasha Nicole specialized in tortes, specialty and wedding cakes, and other high-end desserts. But cheesecakes made up a third of her business, Richardson says. They became legendary and were ordered from all over the country. On the final day of business at Tasha Nicole, more than 1,000 people came to say goodbye, Richardson says.
Recently, Richardson demonstrated her cheesecake techniques and tips for the newspaper so that Tasha Nicole cheesecake can live on in South Sound.
In person, Richardson is as sweet as the desserts she makes. But when it comes to cheesecake, she takes no prisoners. She’s as opinionated on the subject as a TV news pundit is on politics.
Take, for instance, the classic graham cracker crust. Richardson wants nothing to do with them.
“I think graham crackers are bossy. They take over the flavor,” Richardson says. Instead, she uses a shortbread crust (see recipe). She’ll make a batch of the crumb crust and store the excess in her freezer.
When it comes to the filling, Richardson relies on time-tested techniques and decades of fine tuning her ingredient list. First up is mixing. Give yourself some time to mix on a slow speed, she says. It keeps the filling creamy.
“That’s where everybody makes the same big mistake,” Richardson says. “I don’t know why people insist on making everything on blast speed.”
And, she says, make sure the cream cheese is at room temperature before you begin.
Richardson prefers a slightly tart cheesecake to the ones she calls sickeningly sweet. She’s not a fan of cheesecakes made at a particular chain restaurant with “Factory” in its name. To that end, she uses sour cream (as opposed to whipping cream), orange juice and less sugar. Some chefs use extra sugar to cover up an inferior product, she says, but not Richardson.
“If you use great ingredients, you don’t have to use a lot of sugar,” she says.
After she pours the mixture into the crust-lined pan, Richardson covers the bottom and sides with foil to keep her oven clean.
For a topping, she covers the cheesecake with strawberry jam cut with a little lemon juice. She then cuts strawberries in three parts (length wise) and layers them on top in circular patterns. But just about any topping can be used. Mango and pomegranate are trendy flavors now, she says.
Along with the crust mixture, a fully baked (but untopped) cheesecake can be frozen. But never, cautions Richardson, freeze an unbaked cheesecake or cream cheese. Transfer the cheesecake from the freezer to refrigerator the day before serving.
TASHA NICOLE'S NEW YORK CHEESECAKE
1/2 pound butter
1/2 cup super fine sugar
2 cups all purpose flour
1 teaspoon vanilla
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Cream butter, sugar and vanilla. Add flour slowly, scraping sides of bowl often. Do not over mix. Spread on to sprayed cookie sheet 1/4 to 1/2 inch thick. Bake until lightly brown (about 20-25 minutes). Cool completely. Place in food processor to make crumbs. Foil the bottom of a springform pan with no-stick cooking spray. Place crumbs on the bottom and spread up the sides as well.
4 1/2 pounds cream cheese
2 1/2 cups granulated sugar
3 egg yolks
3/4 cup heavy sour cream
1/4 cup frozen concentrated orange juice (undiluted)
In a large mixing bowl mix cream cheese and sugar slowly, scraping the sides often. Add eggs and orange juice and mix well. Add sour cream and continue to mix until well blended.
Pour filling over the crust and bake for two hours at 325 degrees.
Cool before placing in refrigerator to chill overnight. Serve plain or top with fruit. Cheesecakes can be frozen for up to three months.
Makes two eight-inch roundsCraig Sailor: 253-597-8541 firstname.lastname@example.org