Facing Fear and Cheesecake

Insecurity is a funny thing. It's a sneaky, clever little fellow that appears in the moments we last want or least expect it. Yesterday it caught me completely off guard ... the whiff of feeling left out. Forgotten. Less important. Disliked.

That's the worse kind of insecurity, I think: the overwhelming feeling of being left out of something. You just don't know about it, and you want so desperately to be a part of it (no matter how small it is), and you wonder why you weren't invited. It's the unknown that is so cruel, so taunting ... because it smacks of our smallness as humans, our fragile egos, our desperate need for control.

We're facing a lot of unknowns in Real Life right now. I feel like we're wandering out on this great big limb, and though I feel at this point that we're pursuing the right path, it's still the unknown, and there's a lot of insecurity in that. Ultimately though, I hope it's pushing us toward the ultimate security that comes from being a child of God. To know - and truly be secure in the fact - that He directs each of my steps, and that even the "wrong" ones are right in the end.

There's something about baking that relieves the control freak in me, just a little bit. Decorating, I can control. Savory dishes are easily maintained by constant sips from the stirring spoon, adding a little dash of this and that to make the flavors just right. But baking ... baking requires a degree of perfectionism and confidence that tests me every time I do it.

Perhaps it's my emotional connection to food ... and the affirmations I receive from others when I produce well ... that makes baking such a big deal. But I enjoy the test that comes with putting something in the oven and not knowing whether it is good or not until 30 minutes to an hour later. I love the confidence boost of success, but when I fail it's hard.

In one of the promos for Top Chef Just Desserts, one of the pastry chefs says something along the lines of "I bake because I'm a perfectionist; if I wanted it easy, I'd be a savory chef."

So this week's baking test of confidence came in the form of cheesecake, which is a particularly scary thing to bake.

Cheesecake is a tricky little dessert. It cracks constantly and you always run the danger of an undercooked middle. All day yesterday, I fretted about mine, afraid that when we cut into it at community group, it would ooze all over the plate. Spoiler: it didn't. In fact, it was divine.

And perhaps this would be a more poetic post if I had failed miserably and the cheesecake was ruined and I cried all the way home and had a miraculous revelation that it really was going to be okay and they'd let me bring dessert again and God still loved me and would always love me whether or not the middle of my cheesecake was set because God doesn't judge my actions, but my heart, and my heart in bringing dessert to my little church family was pure. But I didn't learn that lesson. I learned that bourbon and pumpkin are a heavenly combination, and make just about the best cheesecake you could imagine. I learned how to make candied pecans, a skill that I will use over and over again. And I DID learn that I worry too much ... but that's a lesson God tries to teach me every day.

So, I just have to share this cheesecake. I will probably make this again and again and again, because I do love pumpkin (this week I've made: turkey pumpkin chili, pumpkin cheesecake, pumpkin cupcakes, and I've got pumpkin risotto on the menu for this weekend). And here it is:

BOURBON PUMPKIN CHEESECAKE

courtesy of, of course, Epicurious

For the Crust:

3/4 cup crushed graham crackers

1/2 cup crushed pecans

1/4 cup packed light brown sugar

1/4 cup granulated sugar

1/2 stick (1/4 cup) unsalted butter, melted and cooled

Combine it all and press it in the bottom and partially up the sides of a 9" springform pan.

For the Filling:

1 1/2 cups canned pumpkin

3 large eggs

1/2 cup packed light brown sugar

2 tablespoons heavy cream

vanilla

1 tablespoon bourbon

1/2 cup granulated sugar

1 tablespoon cornstarch

cinnamon

nutmeg
ground ginger
1 teaspoon salt
3 (8-ounce) packages cream cheese

Whisk together pumpkin, eggs, brown sugar, cream, vanilla, and bourbon.

Stir together sugar, cornstarch, cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger, and salt in large bowl. Add cream cheese and beat until creamy and smooth.  Add pumpkin mixture and beat.

Pour into crust and bake at 350 for 50-60 minutes. This is where I got nervous. I baked it at least 65 minutes, just in case.

For Sour Cream Topping:

2 cups sour cream

2 tbsp sugar

bourbon

Mix together, smooth on top of baked cheesecake. Bake for 5 more minutes at 350.

Then it cools for 3 hours on a rack, then at least 4 more in the fridge. See the cracks it formed? I was skeptical of this particular cheesecake recipe because it did not call for a water bath, which helps the center set AND keeps it from cracking. Next time, I will use the water bath. It may be a pain and just precautionary, but I like the security.

So all day at work I thought about my little cheesecake and how I could cover up the ugly cracks and make it even better. Epicurious stopped too early, my friends, because this cheesecake needed a little bit more.

And by a little bit more, I mean a little bit more bourbon.

So I whipped up some cream and bourbon for the top, and then candied some of the leftover pecans.

And yes, I did say whip up CREAM AND BOURBON. Will my life ever be the same? No. Lots of this happened:

And the final result was lovely. The center was set, the top cracked but covered in a most delicious way. It ended well, the way almost all bouts of insecurity do. Whether they are small (baking), medium (social), or large (Real Life), they more often than not turn out to be just spasms of fear. The unknown is big, and scary, and threatens us every day in a hundred little ways. But we will go, with confidence in the Creator if not in ourselves, and it will be okay.