“I believe we eat with our eyes first…,” the bywords of Brooks Walker, aka Cakewalker (the name of his popular food blog), and today’s guest, here on Platter Talk. Although I concur with this central tenet of Brooks, I myself believe today’s guest to be nothing short of a culinary renaissance man. His work has been showcased in, among other places, The Los Angeles Times, on NPR, and on Mumm Nappa Valley’s site. Today, we are very honored to have Brooks Walker here on Platter Talk where we too will be featuring some of his magic. I hope you will take a closer look at this talented man’s creations; you will be struck with both awe and inspiration, this I guarantee. As a supplement to this post, Brooks was kind enough to provide this cheesecake demonstration video found here.
Platter Talk Brooks, you have worn many hats throughout your career. You’ve worked in hospitality, radio, as a commercial voice-over talent, writer, and dad – just to name a few. Professionally and personally, which one(s) have you enjoyed the most?
Brooks Professionally, my kitchen work brings the most enjoyment. On a personal level, parenthood gets top billing. The joy of parenting seems to have an infinite supply, and the challenges of raising kids certainly spices things up and keeps me on my toes! I’ve been most fortunate to have the ability to explore my varied interests through the years. Each one has contributed to where I am today, to the person I’ve become. Having gone full circle, the stainless steel environment of the kitchen is where I’m most happy, but it took trying on those hats to realize it.
Platter Talk Typically, how frequently do you create something with the intent of putting it on your blog?
Brooks In the past, most of the posts were intentional—especially in regards to cakes. Composing a cake post entails a lot of planning and work, particularly if the project is complex. Lately, however, spontaneity has been a contributing factor. In those cases, it’s been a simple matter of a successful weekend meal or dish inspiring me to share it. It may mean making the dish again in order to write it down and photograph it, but who doesn’t like seconds?
Platter Talk As a food blogger, what have you found to be a couple of your biggest challenges?
Brooks Ha, photography! And post frequency. For many food bloggers at the early stages of their publication, photos are typically the elusive element to nail and this was the case for me. I had never picked up a camera before with the intention of capturing compelling photos. I’ve managed to improve through the years as I learned about photography, but I consider the skill a work in progress. I prefer to choose quality of work over post frequency—well, I hope the work is perceived as quality! Intellectually I know I should post more often, to keep my work in front of readers, and the momentum going. But balance of life is important to me too. If I know one thing about myself, it is genuine inspiration must be present, or the motivation just isn’t there. I want to give each blog entry my all, my undivided attention.
Platter Talk What person or resource helped you the most in attaining the level of expertise that is reflected in your work?
Brooks If inner drive is a resource, then that must be it. There have been, and currently are so many people who inspire me to learn, to look at things differently and to stretch. To boil it down though, I have two I can name off the top of my head: Colette Peters and Chef Thomas Keller. Simply put, Ms. Peters’ body of work is nothing short of amazing—she’s a true cake artist. I align with Chef Keller’s practice of growing food fresh, and getting it to the table at its seasonable best. His food is astounding!
Platter Talk Your three favorite foods?
Brooks Basil, garlic and chocolate—not necessarily in that order. And any member of the chili family. Okay, that’s four. I’m allowed, right?
Platter Talk Your proudest accomplishment as a foodie?
Brooks Is the culmination of all my life experience together in the stories, recipes and pictures found on the pages of Cakewalker.
And now, readers of Platter Talk, it is my great pleasure to give to you, Brooks Walker.
BRIDGE THE GAP
I couldn’t quite put my finger on it. I wasn’t sad, I wasn’t blue. No moping around either, but there was that certain ho-hum quality that made the daily grind just that, ho-hum. Not even a good run with the vacuum could snap me out of it—I’m one of those who marvel at making perfectly symmetrical tracks in the carpet with the cleaning device. There’s something very pleasing and relaxing about creating carpet patterns this way. Don’t ask me to explain it. There probably isn’t an explanation, but I’ll say those who identify with the behavior know just what I mean. Lines, patterns, crisscrosses, oh my!
When this frame of mind sets in, I’ll take up a good cookbook and read for a while. Food has a way of shifting my gears. It can be artfully beautiful, mouth-watering and nourishing. What’s not to like about that? On this particular occasion, I was thumbing through Bon Appétit Desserts by Barbara Fairchild—a thick, encyclopedia-like book of the best desserts from the magazine. The mere act of opening the hard cover to turn the first page seemed to be an elicitation of pep. The photographs, ingredients and flavor profiles all played a hand in engaging me to a quiet calm.
Then I saw it; a glorious, thick disc of creamy chocolate. Chocolate. CHOCOLATE. Slowly, an eyebrow drew upward like the Grinch’s did when he conjured up his plan to silence Whoville. In that instant I understood my doldrums with the realization I had been missing c-h-o-c-o-l-a-t-e. No wonder! Valentine’s chocolate was a couple of weeks ago and Easter chocolate wouldn’t come for almost two months. That’s a dreadfully long time to go without a chocolate confection. I had to do something. I had to bridge the gap.
I sprang from my chair and quick stepped it to my stash of Valrhona bittersweet chocolate. My bounty was just shy of four bars, but that didn’t matter. I pulled back the gold foil to snap off a square of the 70% cacao “elixir”. I placed a piece on my tongue allowing it to melt slowly as I always did. Chocolate must truly have medicinal power for I began to feel great—less ho-hum! Still, I had to come up with a plan to tide me over to the next chocoholiday.
Returning to the book, the source which led me to my light bulb moment is where my answer awaited me. That thick disc of luscious and creamy chocolate was a photograph of a deep dark chocolate cheesecake—and I had just enough chocolate on hand to make one! Content with my plan, I smiled as a wave of relaxation came over me; the kind of feeling that comes from making lines and patterns in the carpet.
CHOCOLATE FIX CHEESECAKE
Chocolate fiends will find satisfaction in this rich, dense cheesecake. Be sure to use a good quality chocolate such as Valrhona, Scharffen Berger or Lindt with 70% cacao to achieve chocolate nirvana. The cacao nibs in the crust are optional, but the texture and flavor they impart is fabulous!
Never Miss Another Platter Talk Recipe
- for the crust
- 24 chocolate wafer cookies from one 9-ounce package
- 1 tablespoon sugar
- ¼ cup (1/2 stick) unsalted butter, melted
- 1 tablespoon cacao nibs (optional)
- for the filling
- 9 ounces 70% cacao bittersweet chocolate, chopped
- 4 8-ounce packages (2 pounds) good quality cream cheese at room temperature
- 1¼ cups plus 2 tablespoons sugar
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- ¼ cup natural unsweetened cocoa powder
- 4 large eggs
- for the topping
- ¾ cup heavy whipping cream
- 6 ounces 70% cacao bittersweet chocolate, chopped
- 1 tablespoon sugar
- 3-4 ounces white chocolate
- Preheat the oven to 350˚F. Butter a 9-inch diameter spring form pan with at least 2½-inch-high sides. Blend the cookies and sugar in a food processor until crumbled and well blended. Add butter and cacao nibs if using and process until blended and the crumbs are moistened. Press crumb mixture evenly onto bottom of the pan only. Bake until the crust is set, about 8 minutes.
- For the filling, stir the chopped chocolate in a metal bowl over a pot of simmering water until melted and smooth. Remove the bowl from over the water; set aside to cool the chocolate until lukewarm but still pourable. In a processor, blend the cream cheese, sugar, vanilla and cocoa powder until smooth. Remember to scrape the bowl down on occasion. Blend in eggs one at a time. Mix in the lukewarm chocolate. Pour the filling over the crust and smooth the top with an offset spatula.
- Bake the cheesecake at 350° until the center is just set and the top looks dry—about 1 hour. Cool for 5 minutes. Cut around sides of pan with a knife to loosen the cake. Place warm cake in the pan in the refrigerator and chill uncovered overnight.
- Assemble the topping. Stir cream, chopped dark chocolate and sugar in a heavy medium saucepan over low heat until the chocolate melts and the topping is smooth and uniform in color. Cool slightly. Meanwhile, melt the white chocolate on short intervals in a microwave-proof dish; transfer white chocolate to a plastic piping bag (or other heat-proof plastic bag with a corner snipped off to create a small opening). Pour the dark chocolate topping over center of cheesecake and spread to within ½ inch of edge, covering any cracks. Quickly pipe a spiral of white chocolate beginning in the center and working out to the edge of the dark chocolate. Using a knife, start at the center point and draw the tip of the blade edge through both chocolates. Now at the outside edge, skip a space and draw another line in the opposite direction towards the center of the spiral. Repeat in the same manner until a spider web effect is achieved. Chill until topping is set, about 1 hour.
- To serve, cut around sides of pan again; remove pan sides. Transfer cheesecake to a platter. Let stand at room temperature for 2 hours before serving.
Dan, you are a consummate host, and I thank you and Scott for the invitation to dinner. It has been my pleasure to get to know you here on Platter Talk, to share conversation, food, and inspiration. Moreover, I’m grateful for the introduction to your readers. Until next time, happy baking! —Brooks
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