As this story will tell, Linz and I have known Andy for a long time. His delicious desserts lead me to dub him, ‘Andy “The Cheesecake Man” Boulton’ when we were 13. I can’t decide if I like his baking or his writing more, lucky for all of us we get both today. ~Jess
The tale of chocolate covered pineapple cheesecake bites is fraught with peril, treachery, and no small amount of cream cheese.
It all started in Sarangani Province on the Filipino island of Mindanao. I was in the capital city of Alabel, in a small bar with no name and the only entrance was a curtained doorway off a dark alley. The kind of alley that you are talking about when you say, I wouldn’t want to run into him in a dark alley, only darker… and alley…er. I sat at the bar with a beer that you couldn’t pay me to drink. I wasn’t there for the fare or for the company, which consisted mostly of feral dogs and worse men. I was waiting for the underground pineapple bazaar to start, obviously.
Now, when most people think pineapple they think canned, with the name Dole on it. Maybe in a fruit cup. Maybe deliciously grilled on a rotisserie with cinnamon and brown sugar. Well that’s all very vanilla for the regulars of Bazaar d’ananas. Here you will find some of the most illicit pineapple baked goods known to man, and I was going to take them for all they had. You see, the bazaar is not so much a market as a cutthroat winner take all competition that would make the Pillsbury bake-off look like baby town frolics.
The bartender looked at me for the first time since giving me the rancid beer that still sat full near my fingertips. I gave the high sign, which I paid more to learn than the curriculum of my first semester of college and I was in. I was quickly ushered through a surprisingly secure looking back door by two large men who looked like they had managed to live their entire life with naught but ill intent. I was ordered to don a black-hood before being taken down some stairs and through a series of musty passageways. When they pulled off the hood I was in a shockingly well-maintained kitchen, plenty of counter space, top of the line Viking stove, excellent cookware, and a stationary mixer that Betty Crocker would kill for. And, don’t you think for a second that that woman hasn’t killed before.
While I was drooling over the kitchen accouterments I didn’t notice a small yet imposing woman enter the room, “ahem,” she coughed in perfect English. As I turned she merely said, “fee.” I handed her the cashiers check in my pocket, and tried not to think about the lengths I had to go to to obtain the sum, or the consequences should I fail to repay it. “Ingredients,” she held out her hand for a list but I replied, “Do you have a pen and paper?” She smirked slightly as she pulled out a calfskin notepad and a fountain pen. All the greats memorize their recipes to fend off theft. My list went as follows:
3 c. vanilla wafer crumbs
1/2 c sugar
12 tbsp. butter melted
2 lb. cream cheese
2/3 c sugar
1 tsp. vanilla extract
20oz can crushed pineapple (juice drained and saved)
16 oz. sour cream
1/4 c. sugar
1/3 c. pineapple juice
20oz of high quality chocolate bar (symphony will work)
2 tbsp. of shortening
She left without another word. I went back to spooning with the Viking stove.
After what only seemed like a few minutes, though I suppose times flies when you spend it with a person/appliance that just seems to get you, the little lady was back with my ingredients. “Judging will be tomorrow at noon,” and she was gone.
First step was the crust. Preheat that sultry minx of an oven to 450. Combine the crumbs, ½ cup sugar, and melted butter in a mixing bowl. Once it is mixed I pressed it into a large greased baking sheet and baked it for about 7 minutes, making sure to use the freezer trick with the pan. Once the pan is good and chilled in the freezer brush it with melted butter to grease the pan. The butter hardens to the cold pan and becomes opaque, didn’t miss a spot. Once it was done I just reduced the heat to 350 and let it purr.
The stationary mixer was making short work of the cream cheese and 2/3 cup sugar and as soon as that was good and beaten I added each egg individually and beat some after each adding the vanilla with the last egg and beating all until combined. Finally the pineapple, the whole reason I was here. As much as I loved the mixer, I mixed this last part by hand, cause what’s the point of having a plan if you are going to throw it to the wind at the first sign of a pretty face.
Once this was all mixed I poured it into the prepared crust. Alternating between a spatula and shaking the pan to smooth out the batter. Prior to tossing the pan in the oven I slid the water filled pan on to the lower rack to maintain a humid oven to prevent cracking. Then I slid the cheesecake into the oven and closed the door.
While the cake was baking I washed out the stationary mixing bowl in the sink and started in on the sour cream topping. It was a pretty simple process of adding the remaining sugar and 1/3 cup pineapple juice to the sour cream and mixing the heck out of it. Once that was finished it was a waiting game until the cake was nearly done. Some folks say to use the toothpick test on cheesecake. These folks don’t make it far on the underground baking circuits. Typically if a tooth pick comes out clean you have probably over cooked your cheesecake, if it doesn’t come out clean it might need more time or it might not, but either way you have shot the humidity level of the oven. Typically I would wait until the center 2 inches jiggle a little when the pan is shaken, then I’d shut off the oven and let everything cool with the oven closed. The underground Bazaar D’ananas of Sarangani is not typical. I had to play it by ear, but if you take it out after 25 min to a half hour you should be safe.
Take it out, spread the sour cream topping over it and throw it back in for 7 minutes and then shut it down without opening the oven. No need, I got this. Now we wait. Wait for the cake to cool in the oven to room temperature. Take the cake and put it in the fridge and wait for it to cool there. Wait.
Once the cheesecake is nice and cold I start melting the chocolate in the conveniently copper cored double boiler, adding the shortening to thin out the chocolate. While everything is melting down I cut the cheesecake into squares. A somewhat tedious process as the knife must be cleaned frequently to make clean cuts across the delicate cheesecake.
Once the cake is cut and the chocolate is melted it is just a matter of transferring the latter onto the former. There was many fine tools that looked pastry related in the pastry section of the kitchen. I had other plans. I went to the condiment section. Found the classic $.99 red squirt bottle that to everyone in the developed world screams, Ketchup. Checked to make sure it was empty and clean, and poured the chocolate into it with a funnel. The bottle became quite hot but other than that it was the perfect tool for disbursing fine chocolate lines crisscrossed over my cheesecake bites. Once that was done it was just a matter of re-cooling and waiting for my inevitable victory.
Or so I thought.
The time for judging came and went. No one showed up. I tried the door. Locked.
“Mr. Boulton, you will find that you are quite secure,” the little lady said over a loudspeaker with a little menace. “We know who you are and we are quite sure that you would have won our little contest. If we allowed such insolence. Unfortunately, you cannot be allowed to leave, and now that we have your recipe, we have no reason to allow you to live.”
Gas starts pouring from under my beloved Viking stove, “traitorous wench,” I mutter as I play hopscotch between consciousness and otherwise.
Truth be told I can’t be entirely sure how I made it out of there. I only know for sure that I woke up three days later in a Sydney Hospital with an IV in one arm and a note that said only, “Sorry we couldn’t get to you sooner, glad you’re OK, there may come a time when we ask a favor of you.” Signed the Ladies of Sweet Athena.
That was 30 years ago today. I hadn’t heard from them since, until one week ago when I was asked to write this blog post, it is all true.