By Maggie Edwards
Twenty-three Alabama Farmers Federation members put their baking skills to the test during the cheesecake-themed Heritage Cooking Contest Sept. 7.
“It’s more than cheesecake,” said first-place winner Jeanette Tew of Elmore County. “It’s the support between the ladies — in cheesecake and life. This is a community of women who love each other and work together. It’s a labor of love.”
Tew said preparing for the contest was her first attempt at baking a cheesecake.
“This contest taught me patience and growth,” Tew said. “My process was trying to find something unique.”
Her Sweet Potato Pecan Baked Cheesecake sang on the judges’ taste buds with a sweet taste of fall.
“My family loves sweet potatoes,” Tew said. “It was a challenge, because every recipe I found was a pumpkin cheesecake. I had to add ingredients and create this recipe to get the right consistency.”
Tew said she traveled to Montgomery planning to cheer on the ladies who won.
“My family will probably have a party over this,” Tew said. “In the middle of all my family’s sickness, this is a pleasant thing to happen. It’s a highlight.”
Tew received $150 from the Federation’s Women’s Leadership Division. Barbara Norred of Randolph County earned second place and $100 for Strawberry Cheesecake, while Montgomery County’s Amy Belcher took home third place and $50 for Biscoff Cookie Cheesecake.
“I want to compliment all the ladies who participated,” Tew said. “This is more than an act of love. We are making a commitment to work with an organization. It’s important to find your niche and get involved where you can.”
During the event, the crowd was inspired by Monique Williams of The Cheesecake Empori-Yum in Montgomery.
“Cheesecake is where my creativity goes,” said Williams, whose business offers over 60 flavors of rich, luscious cheesecake. “There are people who can draw, people who can paint and people who build houses. I can make a cheesecake. I love doing it and knowing it makes people happy.”
Following Williams’ presentation, a host of laughter and chatter filled the Federation home office as contestants and guests sampled bites of cheesecakes. The theme was chosen to honor the state’s rich history of dairy farming.
Federation Women’s Leadership Division Director Kim Earwood congratulated the winners, acknowledging the talent shared among the 23 contestants.
“It takes months to perfect these recipes,” Earwood said. “Our judges had a tough job. All the cheesecakes presented were exceptional. This contest empowers women to go outside their comfort zone, try new things and create meaningful relationships across the state.”
Sweet Potato Pecan Baked Cheesecake
By Jeanette Tew, Elmore County | First Place
2 cups gingersnaps, crushed
1/3 cup finely chopped pecans
6 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
3 tablespoons light brown sugar
4 (8-ounce) packages cream cheese, softened
1 cup granulated sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
4 large eggs
1 1/2 cups sweet potatoes (Bake three medium sweet potatoes, peel and beat with mixer, removing strings as they accumulate)
1 1/2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
1 cup packed light brown sugar
1/3 cup whipping cream
1/4 cup unsalted butter
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
1 cup powdered sugar, sifted
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/4 cup granulated sugar
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1 cup coarsely chopped pecans
Heat oven to 325 F. To make the crust, stir together all crust ingredients in a mixing bowl until well blended. Press mixture into bottom and 1 1/2 inches up the sides of an ungreased 9-inch springform pan. Bake 8 to 10 minutes — or until lightly browned. Remove from oven, and set aside. Do not turn off the oven.
To make the filling, beat cream cheese, sugar and vanilla with an electric mixer on medium speed until blended and smooth — about 2 minutes. Add eggs one at a time, beating until blended after each addition, stopping to scrape sides as needed. Add sweet potatoes and lemon juice, beating until blended and no streaks remain — about 1 minute. Pour batter into prepared crust. Bake until almost set — about 1 hour. Turn oven off, and let cheesecake stand in oven with door closed 15 minutes. Remove from oven, and gently run knife around outer edge of cheesecake to loosen from sides of pan. This will prevent the cheesecake from cracking. Do not remove sides of pan. Cool completely on a wire rack — about 1 hour. Cover and refrigerate at least 8 hours. Remove sides and bottom of pan, and transfer to a serving plate.
To make the topping, bring brown sugar, whipping cream, butter and salt to a boil in a 1-quart saucepan over medium heat, stirring until it boils. Remove from heat, and gradually whisk in powdered sugar and vanilla. Let the topping sit for 3 minutes, whisking frequently. Slowly pour over top of chilled cheesecake.
For the garnish, combine sugar and cinnamon in a saucepan. Stir in pecans. Cook over medium heat, stirring constantly until sugar melts and coats pecans — about 5 minutes. Spread on greased wax paper and cool completely. Garnish around top edge of the cheesecake, leaving the caramel-like center open.