Saturday, November 18, 2017

Tanie's "Say Cheese" Toffee Caramel Cheesecake

With each passing year, I develop a deeper appreciation for just how quickly motherhood goes by. When those babies are little and needing to be held 24 hours a day, you never imagine that someday your firstborn will be ten years old and that an entire decade of being a Mommy will have felt like the blink of an eye. When you're in the midst of diapers and middle of the night nursings, each phase feels like an eternity. You swear you'll never forget exactly how their little voice sounded or their cowlick stood straight up or their tiny hand felt in yours. But, I'm here to tell you, time makes all of those details fade.

When my dad passed away shortly after the birth of my firstborn, I realized how important preserving family memories truly was. I decided then that - no matter how busy life got - we would all press pause and dedicate one afternoon each fall to document our current stage of life and celebrate our growing family.

Tanie is the magician who makes all of this possible. I met Tanie when she was a colleague of Will's, back when we were just dating. Tanie and her husband were actually married on the very same day as Will and I - although, when you are a teacher, I imagine the first weekend after school is out for the summer is wildly popular for weddings. As our lives paralleled each other's, weddings led to babies, which led to a career change for Tanie - from middle school history teacher to stay at home Mommy and part time photographer. 

Tanie's work is obviously gorgeous (as is she), but even more than that, her serving heart and absolute genuineness shine through her photography. She patiently doubles as my sounding board and stylist when the rest of my family couldn't care less about wardrobe possibilities. Year after year, she gracefully puts up with Will's generally grumpy attitude about having his picture taken, the boys' lack of compliance tolerating the "fancy," yet perfectly coordinated clothing Mommy has so agonizingly selected for the occasion, and general toddler lack of focus. And, yet, she manages to capture the very best of us, year after year.
So, just what does one bake for their favorite family photographer? A "Say Cheese" Cheesecake, of course! Sure, a cheesecake is not technically a pie (I mean, the word cake is right there in the title), but it is baked in a crust, so we're rolling with it - Tanie's "Say Cheese" Toffee Caramel Cheesecake (Pie).

I began by prepping cheesecake's usual sidekick - a graham cracker crust. Only instead of the typical graham cracker crumb/brown sugar/melted butter combo, I gussied it up with my secret ingredient - a handful of nutty toffee bits. I pressed the buttery crumble into the pie tin with the bottom of a juice glass and placed it into a low oven until warm and toasty.

While the crust baked, I prepared a batch of homemade caramel sauce - well, actually two batches, as the first hardened completely, forming a solid brick of caramel...But the second batch of granulated sugar, light corn syrup, butter and heavy whipping cream bubbled to golden sticky goodness - caramel perfection! 

As the caramel cooled, I prepared the decadent cheesecake filling - combining softened cream cheese, sour cream, whole eggs, granulated sugar, vanilla extract and - just to guild the lily - a warm, gooey ladleful of homemade caramel sauce. I poured the rich caramel filling into the cooled toffee crust and baked the cheesecake low and slow, carefully wrapping the pie tin in a damp dishtowel to prevent cracking the top.

I woke the next morning to a beautifully cooled toffee caramel cheesecake and set to work on the finishing touches - a generous puddle of toffee caramel atop the pie and a piped ring of my signature homemade whipped cream.
My heart aches when I look back over the years - from the train enthusiast phase of our oldest, to the long-gone toddler cheeks of our middle kiddo, to the joyful introduction of our third and final baby. But, I also catch myself smiling when I remember all that took place behind the scenes - the epic meltdown of our oldest about footwear, my walking boot so cleverly disguised by strategically placed family members, and coordinating the so loved chickens that have long since seen their demise. I love that we have been blessed to beautifully document who we were and where we have been as a family. 

I am so very grateful for Tanie's friendship, generosity, and talent. Her ability to capture who we are as a family at a very specific point in time is truly a gift that will last forever. I can't wait to see what next year brings!
“Say Thanks" is sometimes more important than "Say Cheese".” - Vikrmn

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