Happy Blogiversary...

Four years ago today I sat down at my computer, created a Blogger account, and said "hello" to the world. My cousins had started blogging as a way of sharing pictures and stories about their growing families, so I decided to jump on the bandwagon with tales from my single, childless life in the city. My life has changed a lot in the past four years, but I have managed to keep blogging through all of it, no matter how far behind I got, and no matter how much I felt like quitting and getting all of that time back.

I had started blogging as a way of holding myself accountable; I figured I couldn't just sit at home living a boring life if I expected anyone to be interested in reading about it. Blogging forced me out into the world, and gave me a greater appreciation for my city and all it has to offer. It also motivated me to tackle bigger and more complicated projects in the kitchen, leading me to not only expand my repertoire, but to increase my skill set as well.

Finally, the past four years here at "The State I Am In" have helped me to keep my writing skills sharp. After college, I felt like I was squandering all of the writing talent I spent my life honing up to that point, so blogging gave me a means of self-expression, and a way to keep my writing skills up to date. Those writing skills helped me land a new full-time job in November, and the small portfolio of restaurant reviews that I had compiled over the years led me to my gig writing "Dining Due Diligence" for the Chicago Daily Law Bulletin. Truly, my persistence over the years has paid off.

In the past year, I managed to crank out 187 post, down just slightly from the 191 that I generated in my third year of blogging, but certainly not shabby by any means. That works out to a post every 1.95 days - a number of which I can definitely feel proud. To celebrate, I decided to keep up my tradition of trying out a new cake recipe, only this year, I found myself tempted to cheat a little.

You see, this year, I didn't actually bake a cake to commemorate my blogiversary. The same cake-related lack of inspiration and motivation that struck a few weeks ago for my birthday seemed to be plaguing me still, and I just couldn't settle upon anything I wanted to conquer. Meanwhile, I couldn't stop thinking about an icebox-style chocolate cheesecake that boasted four simple ingredients and was calling to me from my Pinterest baking board like a siren's song.

Last year, I happened to discover the joys of Nabisco Famous Wafers while making the crust for the Mexican Chocolate Tart I made for the Cinco de Mayo-themed dinner I prepared for Justin's family the first time they came over to see our new home. I only needed part of the package of cookies to make the crust, and I idly grabbed an extra to munch on while I was working. That proved to be a mistake -- I had soon eaten the entire rest of the package, even though I was in the process of making a separate dessert. 

An obsession was born that day; imagine if you will, a slightly crispier version of an Oreo without the frosting, and you can envision the experience of eating a Nabisco Famous Wafer. Given my fondness for Oreos, which dates back to my childhood (they are the only pre-made cookies I spend my money on), and the fact that I have never been a fan of frosting (in fact, while most people twist open their Oreos to scrape out the filling and eat it, I twist mine open to scrape out the filling with a knife and throw it away), Nabisco Famous Wafers are pretty much my dream dessert.

Later that summer, after one of the early game nights we hosted with our friends, Jess and Brad, I found myself with a huge surplus of whipped cream left over from an angel food cake and strawberry dessert that Jess had brought over. I didn't know what to do with it (it was seriously a lot of whipped cream), so I did the sensible thing and Googled "leftover whipped cream," and found the same suggestion on multiple food forums: turn it into an icebox cake by layering it with Nabisco Famous Wafers. I was sold.

I was skeptical that a dessert consisting of cookies and whipped cream would be good, in spite of the fact that cookies and cream was my favorite childhood ice cream flavor. Internet wisdom turned out to be spot on, however, as I was blown away by how delicious my results turned out. Evidently, the magic of the icebox cake occurs when the cookies sit overnight in the moisture of the whipped cream. They absorb some of the liquid, acquiring an almost cake-like texture, and the whipped cream sets up as some of its moisture is absorbed. The thin cookies turn into thin striations of cake between light and fluffy cream, and the result tastes far lighter than its actual caloric content would lead you to believe. 

Hence, when I spotted a recipe in Food and Wine for an icebox cake that substituted a combination of cream cheese and chocolate syrup thinned with a bit of water, I knew I had to make it happen. I've never been tempted to tackle a real cheesecake, which must be baked in a water bath and still has a tendency to crack, but this shortcut version proved irresistible. 

As you might expect, this was the easiest recipe that I've ever selected for my blogiversary. In fact, the hardest part was trying to keep the plastic wrap in place while I was spreading out the layers of cookies and cream cheese filling without making a huge, sticky mess. Simple as it was, however, it was also one of the tastiest desserts I've ever made for this occasion. My one-year blogiversary cake was largely forgettable; my two-year cake gave me my beloved maple cream-cheese frosting recipe; and last year I mastered Grandma Betsy's red velvet cake, which will probably always be my sentimental favorite. This chocolate icebox cheesecake is easily the second-best dessert that I have created in honor of this joyous occasion. 

I think this cake will be making a comeback sometime soon. Not only is it quick and easy, it is a great make-ahead dish for entertaining, since it needs to sit overnight, and it doesn't require any oven time, making it great for the summer. I'm already mentally penciling it into a cookout menu a few months from now, and I think you should plan on doing the same. 

Until then, Happy Blogiversary to me, and stay tuned to see where year four takes me here at "The State I Am In!"

Icebox Chocolate Cheesecake
adapted from Food & Wine

70 Nabisco Famous Chocolate Wafers (from 2 packages)
Three 8-ounce packages cream cheese, at room temperature
1 c. chocolate syrup, such as Hershey’s
1/4 c. water

1. Put 20 of the chocolate cookies (reserving 50 whole cookies) into a zippered plastic bag and, using a rolling pin, crush them to fine crumbs. Line an 8-inch round cake pan with enough plastic wrap to extend by 4 inches all around.
2. In a large bowl, using an electric mixer, beat the cream cheese at high speed until fluffy, about 3 minutes. Beat in the chocolate syrup and 1/4 cup of water and beat the chocolate cream for 2 minutes.
3. Arrange 9 cookies in an overlapping ring on the bottom of the prepared cake pan and place 1 cookie in the center. Spoon one-fourth of the chocolate cream (about 1 1/4 cups) over the cookies, being careful not to disturb them. Repeat with the remaining cookies and chocolate cream, ending with a layer of 10 cookies on top. Fold the plastic wrap over the top of the cake. Lightly tap the pan once or twice on a work surface. Refrigerate the cake for at least 8 hours and preferably overnight.
4. Peel back the plastic wrap and invert the cake onto a serving plate. Carefully peel off the plastic wrap. Press the cookie crumbs onto the side of the cake to coat evenly. Cut into wedges and serve. 

Cake should be consumed within 3 days of preparation.

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