Boy wonder in the kitchen Jack Taylor, 10, makes a mean cheesecake
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Jack Taylor has spent half his life in the kitchen.
The 10-year-old estimates he was five when first got interested in the family pastime. His parents, Meghan and Matthew, are avid cooks who were keen to get their son involved in making meals.
“My mom and dad always used to make cookies for me and I wanted to do it all by myself,” Jack says. “That appealed to me.”
It started with chocolate chip cookies and soon progressed to scrambling his own eggs for breakfast, making tuna sandwiches for lunch and chopping veggies for snacks.
Meghan took note of her son’s enthusiasm and signed him up for a culinary day camp.
“He loved it,” she says. “(But) he wanted to be a little more involved with the cooking itself.”
For the last two years, Jack has been taking classes at the Food Studio, a cooking school on Roblin Boulevard that offers lessons for all ages.
“The teacher is nice, the kitchen is very nice and most of it you get to do on your own,” he says. “Well, they do turn on the stove and stuff, but we literally do the rest.”
So far, he’s learned basic knife skills, along with how to make several Mexican staples, various baked goodies, fresh pasta and homemade cheese pizza.
“It’s really fun to cook, like, you can see what it can turn out as,” he says. “It could turn out as a beautiful piece or it can turn out as, well, a flunk.”
“It’s really fun to cook, like, you can see what it can turn out as… It could turn out as a beautiful piece or it can turn out as, well, a flunk.”–Jack Taylor
Cheesecake has become Jack’s specialty.
Last Thanksgiving, the youngest Taylor wanted to contribute to the family potluck. Meghan upped the ante with a friendly competition.
“You’ve been taking all these cooking classes — let’s see what you can do,” she says. “I was actually blown away.”
Mother and son were each tasked with making an appetizer and a dessert. Dad, aunt and uncle acted as judges. Meghan went with crab dip — a tried and true crowd pleaser — and an experimental pumpkin cheesecake.
“Maybe I shouldn’t have made a cheesecake,” she says.
“Not a pumpkin one, anyways,” Matthew adds with a smirk.
Jack got to work constructing intricate salami roses with basil leaves and pickles, as well as two different kinds of mini-cheesecakes: strawberry salted caramel and chocolate blackberry.
He found the recipes online and executed the dishes flawlessly.
“I did not win,” Meghan says. “He won fair and square.”
It was nice to win, but it was even better to see others enjoying his food.
“Usually, I say that to mom: ‘Your cooking was really, really good.’ And I say that to my dad, too,” Jack says. “It was good to hear, ‘Your cooking is really good’ for once.”
For a while, he sold his mini-cheesecakes to friends, neighbours and family members in gold cake boxes emblazoned with a JT Cakes logo. Business has slowed and now the dessert is reserved for special occasions, such as Mother’s Day.
On Sunday, Jack is planning to make a batch with flavours tailored to Meghan’s love of all things citrus. During a recent Free Press visit, he was busy practising his lemon curd.
Jack is clearly confident in the kitchen. It’s only his second time making lemon curd, but he separates the egg yolks, whisks the sugar into lemon juice and pushes the bright yellow spread through a sieve with certainty.
“When you sift it, it turns out really, really smooth,” he says. “It’s easy and it tastes really good.”
Watching Jack cook fills his parents with pride.
“It’s rewarding to see him start from nothing to be able to grab stuff from the fridge and cupboards and put it together,” Matthew says. “It’s more than edible — and it looks good.”
Aesthetics are important to the pre-teen, who’s wearing a bright pink polo shirt with his hair slicked into a neatly parted style. He tops the cheesecake with curd and candied lemon peel. A chef-like smear of sauce on the plate is the pièce de résistance.
For Meghan, a gift of thoughtfully crafted food is hard to top.
“It’s pretty beautiful,” she says with a catch in her throat. “I would rather a homemade dessert or a card over anything, because it’s the thought that counts, right?”
While Jack enjoys cooking, he’s not sure it’s something he wants to pursue as a career. He’s equally passionate about pottery, acting and baseball.
For the time being, he’s keeping his options open: “Wide open,” he says.
Mini Cheesecakes with Lemon Curd
Submitted by Jack Taylor, adapted from elmundoeats.com
375 ml (1 1/2 cups) biscuit crumbs (Digestive Cookies work well)
60 ml (1/4 cup) unsalted butter, melted
300 g (10.5 oz) full fat cream cheese, at room temperature
125 ml (1/2 cup) granulated sugar
2 large eggs, at room temperature
5 ml (1 tsp) vanilla extract
15 ml (1 tbsp) lemon juice
22 ml (1 1/2 tbsps) all purpose flour
180 ml (3/4 cup) full fat sour cream, at room temperature
80 ml (1/3 cup) lemon juice
2 large eggs, plus one yolk
80 ml (1/3 cup) granulated sugar
30 ml (2 tbsp) cold butter, cubed
15 ml (1 tbsp) heavy cream
1 ml (1/4 tsp) vanilla extract
Blend biscuits with a food processor and pour into a bowl. Add melted butter and mix well.
Insert liners into a 12-cup muffin pan and divide the crust mixture evenly, pressing firmly with a spoon. Set aside.
To make the cake batter, place cream cheese in a bowl or stand mixer and blend until creamy. Stir in sugar gradually and add eggs one at a time. Mix in vanilla extract, lemon juice and flour. Add sour cream and continue stirring until well combined.
Using an ice cream scoop, divide batter evenly into the prepared muffin pan. Shake gently the pan to settle.
Preheat oven to 320 F. Place pan on lower rack and cook for 15 minutes; the cheesecakes should wiggle slightly and not be completely set in the centre. Remove from the oven and let cool at room temperature before placing the pan in the fridge overnight.
To make lemon curd, heat the lemon juice in a small pan over medium heat until hot, but not boiling.
Whisk eggs in a small bowl and gradually add sugar. Stirring constantly, slowly pour the hot lemon juice into the egg mixture.
Transfer sauce back into the pan and continue cooking over medium heat, stirring constantly, until mixture reaches 170 F or is thick enough to coat the back of a spoon.
Remove from heat and whisk in butter until melted. Stir in cream, vanilla and salt. Press through a sieve to remove lumps. Store covered in the fridge until cool.
Top cheesecakes with lemon curd and enjoy.
Eva Wasney is a reporter for the Winnipeg Free Press.