Smith enjoys making different varieties of cheesecake

Jerilyn VanDeWoestyne
Tiffany Smith of Geneseo shows a decorated cake she recently made.

Tiffany Smith of Geneseo enjoys spending any free time she has in the kitchen where she especially likes to bake. “One of my favorite things to bake is cheesecake and I have a couple of different cheesecake recipes I use often,” she said, adding her list of favorite cheesecakes would have to include a double chocolate cheesecake and a tiramisu cheesecake.

“I enjoy baking a lot more than making complete meals,” she explained.

Tiffany recently relocated to Geneseo from Wichita, Kan., when she accepted a position as a Certified Registered Nurse Anesthetist (CRNA) at Hammond-Henry Hospital.

She is a graduate of Bradley University, Peoria, and Newman State University in Wichita. After  her graduation she remained in Wichita, working at Butler County Anesthesia, before making the move to Geneseo, which allows her to be closer to her family who live near Peoria.

“I grew up in a small town outside Peoria and my family is still there, so I’m a lot closer to them now,” she said, adding she is pleased with her decision to relocate. “I love it here and I absolutely love what I do. I have a much better balance between home and work now with a little more flexibility in my schedule. I’m enjoying a little extra free time.”

Tiffany said she began cooking for herself when she was a college student and lived away from home. “I like to experiment with cooking and you can feed college students anything, and they love it,” she laughs. “I started cooking when I was a student at Bradley, and I guess it was mainly out of necessity. It was kind of a big joke and I was always teased at school that I was going to bake my way through school.”

While attending Bradley, Tiffany worked at the Methodist Medical Center in Peoria and said she and her co-workers took food to work often, something she still likes to do.

“We had potluck dinners often and I always took things for those dinners,” she said, adding the potlucks would often be theme meals. “We would do things like Italian meals ... it was a lot of fun.”

Tiffany recalls that a nurse at Methodist brought cheesecakes to work several times that were delicious. “Eventually I got the recipe from her and I still use that recipe often,” she said. “When I was a kid I didn’t like cheesecake at all, but this cheesecake was different and very good.”

Cheesecake is probably one of Tiffany’s favorite things to prepare and is very popular with friends and family. “My friends seem to like the cheesecakes and I love to make them,” she said. “I guess I’ve kind of perfected them after having made so many.”

Tiffany notes one of the things she is very conscious of is making sure a cheesecake doesn’t crack on top after it is baked, since presentation is very important to her. “When I first started making the cheesecakes, they would sometimes come out of the oven with a crack on top and I didn’t like the looks of that,” she said. “I found out the way to keep that from happening is to bake it in a water bath.”

When baking a cheesecake, Tiffany says, she first wraps it in aluminum foil then puts the pan in about an inch or an inch and a half of water in a larger baking pan. “The water bath keeps the cheesecake moist and it never cracks. “Since I started doing the water bath, my cheesecakes never crack,” she said.

If you do get a crack in the top, however, Tiffany said it is easy to remedy by decorating it with whipped cream. “I decorate the top of the tiramisu cheesecake with homemade whipped cream and chocolate chips and I decorate the double chocolate cheesecake with whipped cream and a dusting of cocoa,” she said. “That makes a very pretty presentation.”

Although she uses her two favorite cheesecake recipes often, Tiffany said she has provably a dozen cheesecake recipes she has tried at different times.

“My favorite thing to do is bake sweets,” she said. Besides cheesecake, Tiffany has a recipe for chocolate truffles that she says she makes often. “They are so easy and very good,” she said. According to Tiffany she makes the truffles by putting a package of Oreo cookies in the food processor, adding a package of cream cheese and rolling that mixture into balls. “You freeze the balls overnight and then dip them in melted almond bark or sometimes I use melted Andes mint chips and that gives them a slightly minty flavor that is very good,” she said. “If I make things like that I usually take them to work or give them to friends.”

Since it’s important to Tiffany that the food she prepares look its best, she takes extra care when making the chocolate truffles. “When you dip the truffles into the melted chocolate you do it by inserting a toothpick into the truffle, but that leaves a hole where the toothpick was and I don’t like the looks of that,” she laughed. “So after they have set for a while and gotten firm, I melt white chocolate and put it into a baggie, then snip off a small corner of the bag and drizzle the white chocolate over the truffle. It makes a very pretty presentation and hides the hole made from the toothpick.”

When asked what her favorite kitchen appliance is, Tiffany answers with no hesitation — her Kitchen Aid stand mixer. “I love it. I bought it for myself when I was in nursing school and I leave it on the counter top because I use it all the time,” she said, adding she is a “sucker” for kitchen gadgets and items. “They love to see me come into the kitchen stores,” she said.

Another favorite item is a glass bottom springform pan from Pampered Chef that she uses to bake her cheesecakes. “Actually I have two of them and they work really well,” she said. “You can even serve right from the glass bottom and it is very pretty.”

Tiffany claims she is not an “artsy-craftsy” person, but rather likes to deal in concrete evidence. “I start with a recipe and see where it gets me and if I don’t like it I might adapt it to my taste,” she said.

If she is cooking for herself in the evening, Tiffany said she would probably prepare a chicken breast, seasoned, and baked in the oven, along with mashed potatoes and her favorite vegetable, green beans. “Or I like simple things like chili mac,” she said.

Tiffany’s favorite meal would probably be something like fettucini alfredo with a nice salad and her favorite restaurant is Olive Garden. “As far as I’m concerned, though, dessert is the best part of a meal,” she said.

Noting she gets most of her recipes from friends, Tiffany said when her grandmother passed away three years ago, she inherited a box of her grandmother’s favorite recipes, and those are recipes she treasures for the memories they give. “I remember whenever we visited my grandma she would always have things in the freezer that she would bring out and serve us,” she said.

She adds her original cheesecake recipe is from a friend, the recipe for chocolate truffles came from another friend from nursing school and a favorite rolled sugar cookie recipe came from a lady from the church she belonged to when she was growing up. “I think it’s fun to share recipes — I got most of my recipes from others, so I like to pass them on,” she said.

As a gift from a friend when she graduated from nursing school, Tiffany received two cookbooks. One is “American Classics” and the other is “The Best Recipes.” According to Tiffany the cookbooks have some wonderful recipes and they also have information about why you do things a certain way. “I like that. I like to know why some things work when baking and cooking and this cookbook tells me what I need to know,” she said.

Admitting she would “someday” like to take cake decorating classes, Tiffany thinks she could really get interested in that art. “I’ve tried to do some cake decorating on my own, but maybe someday I’ll get the chance to take some classes,” she said.

Tiffany likes to keep her pantry filled with all the ingredients she might need when she wants to make an “emergency” cheesecake. “I would almost always have on hand what I need to make a cheesecake at any time,” she laughs. “And I pretty much know what I have on hand and the ingredients I might need for something I will make. I like to be prepared.”

Although she favors baking rather than cooking meals, Tiffany has a recipe for Italian beef that she said is very quick to put together and also very tasty. “You just put about a five or six pound chuck or rump roast, cut into about two inch cubes, in the crockpot and add a tablespoon each of salt, pepper, onion power, garlic powder, oregano and Worcestershire sauce,” she said. “You don’t need to add any water, it will make its own juice.” Tiffany likes to shred the meat and then put it on a bun and add some mozzarella cheese. “It is very good,” she said.

She loves her job, however, and feels very blessed to be able to do something she enjoys so much. “I absolutely love my job. I can’t imagine doing anything else,” she said. “I always thought I would go to medical school, but somehow I ended up in nursing school and then decided to go into anesthesia. It is a very rewarding career. It isn’t just a job for me. it’s something I love to do. I feel very fortunate.”

Tiffany likes the challenge of cooking and compares it somewhat to anesthesia and her work. “Every recipe is different and every patient is different,” she said. “You have to find the balance in both.”

Her advice to cooks is to just keep trying, don’t quit. “Tweak the recipe if you want to in

order to make it your own, but just do it. Find your niche,” she said.

Her favorite part of cooking is trying to figure out a problem and then fix it. “Just like with the cracks on the top of the cheesecake. I found out that the water bath takes care of that,” she said.

Tiffany Smith shares some of her favorite recipes.

Chocolate truffles

Tiffany Smith

1 pkg. Oreo cookies

1 (8 oz.) pkg. cream cheese at room temperature

chocolate for dipping (chocolate almond bark, white almond bark or Andes mint chips)

Crush Oreos in food processor. Mix with cream cheese. Roll into small balls (about 1” diameter) and place a toothpick in each. Place on cookie sheet covered with wax paper and freeze overnight.

Melt desired flavor of chocolate in microwave (heat no more than 20 seconds at a time). Remove truffles from freezer and dip in melted chocolate. After chocolate has set, remove toothpick by twisting them out.

Melt opposite colored chocolate to drizzle over dipped truffles (white almond bark to drizzle over truffles dipped in chocolate almond bark or Andes baking chips, or chocolate almond bark to drizzle over truffles dipped in white almond bark). The drizzle covers up the toothpick holes and makes the truffles look pretty at the same time.

Refrigerate or freeze until ready to eat. Makes 60-70 truffles.

Double chocolate cheesecake

Tiffany Smith

1 C. chocolate wafer crumbs (may also use chocolate graham crackers)

1/2 stick butter (melted)

3 (8 oz.) pkg. cream cheese at room temperature

1-1/4 C. sugar

1 T. flour

1/2 C. Hershey’s special dark cocoa

1 (8 oz.) container sour cream

1-1/2 t. vanilla extract

1/2 t. almond extract

3 eggs


Combine chocolate wafer crumbs and melted butter. Press into bottom of 9” springform pan.


Combine cream cheese, sugar and flour until well blended. Beat in cocoa, sour cream, vanilla and almond extract until blended. Add eggs, one at a time, until just blended. Pour over crust.

Bake for 10 minutes at 450 degrees. Reduce oven temperature to 250 degrees and continue to bake for additional 40 minutes. When cooled completely, may garnish with whipped cream and cocoa.

Whipped cream:

1 C. whipping cream

1 T. sugar

1 t. vanilla

Freeze beaters and bowl. In frozen bowl, mix whipping cream, sugar and vanilla. Beat with frozen beaters until forms stiff peaks. Use cake decorating bag and tip to decorate top of cheesecake or around base of cheesecake as desired. Using small strainer, sprinkle special dark cocoa over top of cake and/or whipped cream.

Tiramisu cheesecake

Tiffany Smith

1 (9 oz.) pkg. ladyfingers

4 T. melted butter

4 T. Kahlua

3 (8 oz.) pkg. cream cheese

1 (8 oz.) pkg. mascarpone cheese

1 C. sugar

2 eggs

4 T. flour

miniature chocolate chips


Crush ladyfingers to fine crumbs. Mix crumbs with melted butter and 2 T. Kahlua. Press into 9” springform pan.


Mix cream cheese, mascarpone cheese and sugar until very smooth. Add remaining 2 T. Kahlua and mix. Add eggs and flour, mixing SLOWLY until just smooth. Pour over crust and bake at 350 degrees for 45 minutes. Turn oven off and slightly open oven door. Let sit for an additional 20 minutes.

After cake has cooled, garnish with whipped cream and sprinkle with chocolate chips.

Whipped cream:

1 C. whipping cream

1 T. sugar

1 t. vanilla

Freeze beaters and bowl. In frozen bowl, mix whipping cream, sugar and vanilla. Beat with frozen beaters until forms stiff peaks. Use cake decorating bag and tip to decorate top of cheesecake or around base of cheesecake as desired.

Blueberry muffins

Tiffany Smith

Whisk together and set aside (bowl #1):

2 C. unbleached flour

1 T. baking powder

1/2 t. salt

In a separate bowl (bowl #2), whisk together:

1 large egg

1 C. sugar

Then add to egg/sugar mixture (bowl #2) and whisk until just combined:

4 T. unsalted butter, melted and slightly cooled)

1-1/4 C. sour cream

Add to the flour/powder/salt mixture (bowl #1) and gently toss to combine:

1-1/2 C. frozen blueberries

Add bowl #2 to bowl #1 and fold together with a rubber spatula until just combined. Do not overmix (small spots of flour will remain and batter is fairly thick).

Use an ice cream scoop to drop batter into greased muffin tin. Bake at 350 degrees for 25-30 minutes or until light golden brown and toothpick inserted into center of muffin comes out clean. Let cool for five minutes.

While cooking, mix 1 t. grated lemon zest and 1/2 C. sugar in small bowl. Set aside. Bring 1/4 C. lemon juice and 1/4 C. sugar to a simmer in small saucepan. Simmer until mixture becomes thick and syrup-like. Remove from heat.

Dip tops of muffins into syrup  and then into lemon zest/sugar mixture.

Key lime cheesecake

Tiffany Smith

1-1/2 C. graham cracker crumbs

2 T. sugar

1/4 C. unsalted butter, melted


Stir together crumbs, sugar and butter. Press into bottom and 1/2” up sides of buttered 10” springform pan. Bake at 375 degrees for 8 minutes.


2-1/2 (8 oz.) pkg. cream cheese

3/4 C. sugar

1 C. sour cream

3 T. flour

3 large eggs

3/4 C. lime juice

1 t. grated lime peel

1 t. vanilla

1-3 drops green food coloring

Beat together cream cheese and sugar until very smooth. Beat in the sour cream and flour. Add eggs, one at a time, beating after each addition.

Add the lime juice, peel, vanilla and food coloring. Pour over crust and bake at 375 degrees for 15 minutes. Reduce temperature to 250 degrees and bake for an additional 55 minutes.

When cooled completely, garnish with whipped cream.

Whipped cream:

1 C. whipping cream

1 T. sugar

1 t. vanilla

Freeze beaters and bowl. In frozen bowl, mix whipping cream, sugar and vanilla. Beat with frozen beaters until forms stiff peaks. Use cake decorating bag and tip to decorate top of cheesecake or around base of cheesecake as desired.