I almost keeled over when those words came out of my mother’s mouth. I was pretty sure up until that point that I, with the Daring Bakers’ help, had created something pretty darn special. But when my mom, longtime veteran cheesecake maker, uttered those 9 words, followed by a confession that it was better than anything she had ever made, I felt like I had struck gold.
It might be the best compliment I have ever received.
Anyway, let’s get the housekeeping over: The April 2009 challenge is hosted by Jenny from Jenny Bakes. She has chosen Abbey’s Infamous Cheesecake as the challenge. That’s Jenny Bakes, by the way–I have no idea if I will get credit for the completed challenge if I try to include the link in the magic sentences!
Anyway, this month’s Daring Bakers challenge was fabulous-one of my favorites ever (ok so I have not completed a huge number). But still. I loved it because it took something impressive but not hideously difficult that I wish I did better–cheesecake–and then required that we make a basic cheesecake creative on our own. I fiddle as a cook all the time, but fiddling as a baker is something I don’t always do so comfortably. So this was a great challenge on many levels.
I was not going for stunningly creative or unique with this cheesecake; I am a relatively simple person when it comes to desserts and I have relatively simply tastes. I am always sad at restaurants when desserts have too much going on (raspberries with caramel and dark chocolate with a sponge layer and a mousse layer and… give me the plain mousse over that any time). So since I believe in making desserts that I will want to eat, I knew that I would choose classic flavor combos that I tend to love, rather than some of the more interesting (and I mean that in a complimentary way) ones that I have seen. They look gorgeous, but are not what I would want to eat most.
When I think cheesecake the flavors that come to mind are: vanilla, chocolate, coffee and lemon. The lemon clearly does not work with the others–at least for me–and I had just made that goat cheese lemon cheesecake, so I nixed lemon. I also nixed vanilla because to really hi-light vanilla it needs to be the only flavor (as opposed to using a bit of extract) and I thought that was too boring for this assignment. That left coffee and chocolate. My husband does not like a really strong coffee flavor (my loss and one of his few flaws as my usually appreciative audience), so after thinking about what I could do to tame it and remembering how much I loved Turtle Cheesecake when I was a kid, I decided to try adding some sort of caramel to the mix. I had some imported Argentinean dulce de leche in my pantry (yes I made this challenge entirely from the pantry as well!) and decided to use it. I also found some chocolate graham crackers for the crust, Sharffenberger chocolate and cream for a ganache layer, and I made up my mind to do layers with the dulce de leche and ganache. In retrospect, I think the ganache had a little too much cream as it was a bit soft. Next time I would use less. But this was just a cosmetic criticism–from a flavor perspective this cheesecake was a winner.
*Edited to add we now have a Daring Bakers blogroll! Or a temporary one, anyway. Please check out what the other daring bakers did with their cheesecake challenge!
2 cups (180 g) chocolate graham cracker crumbs
1 t unsweetened cocoa powder (I used Scharffenberger natural)
1 stick (4 oz) unsalted butter, melted
2 T sugar
1 t vanilla extract
Coffee cheesecake layer:
2 packages cream cheese, 8 oz each room temperature
8 oz mascarpone cheese, room temperature
1 cup (210 g) sugar
3 large eggs
1 cup (8 oz) heavy cream, of which 1/4 cup is set aside in microwave-proof bowl
1 T lemon juice
1 1/2 T vanilla extract
2 1/2 t instant espresso
Preheat oven to 350 F. Begin to boil a large pot of water for the water bath.
Mix together the crust ingredients and press into a 9 inch springform pan (some people reported leaking–I have never had this problem; all I can say is make sure you are using a good quality pan). Press the crust evenly into the bottom and a little up the sides of the pan. Wrap the springform pan in 4 layers of foil–preferably the extra wide foil but I got away with the more standard width. Set crust aside.
Combine the cream cheese and mascarpone in the bowl of a stand mixer. Beat until completely blended. Add the sugar and cream together until smooth. Add eggs, one at a time, fully incorporating each before adding the next. I beat too hard at this stage to no detriment, but I have been told not to go above speed 2 for cheesecakes with the eggs. Make sure to scrape down the bowl in between each egg.
Microwave the 1/4 cup of cream in a small bowl until hot and whisk in the espresso powder. Set aside to cool to tepid.
Add the coffee flavored, cream, heavy cream, vanilla and lemon juice to the mixer bowl and blend until smooth and creamy.
Pour batter into prepared crust and tap the pan on the counter a few times to bring all air bubbles to the surface. Place pan into a larger roasting pan and pour boiling water into the larger pan until halfway up the side of the cheesecake pan.
Bake 45 to 55 minutes, until it is almost done – this can be hard to judge, but you’re looking for the cake to hold together, but still have a lot of jiggle to it in the center. You don’t want it to be completely firm at this stage. Close the oven door, turn the heat off, and let rest in the cooling oven for one hour. This lets the cake finish cooking and cool down gently enough so that it won’t crack on the top. After one hour, remove cheesecake from oven and lift carefully out of water bath. It may still have the slightest jiggle to it, which is ok. Let it finish cooling on the counter, and then cover and put in the fridge to chill overnight.
Dulce De Leche I am not ashamed to admit mine came out of bottle since this stuff is heavenly and the real deal (if you buy yours, make sure it is made with real milk), but if you want make the dulce de leche the second day (I do not have a tried and true recipe to suggest, alas). If you are purchasing the caramel, heat it up gently in the microwave to make sure it is pourable. Let cool to tepid.
Ganache I used this tried and true recipe for the ganache. I also let this cool to tepid before pouring.
The second day, pull the cheesecake out of the fridge. First pour the dulce de leche over the cheesecake, tilting the pan to coat the surface evenly. Return to the fridge for 1 hour.
Before pulling the cheesecake out, make the ganache. Take the cheesecake out of the fridge and pour the ganache over the caramel, once again tilting the pan to coat the top evenly. Return the pan to the fridge and let sit for 3 hours or until the chocolate is set. I did all of this the morning of the second day and served the cheesecake with dinner.