The April 2009 challenge is hosted by Jenny from Jenny Bakes. She has chosen Abbey’s Infamous Cheesecake as the challenge.
The Mowgli of me had to sit down with the Bulloo of me this month and learn this law of the jungle: you have more to learn about the thing you think you know than the thing you think you don’t know. Deep, I know. Especially when this is coming from cheesecake.
See, I’ve been making cheesecake since I was eight. There are places in the world where my cheesecake is legendary. Was legendary. Whatever. This month’s DB challenge was – ta-dah!! – cheesecake. Walk in the park. But. Then. Someone posted a picture of their just-baked beauty on the DB forum. It looked exactly like my cheesecake always looks: risen high around the sides, then sunken and cracked in the middle. Streaked with dark flares around the crust and across the top. And he’d stamped in heavy type across the photo: CHEESECAKE FAIL!
Noooooooooooooo!!!!! This was the moment at which my entire cheesecake-baking past came crumbling down around me. I swear, people, this is the stuff that changes lives. I almost feel like I need to make an inventory of all the people that have eaten my cheesecake in the past, and praised it, and beg their humble forgiveness. (Fortunately I’m not a Christian so I didn’t have to follow that up – see “argument against forgiveness” below.)
I picked myself up from the vortex of mortified shock. I looked at the comments underneath the damning photo. Daring Bakers is peopled by all sorts of enthusiastic bakers – from those who’ve never beaten an egg to those who spin sugar and create futuristic desserts for a living. And there were the suggestions from the forum about why this cheesecake had failed. “Do you have a convection oven?” someone asked. (Yep, I answered inwardly.) “You need to lower your temperature around 25 degrees to accommodate that.”
The other amazing thing I’d never done before was to create a water bath for the cake. This was intriguing. Enrobe the entire tin in aluminium foil (or use a disposable foil cake tin), and bake it in a bain marie with water halfway up its sides. Amazing idea.
So, in honour of the new cheesecake laws, I promptly set about making not one cheesecake but two. Firstly, I couldn’t really decide what variations to try out, and making two gave me an excuse not to decide. Secondly, I’d promised one to the book club and another to my dad for his birthday which I very nearly forgot.
So, for the first time in my life, I made two perfectly smooth, pale, uncracked cheesecakes. I know that these sorts of turning points and epiphanies are supposed to be accompanied by great humility, but I must admit, I’m feeling pretty proud of myself. So, with much fanfare and self-congratulation, I give you:
1. Cafe au lait cheesecake with oreo-ginger crust and caramel sauce.
2. Lemon-orange cheesecake with coconut biscuit base and passionfruit-pomegranate glaze.
Here is the recipe, with my adaptations and notes added.
Abbey’s Infamous Cheesecake:
2 cups / 180 g biscuit crumbs
1 stick / 4 oz (115g) butter, melted (I think you can use much less – the crust was very buttery)
2 tbsp. / 24 g sugar
1 tsp. vanilla extract
3 sticks of cream cheese, 8 oz each (total of 24 oz) room temperature
1 cup / 210 g sugar
3 large eggs
1 cup / 8 oz heavy cream
1 tbsp. lemon juice
1 tbsp. vanilla extract (or the innards of a vanilla bean)
1 tbsp liqueur, optional, but choose what will work well with your cheesecake
1. Preheat oven to 180C (adjust to 160 for a convection oven!). Begin to boil a large pot of water for the water bath.
2. Mix together the crust ingredients and press into your preferred pan. You can press the crust just into the bottom, or up the sides of the pan too – baker’s choice. Set crust aside.
3. Combine cream cheese and sugar in the bowl of a stand-mixer (or in a large bowl if using a hand-mixer) and cream together until smooth. Add eggs, one at a time, fully incorporating each before adding the next. Make sure to scrape down the bowl in between each egg. Add heavy cream, vanilla, lemon juice, and alcohol and blend until smooth and creamy.
4. 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 pan and pour boiling water into the larger pan until halfway up the side of the cheesecake pan. If cheesecake pan is not airtight, cover bottom securely with foil before adding water.
5. 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. Let it finish cooling on the counter, and then cover and put in the fridge to chill. Once fully chilled, it is ready to serve.
Pan note: The creator of this recipe used to use a springform pan, but no matter how well she wrapped the thing in tin foil, water would always seep in and make the crust soggy. Now she uses one of those 1-use foil “casserole” shaped pans from the grocery store. They’re 8 or 9 inches wide and really deep, and best of all, water-tight. When it comes time to serve, just cut the foil away.
Prep notes: While the actual making of this cheesecake is a minimal time commitment, it does need to bake for almost an hour, cool in the oven for an hour, and chill overnight before it is served. Please plan accordingly!
For cafe au lait cheesecake:
Take 1/4 cup of the heavy cream and heat it in the microwave for a short amount of time until very hot. Add 1-2 tbsp. instant espresso or instant coffee; stir to dissolve. Add this to the remainder of cream and use as normal. Top cheesecake with homemade caramel sauce (see below). I used chocolate oreos and ginger biscuits for the crust. I omitted the lemon and used Kahlua for the liqueur.
Boil 1 1/2 cups of sugar with 1/3 cup water until it goes amber to medium brown.
Use foil to cover the pot, and make a hole in the foil to pour the cream in. Add about 1 cup cream. When it stops reacting and spluttering, remove the foil and stir it to dissolve it evenly. Let it cool and spread it over the chilled cake, or use it for artful serving decoration. There will be plenty over for your ice cream sauce!
For passionfruit-pomegranate glazed cheesecake:
I took the pulp and seeds of three passion fruit and simmered them together with about 70 g sugar and 2 tbsp pomegranate juice for about 10 minutes til it thickened. To be honest, I could have made double the amount. I used Tennis biscuits for the base (only because I ran out of ginger nuts though) and triple sec as my liqueur choice.
Some more variations from the recipe creator:
** Lavender-scented cheesecake w/ blueberries – heat the cup of heavy cream in the microwave or a saucepan until hot but not boiling. Add 2 tbsp of lavender flowers and stir. Let lavender steep in the cream for about 10-15 minutes, then strain the flowers out. Add strained cream to cheesecake batter as normal. Top with fresh blueberries, or make a quick stovetop blueberry sauce (splash of orange juice, blueberries, a little bit of sugar, and a dash of cinnamon – cook until berries burst, then cool)
** Tropical – add about a half cup of chopped macadamias to the crust, then top the cake with a mango-raspberry-mandarin orange puree.
** Mexican Turtle – add a bar of melted dark chocolate (between 3 and 5 oz., to taste) to the batter, along with a teaspoon of cinnamon and a dash of cayenne pepper (about 1/8 tsp.). Top it with pecan halves and a homemade caramel sauce.
** Honey-cinnamon with port-pomegranate poached pears – replace 1/2 cup of the sugar with 1/2 cup of honey, add about a teaspoon or more (to taste) of cinnamon. Take 2 pears (any variety you like or whatever is in season), peeled and cored, and poach them in a boiling poaching liquid of port wine, pomegranate juice/seeds, a couple of “coins” of fresh ginger, a cinnamon stick, and about a 1/4 cup of sugar. Poach them until tender, then let cool. Strain the poaching liquid and simmer until reduced to a syrupy-glaze consistency, then cool. Thinly slice the cooled pears and fan them out atop the cooled cheesecake. Pour the cooled poaching syrup over the pears, then sprinkle the top with chopped walnuts and fresh pomegranate seeds.
Some variations from Jenny (from JennyBakes):
**Key lime – add zest from one lime to sugar before mixing with cream cheese. Substitute lemon juice, alcohol, and vanilla with key lime juice.
**Cheesecakelets – put in muffin tins, ramekins, or custard cups. Try baking 20-35 minutes, or until still a little jiggly, and cool as before.