One would think that with all of the rich and decadent desserts I create for this blog, I live in a house full of "Sweets Junkies". Nothing could be further from the truth. Actually, I am the only one who fits into that category, and even I have my limits! Believe it or not, Mr. SGCC has never even tasted 90% of the desserts I've made in the year and a half that I've been blogging. Cookies, cakes and pies just don't do it for him. I find it difficult to comprehend, but I've learned to live with it. There are a few sweet treats, however, that he really does enjoy like the occasional slice of Key lime pie and a good cheesecake. In fact, whenever he does allow me to make a cake for his birthday, it almost always is a cheesecake. So, since his birthday happens to be next weekend, this month's Daring Bakers challenge couldn't have come at a better time! I made some delectable cheesecake to share with you here, and have one biding its time in the freezer for the big event.
The April 2009 challenge is hosted by Jenny from Jenny Bakes. She has chosen Abbey's Infamous Cheesecake as the challenge. Now, I have no idea who Abbey is, except that she's a good friend of Jenny's and she makes a helluva great cheesecake!
I absolutely loved this challenge for several reasons, not the least of which I've already mentioned. I also happen to adore cheesecake myself, so believe me, it was no hardship at all to complete the challenge. We were given the basic recipe and told that we could tweak it to our heart's content, using any kind of crust and flavorings that we wanted.
With total creative freedom, my brain kicked into overdrive. However, I knew that if I wanted Mr. SGCC to love it, I'd have to keep it relatively simple. With that in mind, I decided to make an almond flavored cheesecake with a crunchy amaretti cookie crust. I topped it with a layer of sweetened, whipped creme fraiche and and almond-scented peach puree. I also made a few mini cakes to give away topped with Bing cherries poached in an almond syrup and a bittersweet chocolate ganache. (Well, actually I'm keeping one of the chocolate ones for myself!) I also swapped out one of the bricks of cream cheese called for in the recipe for an equivalent amount of mascarpone, which I feel gives a mellow flavor and a more silky and luxurious texture to any cheesecake. Besides, I'm Italian. What more can I say?
This recipe was a bit different from my "go to" cheesecake recipe. It provides for baking the cake at 350 deg. F. for an hour and then turning off the oven and letting the cake sit in the oven for another hour. I usually bake my cheesecakes at a lower temperature for a longer period of time. After an hour's baking time, my cake was still very jiggly, and I must say, I was concerned. After an hour sitting in the oven, it was still very jiggly, and I was even more concerned. However, after a nice overnight chill in the fridge, the jiggle was gone and it was damn near perfect.
I have to tell you, this was one of the best cheesecakes I have ever tasted! It was rich and impossibly creamy - yet light and fluffy all at the same time. And, the amaretti crust was oh, so much better than a traditional graham cracker one! It was delicious and stayed nice and crunchy even after a little seepage from the water bath. I really can't recommend this recipe enough. If you're a cheesecake fan, you will love it!
Please don't forget to check out the new Daring Kitchen to see how the rest of the DBers fared this month.
Abbey's Infamous Cheesecake
2 cups / 180 g graham cracker crumbs (I used an equal amount of crushed amaretti cookies.)
1 stick / 4 oz butter, melted
2 tbsp. / 24 g sugar
1 tsp. vanilla extract (I omitted this.)
3 bricks of cream cheese, 8 oz each (total of 24 oz) room temperature (I used 2 bricks and 8 oz. mascarpone.)
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) (I used almond extract.)
1 tbsp liqueur, optional, but choose what will work well with your cheesecake (I used Amaretto.)
1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F (Gas Mark 4 = 180C = Moderate heat). 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!