Monday, April 27, 2009

Daring Bakers: Creative Cheesecakes!

The April 2009 challenge is hosted by Jenny from Jenny Bakes. She has chosen Abbey's Infamous Cheesecake as the challenge.
This challenge was so fun! I have always enjoyed cheesecake, but it seemed like something that was hard to make at home. I'd seen stories about cracked cheesecakes, soggy crusts, or weird textures, so I had previously decided to leave cheesecake to the pros. This is exactly why I love the Daring Bakers, because they challenge me to try recipes I'd never pick out on my own. And now there are Daring Cooks, too! If you're interested in joining either group, click on the link on the right side of my blog.

I enjoyed this challenge for many reasons. First, it really wasn't too hard! It was one of those recipes that sounds a lot harder than it actually is, and once I started baking I was plesantly surprised. Thank goodness the Daring Bakers got me to try baking cheesecake, because now I've discovered the best dessert to bring to any party where I want to impress the crowd! :) This challenge was pretty basic to start off, and then Jenny pushed us to add our own creative flavors. I feel comfortable being more creative with my cooking, because it doesn't need to be precise in the first place. My cooking style is along the lines of "a little of this, a little of that... play around until it's right". I am much more cautious with baking, because the exact measurements are what makes it work. But I threw caution to the wind this time, and did the crust I wanted with the flavors I wanted... and it all turned out great!

I'm posting the original recipe below, so you can start there and then play around like I did. My cheesecake was inspired by chocolate covered strawberries. I couldn't find chocolate grahams at my grocery store (really! Weird, huh?! I live in the heart of American, and my Jewel didn't have chocolate grahams!), so I did an oreo crust. I crushed about 2/3 of the package of oreos in my food processor, to equal 2 cups. Then I mixed in 4 Tbsp of melted butter, and pressed the mix into the bottom of my springform pan.

For my cheesecake, I left out the lemon juice and liquor. I mixed the batter, and put half of it in a separate bowl. Then I added about 1/2 cup of melted chocolate chips to the batter that was left, and mixed it until the chocolate was incorporated. I was using the wisk on my Kitchen Aid, so it did whip the chocolate batter to be thicker than the vanilla batter. I scooped spoonfulls of chocolate batter into the pan, then poured the vanilla around it. Then I swirled a knife through the batter to get a marbled effect.

I wrapped my springform pan in multiple layers of plastic wrap and foil, yet some water still leaked in. The crust was not crisp or firm, but it still tasted like Oreos, so I wasn't really too upset! I think the water bath was the key to a crack-free top of the cheesecake, so I will play around with other ways to make the water bath work.

If you ever thought cheesecake was hard to make, I urge you to try this recipe. I was so proud of my results, and I bet you would have the same success. Thanks Jenny for a great challenge!

Abbey's Infamous Cheesecake
2 cups / 180 g graham cracker crumbs
1 stick / 4 oz butter, melted
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 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!


suze said...

if i ever visit chicago, will you cook for me? :)

Joelen said...

Gorgeous job!!

vibi said...

Mmmm... many great things all wrapped up in one beautiful classic! Strawberries, melted chocolate, two tone swirl... mmmm... did you say I could come over tonight? lol

Bravo, Erin!

Ash said...

Your cheesecake turned out very very well too! I love the swirls and the loads of strawberries!

Amanda said...

I agree with you completely! I thought cheesecakes were like unconquerable baking territory for me. One of my great cook friends told me a horror story about lighting his oven on fire in a tiny apartment with a cheesecake disaster so I never expected to make one myself. But it really is that easy. I will definitely make cheesecake again, given the right crowd of hungry people. :)

I love the addition of strawberries and chocolate to your cheesecake. It looks so nice.

pixie said...

Hi erin! Great job! I love the swirls! Whenever i use multiple layers of foil, it will ALWAYS LEAK! However, I use the heavy duty foil that is double width and I have zero problems! Try it next time!

Lauren said...

Mmm, your cheesecake looks amazing!! I love the chocolate swirl paired with the strawberries =D.

Jenny said...

Yum, sounds good to me. I think strawberries and chocolate are perfect with this recipe. I'm glad you enjoyed it!

Jenny of JennyBakes