Monday, April 27, 2009

Daring Bakers Challenge April 2009: 10 Plagues Cheesecake

So, I joined another baking group. (Stop looking at me that way) This isn't just any baking group, it's the Daring Bakers, one of the most impressive and exciting baking groups out there, who recently launched an ambitious new website to contain all of their forums. This group follows the work of no one cookbook writer nor chef, posts variations on complicated and...well...daring recipes picked by the monthly host. I'm late to the bandwagon and honored to join--these are projects just for the fun of it, for those of us who like difficult technique and hard to find ingredients. (That's been my only complaint about Tuesdays with Dorie, sometimes people seem to be bitching about having to try new things or make something new to them).

The April 2009 challenge is hosted by Jenny from Jenny Bakes. She has chosen Abbey's Infamous Cheesecake as the challenge.

Cheesecake is one of those things that isn't that hard to make yet somehow is easy to mess up. It always tastes good, so I would say that it's forgiving, but it can so easily get soggy or cracked or or just look a little iffy. It's a lump of cream cheese, after all. Not the most photogenic dessert. But, it is always good.

I made this cheesecake for a Passover seder at Stacey and Avi's house, and I rushed through it but got lucky anyway. Everything that could go wrong went wrong and it was delicious. I made the crust out of crushed pink macarons to keep things kosher, and that worked out well.

The rest was simple--mix batter, pour batter, bake batter in water bath, curse when finding that water bath had penetrated springform through foil defenses, drain, carry around all day in bag, bring to seder, get a little drunk, pose cake with 10 plagues puppets, eat. It was much praised, and, like every part of the Passover seder, reminded me just how lucky I am.

Click on through for the recipe and variations...
I left the macarons out of the official recipe because given the chance, I'd probably go with the graham crackers. Oh, and to match the macarons, I did flavor it with a bit of almond extract.
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!

Some 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)

** Cafe au lait cheesecake with caramel - 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 (I usually find one on the food network website - just make sure it has heavy cream in it. You can use store-bought in a pinch, but the flavor is just not the same since its usually just sugar and corn syrup with no dairy).

** 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.

Next month, I promise, more attention to presentation and variation. This month, I'm glad to be making it to the table.


Anonymous said...

I like that you used pink macaroons! Looks so yummy!

TeaLady said...

Beautifully browned on top. Nice job.

I usually put the water bath on the shelf BELOW the cheese cake. No mess, no seepage.

TeaLady said...

I forgot something. Welcome to the Daring Bakers....

Unknown said...

Welcome to the Daring Bakers! It looks more delicious than plagued to me. Thanks for being a part of the April Daring Baker's Challenge!

Jenny of JennyBakes