Cheesecake Centerpiece: Daring Bakers April 2009

This month’s Daring Baker’s Challenge is another first for me: cheesecake! Baked in a water bath and everything!

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

I left the flavor choosing up to Z and my dad, since they both love cheesecake. They agreed that chocolate was what they wanted, with Z being interested in the idea of chocolate shavings on top. As you can see, I got a little more creative than that.

Guess what's getting good? Strawberries!

Guess what's getting good? Strawberries!

The strawberries are getting goooood (so is the corn…I was feeling like a true Mainer happily taking in the combined scent of fresh sweet corn and ripe strawberries at the grocery store) and since I had used the blackberries I originally bought for the cheesecake for some incredible ice cream, I decided to go with a chocolate-covered strawberry theme. I wandered downstairs yesterday morning, pulled out some chocolate, my Silpat and some strawberries and went to work.

I arranged the strawberries around the edge of the cheesecake and melted the chocolate, tempering it all ghetto-style by melting half in the microwave and mixing in the rest of it in until it was smooth. I had to re-melt it a couple times so certain pieces weren’t as nice as the first ones, but I had fun swirling shapes. I made one piece look (sort of) like a strawberry and stuck it to the giant swirl that I stood in the middle of the cheesecake.

The edges looked a little sad and ragged so I made some round chocolate disks and used some more melted chocolate to affix each one to the exposed end of a strawberry.

I probably should have gotten a picture of the plain cheesecake before putting stuff all over it. It was PRISTINE.

I probably should have gotten a picture of the plain cheesecake before putting stuff all over it. It was PRISTINE.

Oh yeah – I also made my own graham crackers for the challenge. I followed Alton Brown’s recipe, which turns out a tasty, full-flavored batch of graham crackers. I also don’t own a food processor and used a pastry cutter to blend the dough, so my graham crackers come out a bit “healthy” tasting with the whole grains in them. But they’re totally delicious that way and easy enough to make yourself.

I also made the crust a bit chocolate-y by adding 1 Tbsp cocoa powder. The crust doesn’t have an overt chocolate flavor, but between the cocoa and molasses it does have a lot of deep, rich flavor that contrasts well with the creamy cheesecake.

I used blackberry brandy for the liqueur in the recipe, just because it’s the easiest berry-flavored liqueur to get my hands on. I also had about 4 oz. of leftover mascarpone from some fabulous pasta, so I substituted that for 4 0z. of the cream cheese. I don’t think it made much of a difference, though it probably balanced out the small amount of milk I had to substitute for a few missing Tbsp of cream.

Abbey’s Infamous Cheesecake

There's that strawberry!

There's that strawberry!

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!

Z absolutely loves this cheesecake. I would definitely make it again – it was a little time-consuming but it was all very easy. The water bath was probably the most nerve-wracking part, and even that wasn’t so bad.

I used a very shallow pie plate and ended up with quite a lot of leftover filling, so I baked them without crusts in some shallow, oblong ramekins I happen to have (transferring them in their very shallow, sloshy water bath was even more nerve-wracking than the big one). They’ll be seen over the next few days, as the things I bought to top them are perishable and I can’t eat all that cheesecake at once!

3 responses to “Cheesecake Centerpiece: Daring Bakers April 2009

  1. Yours is simply gorgeous! Puts my (admittedly lacklustre) effort to shame.

  2. A first for me, too! Yours, however, looks so much more professional than mine, lol. Definitely a recipe I am going to try again, though. Great job!

  3. lovely decorating. The chocolate looks really decadent.

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