Monday, April 27, 2009

Delicious Simplicity

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

It seems that life is getting increasingly complicated. The Munchkin is crawling and is getting into everything! I can't turn my back for a second, or he ends up playing with the DVD player or opening a window! He's eating solids and finger foods, so feeding time takes forever and makes a HUGE mess (especially when he eats blueberries). I've joined the YMCA and have been trying to get a workout in three times a week, on top of our play dates, errands, chores, etc. My stack of sewing and mending projects is growing faster than I can keep up. Throw in some traveling, weekly agility with Thea, Psycling's busy schedule -- it leaves my head spinning!


I was really excited when I saw that Jenny chose cheesecake for this month's challenge, and even more excited that we could get as creative as we wanted with it. I immediately started thinking about different options -- mocha cheesecake with chocolate graham cracker crust, mango cheesecake with gingersnap crust, lemon cheesecake, vanilla bean seemed the options were endless! As I continued to ponder my cheesecake, I remembered the beautiful local organic strawberries that had just arrived in our CSA box. And I decided that the beauty of my cheesecake would be it's simplicity. A basic cheesecake topped with delicious fresh strawberries. Why make it any more complicated?

I (mostly) followed the recipe as written with only a couple of exceptions. When making my crust, I added about a cup of sliced almonds to the graham crackers, to give it a little extra flavor and texture. To complement the almonds in the crust, I used Amaretto as the liqueur in my cheesecake batter. After topping the cheesecake with strawberries, I brushed them with a glaze made by heating strawberry jam with a little bit of amaretto. The glaze was more for aesthetic just added a little extra red and shine to the strawberries.

I took this cheesecake to an Easter potluck, and it disappeared so quickly, I barely managed to get a piece. In fact, some of my friends were late to the dessert table and missed out actually licked clean the server and the bottom of the springform pan. It was delicious. However, Psycling and I both agreed that it didn't quite compare to my "gold standard" cheesecake recipe (the one in this book). I've yet to find a cheesecake that is better, though I think this challenge is the closest yet. It's definitely worth a try!

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.