Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Daring Bakers Cheesecake Centerpiece

It's Daring Bakers time again! I missed the boat last month - too much going on to participate. But this month I was ahead of the deadline when I made the challenge recipe (even though I'm a day behind in actually posting it to my blog!).

The April 2009 challenge is hosted by Jenny from Jenny Bakes. She has chosen Abbey's Infamous Cheesecake as the 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 / 383 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.

Since we were given free rein with flavorings and variations of this recipe, I made what was on hand. I created a Berry Swirl Cheesecake with a Gingersnap crust.

I substituted the graham crackers with gingersnap cookies, and only used 1/2 stick of butter in the crust.

For the filling, I made it as written above, then separated half of the filling and mixed it with about 1/2 - 3/4 cup of coarsly pureed mixed berries (blackberries, raspberries, and strawberries), then tried to pour the cheesecake in layers. It didn't stay layered, so I improvised and made it a pretty swirl instead!

I decorated it with lightly sweetened whipped cream and fresh cut berries.

I thought it was soooo good. It was the best cheesecake I've ever made (my previous attempts were a long time ago so don't hold them against me!). I didn't have any cracks in the top, the crust wasn't soggy from the water bath, and it was creamy, tangy, and berry-licious! (I'm nerdy, I know!)

Please check out the Daring Bakers Blogroll to see all the other creative variations of cheesecakes from our talented bakers.

Thanks Jenny for a great challenge this month! I'll be making some more cheesecakes next week for a Teacher Appreciation Dinner at my daughter's preschool.