Monday, April 27, 2009

Daring Bakers - Cheesecake Centerpiece (April 2009)

So this month's installment of the Daring Bakers had me excited, yet a bit nervous as well.

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

I have only tried to make cheesecake once before and it was edible, but not wonderful....and the top cracked, which is a cheesecake no-no. I read the directions which were "to take this basic recipe and play with it. Make it unique. Make a showstopper of a dessert. Add flavor, sauces, decorations – dress it up and show it off." Yikes....mess with a recipe that required baking....and be creative (oh too many possibilities!)

Since I've had a "tub" of dulce de leche in my pantry awaiting experimentation, I thought I'd go that route. Not quite as creative as some of the other Daring Bakers, but I was worried about adding a gel-type substance to the mix and having it still set properly. Not to mention that I really didn't want it to crack or have a soggy crust.

SO...I decided that I'd give it a whirl and make it for a party I was having on a Sunday. This dessert we were warned had to made the day before in order for it to chill overnight before serving....perfect!

The recipe came together beautifully. So easy...until you get to the part of messing with it! I was anxious about messing up the whole thing! I added a 1/2 cup of the dulce de leche to the batter...mixed well. Tasted....yum, but not strong enough. So I added another 1/2 cup for 1 cup total. Tasted again....yum, yum, yum. maybe this isn't so hard to be creative. Of course, I was still worried about the setting/crust/cracking issues.

Graham Cracker Crust
I wrapped my pan in three layers of foil, not allowing the edges to go over the top of the pan. My thinking was that it may get through the first two layers because the foil was short, but the third layer would protect the crust. I had minimal water seepage, so I think this method worked pretty well, though one more layer would probably have been best.
Unbaked Cheesecake in Water Bath
Into the oven it went to bake. Then the hour wait....I was praying it wouldn't crack! And, God must have decided to smile upon me because it didn't! Yeah! So now I just was worried about it completely setting properly and the final taste.
Baked and Cooling
After letting the cheesecake cool on the counter for several hours, I popped it into the refridgerator. No cracks! It also seemed to be set up quite well, so now the only question still unanswered was about taste.
It was at this point that I panicked! This is the point that you got the Almond Brownie Cheesecakes (see post from 4/18/09). I thought, "What if the cheesecake is horrible?! What will I serve for my party!?!"
The next morning...I anxiously got ready for the party and decided to take the glamour shot before they arrived, also allowing me to try it.

It tasted SOOOOO yummy. Sweet and caramelly (is that a word!?), yet creamy and rich. I was so excited that my experiment worked! The gals at the party enjoyed it, made "ohhh" and "ahhh" sounds, the co-workers that I took leftovers too enjoyed it as well. This is a great basic recipe that can be made into so many wonderful variations. Jenny sent us several, but I was glad that I'd tried my own experiment. Maybe next time I'll make one of her variations (included below).
Set up for the Party

(I entered this post into the {I Heart Faces!} challenge!

The Recipe
Abbey's Infamous Cheesecake
2 cups / 180 g graham cracker crumbs
1 stick / 4 oz butter, melted
2 tbsp. / 24 g sugar1 tsp. vanilla extract

3 sticks of cream cheese, 8 oz each (total of 24 oz) room temperature
1 cup / 210 g sugar
3 large eggs1 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

DIRECTIONS:1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. 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!

My Dulce de Leche Variation:
Omit liqueur. Add 1 cup dulce de leche last. Mix well.

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.

** 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.
Enjoy with Love,


  1. Wow, the beauty shot with the dulce de leche looks so tantalizing! Congrats on the perfect cheesecake... I'm not surprised your coworkers liked it so much. :)

  2. Don't you just hate that moment of panic when you realize that you haven't tried your wonderful creation and have no time to make something else if it fails spectacularly? I know I do.

  3. Mmm... I'm glad your cheesecake turned out perfectly for the party!

    I hosted a dinner party the night that I made the Daring Bakers lasagne and I had the same fears of serving a disastrous dish to guests. Why do we make these challenges even more stressful for ourselves?! :)

  4. It looks perfect. And caramel goes so nicely with this creamy cheesecake. Thanks for being a part of the April Daring Bakers Challenge! I am sorry to be so late in replying, but I'm determined to get to every blog.

    Jenny of JennyBakes

  5. Dulce de leche is divine.. i had just put some on my bread pudding recently.. .. great cheesecake!