Cheesecake: The Dessert of Unity

I’m pretty sure that I mention this every April, but it’s BIRTHDAY MONTH (for another few hours anyway)! And while there are multiple people to celebrate, I only made a few desserts this time around.

We kicked off the April celebrations with dinner at one of our favorite places. We filled up on appetizers (alligator bites and cheese curds), drinks (coffee brown ale and vanilla stout), and dinner (burgers for Andy and me, of course). And while I’m sure Stone Arch serves a decent dessert, there was no way I could have eaten anything else by the time we were done with our meal. Plus, I knew that there was cheesecake waiting for us at home.

I’d been monopolizing the library’s copy of “Just Add Sauce,” and what I really wanted to make was the chocolate-caramel pecan pie from the book. However, it has peanut butter in it, and Arron, for whatever reason doesn’t like peanut butter. Weirdo… And then there’s Josiah, who claims to “not like dessert.” Also a weirdo. However, both of them love cheesecake, so when I saw a cheesecake recipe in the back of Just Add Sauce, I figured I couldn’t go wrong. (My other choice was going to be the New York style cheesecake from Cook’s Illustrated, but it looked like a much bigger project, and I didn’t have time to tackle that one.) 

This cheesecake was pretty easy to put together (everything gets made in the food processor!), and because ATK includes weights, I was able to use minimal measuring cups. It took a while to bake and cool, which kept me up later than I would have liked, but the results were well worth it. There were no unsightly cracks in the top of my cheesecake, and it had a rich, creamy texture. We all loved it. In fact, Andy liked it so much that he licked both his plate AND Josiah’s plate clean. The dessert of unity, indeed. 😀

Minimal effort went into these pictures. We all just wanted to eat cheesecake. 
No cracks, and just a few bubbles! It’s a looker for sure. 

Cheesecake with Blueberry Cinnamon Coulis

For the crust: 
6 whole graham crackers, broken into pieces
2 1/3 ounces sugar
2 1/2 ounces AP flour
1/4 teaspoon salt
6 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted

For the cheesecake: 
2 pounds cream cheese
8 3/4 ounces sugar
4 large eggs
1/4 cup heavy cream
1/4 cup sour cream
2 teaspoons vanilla extract

For the coulis:
15 ounces fresh or frozen blueberries (thawed if frozen)
1/4 cup water
5 tablespoons sugar
1/8 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons lemon juice
1/8 teaspoon ground cinnamon

To make the coulis: 
Combine the berries, water, sugar, and salt in a medium saucepan. Bring the mixture to a gentle simmer over medium heat. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the sugar dissolves and the berries are heated through.

Use an immersion blender to process the mixture until it’s smooth. Place a fine mesh strainer over a medium bowl and strain the blueberry sauce through the strainer, pressing on the solids to extract as much puree as possible. Stir the lemon juice into the strained puree. Taste the mixture and adjust with additional sugar if needed. (I didn’t think mine needed any extra sugar.) Cover and refrigerate until well chilled, at least an hour. Stir to recombine before serving, and if necessary, thin with water before serving. (I also didn’t need to thin mine out.) 


To make the cheesecake: 
Adjust the oven rack to the middle position and preheat the oven to 325°. Grease a 9″ springform pan.

In a food processor, combine the graham cracker pieces and the sugar for the crust. Process until the graham crackers are finely ground, which should take about 30 seconds. Add the flour and the salt, and pulse a few times to combine. Then, add the melted butter to the bowl and pulse until the crumbs are evenly moistened, about 10 pulses.

Spread the crumb mixture in the bottom of the springform pan. Use the bottom of a dry measuring cup, firmly press the crust into the pan. Bake until the crust is fragrant and begins to brown around the edges, about 13 minutes. Remove the crust from the oven and allow it to cool completely. (This will take longer than you expect. Trust me. I put it on the front porch to help speed things up.) Reduce the oven temperature to 250°.

When the crust is almost cool, make the filling. In a clean, dry food processor bowl (yep, you need to wash it between steps), process the cream cheese and the sugar until it is smooth, about 3 minutes. Scrape down the sides of the  bowl as necessary. With the food processor running, add the eggs, one at a time, until they are just incorporated, which should take about another 30 seconds. (I found it helpful to crack the eggs, one at a time, into a small bowl so I could easily transfer them to the food processor while it was running. If I tried cracking them into the food processor, I figured I’d get shells in my cheesecake!) Scrape down the sides of the bowl, then add the cream, sour cream, and vanilla. Process to combine, about 30 seconds.

Pour the cheesecake mixture onto the cooled crust, and then gently tap the pan on the counter to release any air bubbles. Use the tines of a fork to gently pop any bubbles that rise to the surface.

Make sure that your oven is at 250°, and then place the cheesecake on the middle rack. Bake the cheesecake until the edges are set and the center jiggles slightly when shaken. If you have an instant-read thermometer, the internal temperature should register 155°. The bake time will probably be somewhere between 1 hour and 20 minute and 1 1/2 hours.

Transfer the pan to a wire rack and let it cool completely, about two hours. Refrigerate the cheesecake until completely cold, at least six hours. (Mine was in the fridge for about 20 hours.) 

To remove the cheesecake from the springform pan, run a paring knife between the edge  of the cake and the side of the pan. Then, unclamp the ring and remove the sides of the pan. Slide a thin, metal spatula (I used my large offset spatula here) between the crust and the bottom of the pan to loosen it, and then slide the cheesecake onto a serving platter.

Before serving, let the cheesecake stand at room temperature for 30 minutes. Use a warm, dry knife to cleanly slice the cheesecake into wedges. Serve with the coulis. Store leftovers in the refrigerator.

From Just Add Sauce

Click here for a printable version.

Easy Dessert

Some desserts have a reputation for being difficult to make. No one bats an eye if you show up with a plate of chocolate chip cookies, but if you bring cheesecake to the office, people are wowed.

“I could never make cheesecake,” they say. “It’s so hard!”

I’m here to bust that myth. Cheesecake is waaaay easier than you may think. Cream the cream cheese with some sugar, beat in a few eggs and pour it over a graham cracker crust. Bake for an hour or so, and let it cool. So much less involved than scooping individual individual cookies onto tray after tray.

And that’s why I whipped up a pan of these Oreo cheesecake bars for dessert with friends a few weeks ago. They’re easy to put together, and cheesecake is always a hit with everyone in our social circle. Plus, I almost always have cream cheese in the fridge.

The recipe calls for Oreos, but I can confirm that they work just as well with the off-brand / Aldi version of everyone’s favorite sandwich cookie. And since the off-brand package apparently has fewer cookies, I can also confirm that the filling is just as good with 10 Oreos instead of 12.

The four of us managed to not eat the entire pan that night, so I told Andy to leave the leftovers alone until I could photograph them. And he did, mostly. I mean, there are still three squares on that plate. 🙂


Oreo Cheesecake Squares 

For the crust: 
23 Oreo cookies, crushed
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted

For the filling: 
12 ounces of cream cheese, at room temperature
6 tablespoons sugar
6 tablespoons sour cream, at room temperature
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 large egg plus 1 egg yolk
12 Oreo cookies, roughly chopped

Preheat the oven to 325° and line a 8″ x 8″ baking pan with foil, leaving an overhang on each end of the pan to use as a sling.

In a medium bowl, combine the cookie crumbs and the melted butter. Stir until the mixture is evenly combined. Spread the cookie crumbs in the bottom of the prepared pan and bake for 10 minutes. Remove the crust from the oven and maintain the oven temperature.

To make the filling, beat the cream cheese in the bowl of a stand mixer until it is light and fluffy, about 2-3 minutes. Gradually add the sugar to the cream cheese and beat until well-combined. Mix in the sour cream, vanilla and salt. Beat in the egg and egg yolk until combined, scraping down the bowl as needed.

Use a rubber spatula to fold in the chopped Oreo cookies. Spread the batter in the prepared pan and smooth the top with the spatula. Bake until the cheesecake is set around the edges but slightly jiggly in the center, about 40 minutes.

Remove the pan from the oven and let cool on a wire rack for 1 hour. Cover the pan and refrigerate until well-chilled, at least three hours. (I left mine in the fridge overnight.) 

To cut the bars, use the foil as a sling and remove them from the pan. Place the bars on a cutting board and remove the foil. Use a large chef’s knife to slice the bars into equal-sized squares. Refrigerate cut bars until serving.

From Annie’s Eats, who adapted it from The Recipe Girl, originally from You Made That Dessert? by Beth Lipton

Click here for a printable version.

Aiming to Please

As someone who shows love through food, I do my best to keep track of people’s likes and dislikes. If I’m making food for you, I want you to love it. (No pressure, Andy.) I know not everything can be a home run, and sometimes, I make things that I know only I’ll enjoy, but those times are few and far between.

Of course, making something that pleases everyone is harder than it should be. Especially when it comes to dessert. In my group of friends, we have a chocoholic who dislikes caramel and coffee, a custards-and-creme-brulee fan, two coffee-and-vanilla-bean addicts, and me, the equal-opportunity-dessert lover (as long as you don’t muck things up with coconut). You can’t even create a Venn diagram of desserts that will please us all. (Or, maybe you can, but you’ll end up with three separate circles.) 

So, when I invited a relatively new friend over for dinner, I immediately started thinking about what I should make for dessert. Not dinner, dessert. (I have a go-to dinner option for first-time guests. Unless you tell me that you don’t eat chicken, cheese, or tomatoes. But then we might have a hard time being friends. Kidding. Mostly.) Dessert though, that’s another story. There are just so many options!

I decided that I couldn’t lose with a chocolate-cheesecake combination, even if our dinner guests weren’t hardcore chocoholics. As my friend Jackie (the creme brulee fan) likes to say, “Chocolate dessert is better than no dessert.” I thought about making black-bottom cupcakes, but the idea of scooping out individual cupcakes just didn’t appeal to me that night. So, I turned to one of my favorite recipe sources, and lo and behold, Deb came through for me. Again. (No one’s surprised by this anymore, right?) 

These were super easy, although I definitely recommend using a hand or stand mixer for the cheesecake filling, rather than a whisk. Or maybe my arms just aren’t strong enough to whisk cream cheese into a smooth batter. (That probably means I should keep practicing, right?) I don’t think my cheesecake swirled quite as nicely as Deb’s, but no one complained. 😉

These were really, really good. We served them straight from the fridge, and I would say that they’re definitely best cold. The brownie layer is thick and fudge-like, and the cheesecake layer is the perfect contrast to the rich brownies. My only complaint? It only makes a 8″ pan, so we ran out of brownies way too soon.

cheesecake swirl brownies

Cheesecake-Swirled Brownies

For the brownie batter:
1 stick unsalted butter, cut into tablespoon-sized pieces
3 ounces unsweetened chocolate, chopped
1 cup sugar
2 large eggs
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
pinch of salt
2/3 cup AP flour

For the cheesecake swirl:
8 ounces cream cheese
1/3 cup sugar
1 large egg yolk
1/4 teaspoon vanilla

For the topping:
1/2 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips

Preheat the oven to 350° and make sure the rack is in the middle position. Butter a 8″ square baking pan. If you’d like to be able to lift your brownies out of the pan (for easy / pretty cutting / serving), I’d recommend lining the baking pan with parchment paper to create a “sling.” (I didn’t do this, but probably will next time.)

Melt the butter and the chocolate in a 3-quart saucepan over low heat, whisking often, until melted and combined. Remove from the heat and whisk in the sugar, eggs, vanilla and salt until everything is well-combined. Stir in the flour until just combined and spread it in the prepared baking pan.

Next, make the cheesecake swirl. In a medium bowl (or the bowl of a stand mixer), beat the cream cheese, sugar, egg yolk and vanilla, until smooth. Spread / dollop the cheesecake mixture over the brownie base and use a butter knife to marble / swirl the batters together. Sprinkle the top of the brownies with chocolate chips.

Bake the brownies until the center is set and the edges are slightly puffed, between 30-35 minutes. Remove from the oven and let cool completely for easiest cutting / serving.

From Smitten Kitchen, originally adapted from Gourmet

Click here for a printable version.

The Benefits of Indecision

Last month, I had an epiphany. Things just clicked, and it was like a light bulb went on inside my head. You ready for this?

Half of a regular 9″ or 10″ cheesecake fills my 6″ springform pan perfectly. How did I discover this, you ask? Well, we had a cheesecake night with some friends. Yes, a night dedicated to all things cheesecake. Karen made her fabulous Bailey’s cheesecake. Janelle made a delicious white chocolate raspberry cheesecake. And I, as always, was plagued with indecision.

What flavor? Lime? Lemon-blueberry? Peanut butter? Black forest? Whopper? Snickers? Turtle?

See what I mean? How do you pick just one? (I think that’d be like trying to pick a favorite kid… although I’m not 100% convinced that parents don’t have favorites. 😉 Ha!) In the end, I couldn’t pick just one. And since 10 people do not need to eat FOUR full-size cheesecakes in one sitting, I did the only responsible thing I could think of. I halved the recipes and made TWO 6″ cheesecakes. 😀 (Even with my restraint, we still had a LOT of cheesecake left over. I think everyone took some home with them.) 

One of the best things about cheesecake is that it can be made ahead of time. You don’t have to worry about things getting soggy from sitting in the fridge overnight, and aside from the long baking time, it’s pretty low-maintenance. Make a crumb crust, beat some cream cheese, sugar and eggs together, pour into the pan and bake! Dessert is ready! This particular cheesecake takes a little more time than usual, since you do have to melt chocolate and then wait for it to cool, but overall it’s still pretty easy. I made the cherry pie filling while the cheesecake was baking and then topped it just before we went to the party.

Aside from halving the recipe, the only change I made was to add some vanilla (because that’s just what I do). I also baked it over (not in) a pan of water in the oven to help prevent cracks in the cheesecake. Although, if the cheesecake cracks, it’s not the end of the world, since you’ll be covering it with cherry pie filling anyway. And I have yet to meet someone who turned down a slice of cheesecake because it wasn’t picture-perfect. 🙂

The other advantage to this discovery? Two 6″ cheesecakes = twice as many opportunities for new flavors. I think a Whopper cheesecake is next…

blackforestcheesecakeBlack Forest Cheesecake

Makes one 6” cheesecake (double for a standard 9” or 10” springform pan)

For the crust:
12 Oreo cookies (feel free to go generic here)
1 1/2 teaspoons sugar
2 tablespoons butter, melted

For the chocolate cheesecake:
5 ounces bittersweet chocolate, finely chopped
2 8-ounce packages of cream cheese, at room temperature
1/2 cup plus 3 tablespoons sugar
2 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder
2 eggs, at room temperature
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

For the cherry topping:
12 ounces frozen sweet cherries, thawed, juice reserved (I used Bing cherries from our fruit order last summer.)
2 tablespoons sugar
pinch of salt
1 tablespoon cornstarch
1 1/2 teaspoons lemon juice

For the whipped cream cheese:
2 ounces cream cheese, at room temperature
2 tablespoons sugar
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 cup heavy whipping cream

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Butter a 6″ springform pan and set it aside. Place a shallow baking dish on the lower rack in the oven and fill it with an inch of water. (Skip this step if you’re not worried about cracks in your cheesecake.)

Pulse the Oreos and sugar in a food processor until the mixture is ground into fine crumbs. Add the butter and pulse to combine – the mixture should be evenly moistened by the time you’re done. Press the crumbs into the bottom of the prepared springform pan, smoothing them into an even layer. Bake until the crust is set, about 8 minutes. Remove from oven and place on a wire rack. Maintain the oven temperature.

Place the chocolate in a heat-proof bowl and set the bowl of a saucepan full of barely simmering water. Heat until the chocolate is melted, stirring occasionally. Remove the bowl from the saucepan and let the chocolate cool to room temperature.

Meanwhile, in the bowl of a stand mixer, beat the 16 ounces of cream cheese, cocoa powder and sugar together until mixture is light and fluffy. Beat the eggs in, one at a time, scrapping the bowl down between additions. Mix in the vanilla. Mix in the cooled chocolate until just combined, scrapping the sides of the bowl as needed. (The batter gets very thick at this point.) Pour the batter over the prepared crust and smooth the top into an even layer.

Bake the cheesecake until the center barely jiggles when shaken, about an hour. Remove the pan from the oven and allow the cheesecake to cool for five minutes. Run a knife along the sides of the cheesecake to help loosen it from the springform pan, and then remove the ring. Allow the cheesecake to cool completely before refrigerating overnight.

While the cheesecake is baking, make the cherry topping. Reserve two tablespoons of cherry juice from the thawed cherries. Combine the cherries, two tablespoons of sugar, lemon juice, salt and any remaining cherry juice in a small saucepan. Cook the mixture over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until it begins to boil. In a small bowl, whisk the cornstarch and reserved cherry juice together. Add the cornstarch mixture to the boiling cherries and cook, stirring constantly, until the mixture thickens. (This happens very quickly – now is not the time to walk away from the stove!) Remove from heat and allow mixture to cool completely before topping the cheesecake. (I let mine cool overnight and then assembled everything right before we left for cheesecake night.)

When you’re ready to assemble the cheesecake, make the whipped cream cheese topping. Beat the cream cheese, sugar and vanilla together until smooth. (I used my KA mixer, but I bet you could make this part work with a good hand-held mixer as well.) Add the cream to the mixture, scrape the sides of the bowl and beat until the mixture has stiff peaks.

To assemble the cheesecake, spread the cherry topping on the top of the cheesecake, leaving a little border around the edges for the whipped cream. Using a piping bag with a decorative tip (I used the Wilton 1M tip), pipe the whipped cream around the edges of the cheesecake.

Slice into wedges and serve. Leftover cheesecake can be covered with plastic wrap and stored in the refrigerator.

From Brown Eyed Baker

Click here for a printable version.

Adventures in Cheesecake

This particular adventure was inspired by a recipe I saw for coffee cheesecake brownies. Something with both brownies and cheesecake is bound to be great, right?

Well… not so much. At least, not this time.

While the cheesecake was good, both Andy and I thought the brownies weren’t the greatest. They were dry and cakey, and they didn’t have much chocolate flavor. (Maybe I did something wrong, maybe it’s the recipe, who knows.) Either way, I scrapped that recipe and decided that I’d be better off focusing on a coffee cheesecake instead.

I made quite a few changes from the original recipes. I skipped the chocolate-covered coffee beans (because I forgot to buy them and wasn’t making a second trip) and the ganache (because I was feeling lazy AND running out of time). I’m sure it’s fantastic with both the ganache and beans, but sometimes, something just has to give, if you know what I mean. 🙂

I used an Oreo crust, per Annie’s suggestion, since I didn’t have chocolate wafer cookies, and I went easy on the molasses in the filling, since I was pretty sure that mine wasn’t mild/light molasses. I was THIS close to skipping the sour cream layer on top (especially since I was getting the side-eye from Andy), but I’m really glad I didn’t. This was my first experience with a cheesecake that called for a separate sour cream layer, and I felt like it really took it to the next level. Next time, I think I’ll add a vanilla bean to the sour cream layer, just because the vanilla bean flecks are so pretty.

In spite of (or because of? who knows) all the tweaking, I ended up with a fantastic cheesecake. It was a big hit at our Sunday school Christmas party, and Andy and I had no trouble with the leftovers. We may have even had a slice for breakfast. It was coffee, after all. 🙂


Coffee Cheesecake 

For crust: 
32 chocolate sandwich cookies (I used off-brand Oreos), crushed into fine crumbs
1/3 cup unsalted butter, melted
pinch of salt

For filling: 
3 8-ounce bricks of cream cheese, at room temperature
1 cup sugar
1 1/2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1 1/2 tablespoons espresso powder
2 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 teaspoon molasses
3 large eggs

For topping: 
1 1/2 cups sour cream
1/3 cup sugar
2 teaspoons vanilla extract

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Fill a shallow baking pan with water and place on a low rack. Position another rack in the middle of the oven.

In a medium mixing bowl, combine the crust ingredients and mix with a fork until just moistened. Pour the crumbs into a 9″ springform pan and press them on the bottom of the springform and up the sides of the pan. Bake for 5-7 minutes, or until crust is set. Remove from oven and let cool.

In the bowl of a stand mixer, beat the cream cheese and sugar until the mixture is smooth. Scrape the sides of the bowl, and mix in the flour. In a small bowl, combine the vanilla, espresso powder and molasses. Whisk together until the espresso powder dissolves. Pour the molasses mixture into the cream cheese and mix until well-combined. Scrape down the sides of the bowl again, and beat in the eggs, one at a time, scrapping the sides of the bowl after each addition.

Pour the filling into the prepared pan and bake until the center barely jiggles when shaken and the top is puffed and golden brown, about an hour. Remove cheesecake from oven and set on wire rack while you prepare the topping. Maintain the oven temperature.

Whisk the sour cream, sugar and vanilla together in a small bowl. Pour over the hot cheesecake and smooth with a spatula. Return the cheesecake to the oven and bake for an additional 10-15 minutes, or until the topping is set. Remove cheesecake from oven and cool on a wire rack until it reaches room temperature, then refrigerate for at least three hours, or until cheesecake is fully chilled.

Once the cheesecake is chilled, carefully remove the springform pan and place on a serving plate.

Adapted from Smitten Kitchen & Annie’s Eats, originally from Bon Appetit, February 2002

Click here for a printable version.

New Favorite Cheesecake

Quit while you’re ahead. Go out on top. If there’s any truth at all in those sayings, then I should hang up my apron and put the springform pan away for good. I have reached the peak of cheesecake perfection, and I don’t think it’s getting better than this.

Creme brulee cheesecake. Creamy, rich cheesecake, flecked with beautiful vanilla beans and topped with torched sugar. I mean, really, what MORE could you possibly want? (Oh, a chocolate cheesecake? Or a Bailey’s cheesecake? Raspberry swirl cheesecake? OK, fine. No early retirement for my springform.) 😀

I first made this cheesecake as a going-away treat for some friends who moved to Iowa. I had heard a rumor that creme brulee was one of their favorite desserts, and so I began looking for a way to make creme brulee a more feasible dessert option for a large group. (You know, since Andy wasn’t on board with me getting ramekins for 10. This was before I received those super cute red ramekins for Christmas.) I thought the richness of cheesecake would be an ideal vehicle for caramelized sugar and vanilla, but when several Google searches came up empty, I just decided to wing it. It turned out so well that I decided to make it for a dessert for a baby shower for another friend a few months later!

I tweaked things a little the second time around, and what I ended up with was a rich, creamy, smooth, delicious cheesecake, dotted with vanilla bean. It baked perfectly and cooled without cracking. I could barely bring myself to set it on fire. And when I worried that it was “almost too pretty to eat,” several friends rose to the occasion and said that they’d be more than willing to take the plunge and dig in. (How thoughtful, right?)

Creme Brulee Cheesecake

24 ounces of cream cheese, at room temperature
1/2 cup sour cream, at room temperature
3/4 cup plus 6 tablespoons of sugar, divided
1 vanilla bean
2 large eggs, at room temperature
1 tablespoon vanilla
pinch of salt
2 cups of graham cracker crumbs
6 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
brown sugar, for topping

Preheat the oven to 325. Wrap a 9″ springform pan in aluminum foil and set aside.

In a large mixing bowl, combine the graham cracker crumbs, 6 tablespoons of sugar and the butter. Mix together with a fork and then press into the springform pan, being sure to press the crumbs up the sides of the pan as well. Place the pan in the oven and bake for 5-7 minutes, or until the crust is lightly browned and set. Remove from the oven and let cool.

Meanwhile, beat the cream cheese on medium speed until it is smooth and fluffy. Add in the sugar and beat until well combined. Beat in the eggs, one at a time, scraping down the sides of the bowl as necessary. Stir in the vanilla and scrape the vanilla bean seeds into the cream cheese mixture. Mix in the sour cream and salt. Pour the batter into the prepared pan.

Place the springform pan in a large roasting pan and add hot water to the roasting pan, stopping when the water is about halfway up the sides of the springform pan. Place the roasting pan in the preheated oven. Bake for 55-60 minutes, or until the center of the cheesecake is just set.

When the cheesecake is done, turn off the oven and crack the door open about 4 inches. Let the cheesecake cool in the oven about 30 minutes. Remove from the oven and transfer to a wire rack. Let the cheesecake cool another 10 to 15 minutes on the rack before removing the wire ring. (Run a knife along the inside of the ring before removing if necessary.) Let cool completely before covering and refrigerating.

Just before serving, sprinkle the top of the cheesecake with brown sugar. Using a kitchen torch, carefully melt the sugar, letting it melt and caramelize. (This could probably be achieved under the broiler as well, but it’s so much more fun to torch things!) Serve immediately.

Leftovers (if you’re lucky enough to have them!) store well in the fridge, although the burnt sugar topping will soften overnight.

Cheesecake adapted from Erin’s Food Files
Crust adapted from Annie’s Eats

Click here for a printable version.

Everything’s better with bacon

Even cheesecake. Yes, you read that correctly. Cheesecake. The rich, creamy dessert typically reserved for special occasions. I went ahead and made one with bacon. And no, this wasn’t one of those chocolate bacon or maple bacon combos that seem trendy now. We’re talking about a classic bacon combo – the BLT.

Yup. Not only was there bacon in my cheesecake, there was tomato and lettuce. Feel free to be weirded out by this. Andy was. Bacon in cheesecake was just not right, he said. Cheesecake is dessert. Bacon is not. I had a feeling that he would feel that way about this particular dish, so I put the recipe aside for one of those occasions where it wouldn’t matter if he was interested in it or not. So when my friend Bethany decided to have a girls appetizer night I knew exactly what I would make. (Okay, so there were several other possibilities, but I went for this one since I didn’t know when I’d get to try it again.) Turns out, all the girls loved it! And when I took the leftovers to work the next day, most of my coworkers liked it too! And Arron, Karen’s husband, even said, “You combined two of my favorite things – cheesecake and bacon. The result was awesomeness.”

I made a few changes to the recipe, based on my personal preferences and how I wanted to serve the cheesecake. Because I wanted to serve this with crackers, I eliminated the crust and used Erin’s parchment-paper-lined-pan technique when I baked the cheesecake. I also reduced the amount of Gruyere cheese because I was concerned that the flavor would be overpowering. Finally, I substituted a sun-dried tomato spread for the chopped sun-dried tomatoes.

The end result was a smooth, creamy, savory cheesecake with a wonderful bacon smokiness. Topped with lettuce and fresh tomatoes from our garden and served with crackers, it was an addicting appetizer!

BLT Cheesecake

For the cheesecake: 
32 ounces (4 8 ounce bricks) of cream cheese, at room temperature
1/2 cup whipping cream
1 1/2 cups bacon, cooked until crisp and crumbled into pieces
scant 3/4 cup of shredded Gruyere or Swiss cheese, shredded (about 2 ounces)
2 tablespoons sun-dried tomato paste
4 scallions, thinly sliced
1 teaspoons freshly ground black pepper
4 eggs, lightly beaten

For toppings and serving: 
cooked bacon, crumbled
lettuce leaves, torn into bite-sized pieces
fresh tomatoes, chopped into bite-sized pieces
scallions, thinly sliced
assorted crackers

Preheat oven to 325. Line the bottom of a 9″ springform pan with a round of parchment paper. (Here’s something to consider – I see that the magazine recommends greasing the springform pan. I did not do this step. However, if you add a crust to this, that might be a good idea. Your call.) Wrap the springform pan with a large square of aluminum foil, double-wrapping if necessary. (You’re going to bake the cheesecake in a water bath, so wrap the pan tightly and make sure the seams are above the water level.)

In the bowl of a stand mixer, beat the cream cheese until smooth. Add in the cream and mix until combined. Mix in the cheese, bacon, tomato spread, scallions and pepper. Beat until combined. (Feel free to taste the mixture and add more bacon or tomato spread if you feel it needs “more.”) Add the eggs and beat on low until just combined.

Pour the mixture into the prepared pan and place the springform in a large baking pan (I use my roasting pan for this, and yes, it’s a water bath way more often than it’s a roaster. But I digress…) Pour boiling water into the large pan until it comes up about an inch on the side of the springform.

Bake for 45-55 minutes or until the center is set and the top appears dull (mine took 55 minutes). Remove the springform pan from the water bath and peel off the foil. Allow cheesecake to cool on a wire rack for 10 minutes, then run a knife along the edge of the cheesecake. Cool to room temperature, then place the cheesecake in the fridge and let it cool overnight.

Before serving, remove the ring from the pan. Place a piece of plastic wrap over the top of the cheesecake and then flip the cheesecake out onto the counter (so the bottom of the cheesecake and the metal base are face up). Using a large knife, separate the metal bottom from the cheesecake and then peel off the parchment paper.  Meanwhile, have a large serving plate ready. (I garnished mine with large lettuce leaves.) With your hands under the plastic wrap, carry the cheesecake to the serving platter and flip it over so the top is now right-side up. Top the cheesecake with the reserved bacon, lettuce, tomatoes and scallions. Serve with crackers.

Adapted from Taste of Home, April/May 2012 (note: as of 7/29/12, you need to be a Taste of Home subscriber to access the full recipe online) 

Bite-Sized Perfection

If I asked you to name the perfect flavor combination, what would you say? Tomato and Basil? Garlic and Cumin? Garlic and Lime?

If you’re at all like me (at least when it comes to desserts), there’s only one answer to that question.

Chocolate + Peanut Butter = True Love Perfection A Match Made in Heaven The Ideal Combination

Bring that to a bite-sized cheesecake and there’s no getting around it – you’ve got some good stuff.

This recipe came from the now-defunct Cooking for Two magazine, and while I appreciate a scaled-down dessert (after all, do we really NEED an entire batch? Want, yes. Need, probably not.), I was not keen on the idea of dealing with two tablespoons of egg. So, I increased the recipe by 50% and used an entire large egg. That way, I’m not wasting part of an egg, and the recipe still only made nine mini cheesecakes, which I think is an acceptable number. I shared some with a couple of friends, and my favorite taste tester had a couple, which meant I only ate one (and a couple extra Reese cups). Not bad!

Mini PB Cheesecakes

1/2 cup graham cracker crumbs
1 1/2 tablespoons sugar
2 1/2 tablespoons butter, melted

6 ounces cream cheese, softened
6 tablespoons sugar
3 teaspoons flour
1 large egg
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
9 Reese PB cups, unwrapped (I feel like this should be obvious… please don’t bake them in the foil!) 

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line nine muffin cups with liners.

In a medium bowl, combine the crust ingredients with a fork. Spoon a tablespoon (or so) of crust mixture into each prepared muffin cup and press them into the bottom of each liner. (I use my shot glass measuring cup for this!) Bake the crusts for about 5-7 minutes, then remove from the oven.

In the bowl of a stand mixer, combine the cream cheese, sugar and flour. Beat until smooth, then add in the egg and vanilla, mixing thoroughly. Scrape down the sides of the bowl and mix one more time.

Place one PB cup in the center of each crust. Divide the cream cheese mixture evenly among the muffin cups.

Bake until set*, about 15-18 minutes. Remove from the oven and allow to cool on a wire rack for 10 minutes before removing from the pan. Allow to cool completely before storing in the refrigerator.

*Here’s my tip for helping prevent cracking with these cheesecakes. Rather than deal with a large water bath, I simply placed a metal 9″ x 13″ pan on a lower rack in the oven and filled it with warm water. I then bake the cheesecakes on the other rack, set in the middle of the oven, over the water. I should say that I actually have no idea if this is what kept them from cracking, but since I’d like to think it was. 🙂 

From Cooking for Two, Winter 2009

Velvety Goodness

Thanks to all of the food blogs, magazines and cookbooks I read, there’s a never-ending list of recipes that I want to try, new variations of cookies and cakes that I can’t wait to bake. Sometimes, I’ll see a recipe months before I ever get the chance to make it, and it just sits in the back of my mind, waiting for the perfect moment.

This cake is one of those recipes. I fell in love with the idea as soon as I saw it, but I knew that I needed a special occasion for it. After all, there’s no way that two people should eat a three-layer, cheesecake cake by themselves. So I waited. And waited. And waited some more. 18 months of waiting, to be exact.

Let me just say that this one was worth the wait. Since I made this six months ago, it’s been the inspiration for my Easter cake (a lemon cake with blueberry swirl cheesecake rendition) and the inspiration for Karen’s birthday cake. I’ve got a few other variations marinating in the back of my brain, just waiting for the right moment. One of my favorite things about this cake is its “wow” factor. After all, you cut into the cake to reveal a rich, velvety cheesecake layer. It’s also deceptively easy to put together, even if it is a bit time-consuming.

This cake is a study in time-management, at least for me. For best results, you need to bake the cheesecake a few days before you need the cake to be ready. That way, you have time to freeze it, which streamlines the assembly process. I baked the cheesecake on a Thursday evening, then baked the cake layers Friday night and assembled and frosted the cake on Saturday. Since this cake has cheesecake and a cream cheese frosting, I also needed to set aside a large amount of space in the fridge for storage before the party. (Although, I did make it in December, which meant that I could have used my garage as a spare fridge, if necessary. One of the benefits to living in “up north!”)

Red Velvet Cheesecake Cake

20 ounces cream cheese, room temperature
3/4 cups sugar
1/2 teaspoon finely grated lemon zest, plus 1/2 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
1/4 teaspoon coarse salt
2 large eggs
1/2 cup sour cream

2 1/2 cups cake flour
1 1/2 cups sugar
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 tablespoon cocoa powder
1 teaspoon salt
2 eggs
1 1/2 cups vegetable oil
1 cup buttermilk
2 tablespoons (1 oz.) red food coloring (if I remember correctly, this is practically the entire bottle!) 
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 teaspoon white vinegar

12 ounces cream cheese, softened
12 ounces butter, softened
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
3 cups powdered sugar, sifted

Melted white chocolate for piping
Shaved milk or dark chocolate for sprinkling


First, make the cheesecake. Line the bottom of a 9″ springform pan with parchment paper. Bring a teakettle of water to a boil and keep warm (this creates a waterbath for your cheesecake, which helps keep it from cracking!). Wrap the bottom of the springform pan in heavy-duty foil, being sure to bring the foil up at least an inch on all sides (and this step keeps the water from seeping into your springform!). Preheat the oven to 325.

In the bowl of a stand mixer, beat the cream cheese until it’s light and fluffy. Gradually add the sugar and continue to beat until fluffy. Beat in the lemon zest, juice and salt, and then add the eggs, one at a time. Mix well and scrape down the sides of the bowl after each addition. Beat in the sour cream.

Pour the cheesecake batter into the prepared springform pan, then nestle the springform in a larger pan. (I use my roasting pan for this, and yes, I use my roasting pan as a waterbath for cheesecake way more often than I use it to you know, roast things. What can I say? 🙂 ) Carefully pour the boiling water into the roasting pan until it’s about halfway up the sides of the springform. Bake until just set in the center, about 45 minutes. Remove the pan from the water and let set about 20 minutes, then run a knife between the sides of the pan and the cheesecake. Let cool completely, then cover and chill until cold. Remove the cheesecake from the springform pan.  Wrap well in plastic wrap, and then freezer until you’re ready to assemble the cake.

To make the cake, preheat the oven to 350. Butter and flour two 9″ cake pans. In a large bowl, sift the dry ingredients together. In the bowl of a stand mixer, mix together the oil, eggs, buttermilk, food color, vinegar and vanilla until combined. Add in the dry ingredients and mix until smooth (but don’t over-mix).

Divide the batter evenly between the prepared pans and bake about 25-30 minutes, or until the cakes test done with a toothpick. Rotate the pans halfway through to ensure even baking. Let cakes cool in pans for 5 minutes on a cooling rack, then flip them out of the pans onto the rack and allow them to cool completely.

To make the frosting, beat the cream cheese and butter in the bowl of a stand mixer until light and fluffy. Add the sugar and vanilla, and beat until fluffy. (If the frosting becomes too soft for you to work with, simply chill in the fridge for a few minutes.) 

To assemble your cake, place several strips of waxed paper around the edge of whatever cake plate you’d like to serve the cake on. (This helps keep the frosting mess off my plate while I’m working, which means I don’t have to try to transfer the cake from a work surface to a display surface!) Place one layer of cake on the stand and level if necessary.

Remove the cheesecake from the freezer and unwrap. Place the frozen cheesecake directly on top of the bottom layer of cake. (Note: If your springform is larger than your cake pan – mine is – you’ll need to trim away some of the cheesecake. Just let it thaw for a moment or two, then trim with a table knife. The scraps are yours to enjoy!) Place the top layer of cake on top of the cheesecake.

Lightly frost the cake with a thin layer of the cream cheese frosting, then place in the fridge for 20 minutes. This creates a ‘crumb coat’ which seals in all of those bright red cake crumbs, keeping them from marring the finished frosting. Once the crumb coat is set, frost the cake with the remaining frosting as desired.

To garnish the cake, pipe swirls of chocolate onto a piece of waxed paper. Allow to cool and set. When the chocolate has hardened (you can speed up this process by sticking them in the fridge), place the swirls onto top of the cake. Sprinkle with chocolate shavings as desired. Refrigerate until ready to serve.

Note: If your cake feels like it’s getting too warm while you’re working on it (you’ll know this if the cheesecake starts to squish out), simply return it to the fridge to firm things up. 

From Erin’s Food Files