Cheesecake at Midnight

The April 2009 challenge is hosted by Jenny from Jenny Bakes. She has chosen Abbey’s Infamous Cheesecake as the challenge. This month, my two biggest personal challenges were not adapting the recipe too much, and then trying to bake it with a baby who has clearly just taken a crash course in separation anxiety. I wasn’t able to bake my cheesecake until yesterday because I didn’t have cream cheese on hand, and Nolan wouldn’t let me out of his sight from 1:30 a.m. (yes, that’s a.m.) until 11:30 p.m.—he spent two hours sleeping on my chest mid-morning and then I managed to get him in the crib for a second nap in the afternoon that lasted maybe half an hour before he realized he was alone and flipped out. He hung out in his high chair and taste-tested graham crackers while I baked the cheesecake, but when it was ready to decorate and I handed Nolan off to his daddy while I piped some whipped cream and cut us slices, he threw a monumental fit the whole time, even though I was in sight of them. Nolan wouldn’t even let me sit next to them to eat my cheesecake; he wailed and flung himself at me the whole time I was trying to eat.

I had Jeremy look through the Junior’s Cheesecakes cookbook for flavor inspiration and he chose pumpkin swirl. Not the easiest adaptation because of the extra moisture from the pumpkin, so I had to almost hybridize the challenge recipe to make it work. I went with a 9″ springform pan, double-wrapped with heavy-duty aluminum foil. My crust was graham cracker with just a few gingersnaps thrown in for interest. I’ve made pumpkin pies with all-gingersnap crusts, and we don’t much like them because it’s a pretty strong flavor. As you can see, I decided to push it up the edges somewhat.

I used 8 oz of full-fat cream cheese and the rest was reduced fat. (Junior’s says this is a big no-no, but I forgot to specify when I sent Jeremy to the store for them, and we couldn’t taste the difference, honestly.) I flavored my batter with vanilla paste, then removed half and added pumpkin puree and your typical pumpkin pie spices: cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg, cloves. I stabilized the batter with 1/4 C cornstarch, a Junior’s trick, to offset the additional moisture from the pumpkin. I think I saved too much vanilla batter out, though, because it didn’t swirl very well.

It baked at 350F in a waterbath for about 1 hour 15 minutes, until it was set and just barely starting to color on top. Then it came out and rested on a cooling rack for a good two or three hours before covering with plastic and chilling in the fridge. This was also the Junior’s method, and it set up beautifully with no cracks. By the time it had cooled, the cheesecake had clearly pulled away from the sides of the springform, so I knew it would release nicely.

I decorated my cheesecake with maple almond brittle, which I whipped together during Nolan’s brief nap in the crib. I also made vanilla whipped cream in the food processor, which Rose Levy Berenbaum recommends for piping borders as it creates a dense rather than fluffy texture. I didn’t try anything fancy because Nolan was beside himself, but this was the first time I’ve piped something and felt satisfied with the outcome.

The cheesecake was cool but not completely chilled when I cut it, so the center was a little soft yet. We anticipate that it will be firmer today, but I have to draw the line at cheesecake for breakfast. You can see the two flavors of batter a little bit in the cross-section. The cheesecake came out beautifully, with a definite flavor of pumpkin pie that balanced the richness of the cream cheese. The brittle was pretty sweet, but added a good crunch, and I could taste the hint of gingersnap in the crust. Nolan was far too upset to taste it, but I suspect he will really like it too, and he could certainly use the calories more than his parents can. 🙂 Thanks for choosing this month’s challenge, Jenny! It was a delicious one, and I don’t think I’ve made a cheesecake since that towering German chocolate cheesecake over two years ago. (And please be sure to check out the wild creativity going on in the Daring Bakers Blogroll.)

Abbey’s Infamous Cheesecake at Midnight (i.e. Turned into a Pumpkin)

2 C / 180 g graham cracker crumbs (I added 4 gingersnaps to my grahams)
1 stick / 4 oz butter, melted
2 T / 24 g sugar
1 tsp vanilla extract

3 sticks of cream cheese, 8 oz each (total of 24 oz) room temperature
1 C / 210 g sugar
2 extra-large eggs
3/4 C heavy cream
2 tsp vanilla paste
1/4 C cornstarch
1 C pumpkin puree
1 tsp pumpkin pie spices (I used a blend of cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger, and cloves)

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. If you are using a springform, wrap its outside thoroughly with foil. 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, sugar, and cornstarch 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 and vanilla, and blend until smooth and creamy. Set aside about a cup of batter for the swirl, then add the pumpkin and spices to the bowl and blend well.

4. Pour pumpkin batter into prepared crust and tap the pan on the counter a few times to bring all air bubbles to the surface. Top with spoonfuls of vanilla batter, and use a knife to gently swirl the batter in a figure-8 pattern and create marbling. Place pan into a roasting pan, set in the oven, and carefully pour boiling water into the larger pan until about halfway up the side of the cheesecake pan. Don’t splash any water into the cheesecake!

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. (I used the Junior’s method to bake—1 hour 15 minutes in the oven with the waterbath, and 2 hours resting on a rack at room temperature before chilling. Not sure if the cornstarch makes the difference here, but it’s never cracked on me.)

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!

Maple Almond Brittle

1/3 C Grade B maple syrup
1 T light corn syrup
pinch salt
1/3 C sugar
1/2 C sliced unblanched almonds, toasted lightly

In a heavy saucepan combine the maple syrup, the corn syrup, the salt, and the sugar. Bring the mixture to a boil over moderate heat, stirring and washing down any sugar crystals clinging to the side with a brush dipped in cold water, and boil the mixture, undisturbed, until it registers 300 degrees F on a candy thermometer. Stir in the almonds quickly and pour the mixture onto a baking sheet lined with foil or a silpat. Spread the mixture as thin as possible with a metal spatula and let it cool. Break the almond brittle into serving pieces.

Source: Scaled down from Food Network.

I am a member of the Theta Class of the Daring Bakers, induced in July of 2007. For more information and a list of my previous challenges, click here.

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