Monday, April 27, 2009

DB Challenge: Cheesecake

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

It was coincidental that I had only just made a cheesecake a few days before the April challenge was posted. Brother! Another cheesecake! Not something my waistline really needed. But then my dad decided to visit me for Easter weekend and he loves cheesecake. So make a favorite for my dad and take care of a challenge.

The challenge gave us a LOT of freedom. The cheesecake recipe was basic and we were able to be as creative as we wanted with it. Some posters were REALLY creative. I focused on the fact that, A) I have a lemon tree, B) I had bought a container of ricotta for last month's challenge that I didn't use and was soon to expire, C) I wanted something I hadn't tried before. So I opted for a lemon ricotta cheesecake.

The cheesecake turned out perfectly. I've really got it down to the proper baking time to not overbake. But I didn't really care for this cake taste and texture-wise. The ricotta gave it a kind of gritty texture versus the super smoothness of cream cheese or especially the mascarpone version I made last month. In fact, I'd have to say that the mascarpone one is my alltime favorite at this point. And although tasty, it just wasn't as nice as straight cream cheese cheesecake.

For the crust I wanted some extra oomph. I wasn't in the mood to buy cookies again to crush when I had just bought a box of graham crackers. I ended up boosting the graham cracker crust by adding finely chopped roasted almonds.

To top it, I used an Emeril recipe for a citrus thyme sauce because I also have a grapefruit tree and the idea of adding thyme seemed interesting. In the end the flavor was wonderful (it also needs an orange, a lime, and a tangerine) but didn't form together well. What I mean is that it calls for a stick of butter and then all the citrus and thyme. Well when I stored the leftovers, the butter separated so that it was all congealed on the top. Yuck. So basically, it doesn't keep well or you definitely have to heat it and serve it warm.

I ended up serving it that first night and then gave my dad some variety by using different toppings the other nights. The second night I served the cheesecake with lemon curd. The third night I served it with a mulberry sauce (dad had brought me a bunch of fresh frozen mulberries from his trees).

All in all, gotta love cheesecake. But I'll not make a ricotta version again.

Ricotta Cheesecake:

2 cups / 180 g graham cracker crumbs
1 stick / 4 oz butter, melted
2 tbsp. / 24 g sugar
1/3 c chopped fine roasted almonds

2.5 sticks of cream cheese, 8 oz each (total of 24 oz) room temperature
1 cup / 210 g sugar
4 large eggs
12 oz container of ricotta
1 tbsp. lemon juice
1 tbsp. lemon zest
1 tbsp. vanilla extract

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. Bake for 8 mins and remove from oven. 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 ricotta, vanilla, zest, and lemon juice, 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.
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