One of the reasons I started this food blog was that I recently joined The Daring Bakers. I'd been following this group for a while now, admiring the monthly challenges. Last month, with the advent of their new website and the approaching end of my graduate seminars, I finally decided to join them, to improve my baking skills. I sometimes need a little incentive to go the extra mile, and joining The Daring Bakers has turned out to be just the thing.
I was thrilled to discover my first challenge: cheesecake! The recipe, which can be found at The Daring Kitchen, or on Jenny's blog, was very simple and basic, and allowed for infinite variations. The main order was: "Be creative!" I want to thank the hostess for such a stimulating (and delicious) challenge!
Cheesecake has always been one of my favourite desserts. It isn't very common in Belgium (which has more than enough decadent desserts to offer as it is), but I grew up partly in New York City, where I discovered classic, no-frills cheesecake and fell in love with its creamy texture and tangy sweetness. After I came to Montreal, I was exposed to all kinds of variations and flavour combinations.
Before this challenge, I had only baked a cheesecake once in my life - an orange-chocolate swirl. I had shared it with my in-laws, despite knowing that they had a pronounced dislike of cheesecake. As it turned out, however, it was ricotta cheesecake they had tried and disliked; they had never tasted the cream cheese version. When they did, they asked me for more.
In light of this, I was sure they would not object if I brought a "creative" cheesecake over for Easter lunch.
I settled rather early on the flavour combination I wanted: chocolate and raspberry, one of my favourites. Some day, I would make a plain cheesecake like the ones I loved as a child, but this wasn't the time for that. This was the time to go all out.
After debating whether I should make a raspberry batter and chocolate ganache, or a chocolate batter and raspberry glaze, I decided on the latter. For the crust, I used crushed speculoos. Speculoos are Belgian cookies, with a distinctive clove taste. I knew for a fact they would go well with the raspberries, because I used to dunk them in raspberry yogourt, growing up. As for chocolate, well, what kind of cookie doesn't go well with chocolate?
I made a few mistakes along the way, but the result was very good. I made a special effort with the presentation, which is normally my weak point. Initially, I had planned a whole, extravagant design, but ended up making something much more simple. Still, it's prettier than most cakes I've made in my life!
And the in-laws? Not only did they love it, but Laurent's father's head is now swimming with ideas on how to adapt and improve the concept of the cheesecake. I may have created a monster...
Adapted Challenge Recipe:
For the crust:
180g (6 oz) speculoos
180g (6 oz) speculoos
30g (1 oz) unsalted butter
For the batter:
680g (24 oz) cream cheese, room temperature
680g (24 oz) cream cheese, room temperature
210g (1 cup) sugar
3 large eggs
240ml (1 cup) heavy cream
150g (5 oz) dark chocolate
1 tbsp vanilla extract
2 tbsp Chambord (raspberry liquor)
For the topping:
2 cups raspberries (fresh, or frozen and thawed)
50g (1/4 cup) sugar
1 tsp cornstarch
Whole raspberries, slivered almonds, and fresh mint leaves, for decorating
Preheat oven to 180ºC (350ºF). Start boiling a large pot of water.
To prepare the pan: Cheesecakes are said to be best baked in a waterbath, i.e. with the baking pan partially immersed in water. This apparently gives the cake a creamier texture, and helps prevent cracks. This is problematic when using a springform pan, as water will often seep in, even when you wrap your pan in foil. There have been many alternatives and tips from the other Daring Bakers, but I really wanted to use my 9-inch springform pan. So I wrapped it in four layers of heavy duty, extra-length foil, which is more resistant than regular foil, and large enough so that each layer completely covers the pan, save for the very top. The water never had time to reach the pan.
To make the crust: Run the speculoos through a food processor until they are reduced to crumbs; transfer to a bowl. Melt the butter in a small ramekin using your preferred method, pour it over the cookie crumbs and mix until combined. Press the mixture into the bottom of your prepared pan.
(Note: the original recipe called for four times the amount of butter that I indicated in this recipe. I followed it, but forgot to take into account the fact that speculoos already contain a good amount of butter. And it seemed like a lot of butter, regardless. I made the mistake of not following my instincts, and ended up with a mixture that was much too liquid. At the end of the baking process, a lot of butter leaked out, too, and the crust was not as crispy as I would have liked. So I think an ounce of butter should be enough in this case.)
To make the batter: Melt the chocolate in a double boiler, and let cool. Combine cream cheese and sugar in a large bowl and cream together until smooth (I mixed it by hand, but should have used an electric hand mixer in retrospect, to obtain a smoother texture). Add the eggs, one at a time, fully incorporating each before adding the next. Mix in the cream, melted chocolate, and liquor.
(Note: Some of the other Daring Bakers have mentioned that their batter was on the thin side. I actually had the opposite problem: it seemed too thick. But I think that was because I miscalculated the amount of cream cheese necessary (damn those conversion tables!), and put in 750g, rather than 680g. After all, it's a pretty big difference. As a result, my cheesecake came out a little heavier.)
Pour the batter into the prepared pan, over the crust. Gently tap the pan on the counter to eliminate any air bubbles. Place the pan into a larger pan, and pour boiling water into the latter, until the water reaches halfway up the sides of your cheesecake pan.
Place in the oven and bake 45-55 minutes, until the edges of the cheesecake are set, but the center is still very jiggly (the cheesecake must not be quite done at this point). Turn off the oven, take the cheesecake out and run a knife around the edge of the cake, to separate it from the mold (to prevent cracking). Put the cheesecake back in the turned off oven and let it cool in there for another hour (still to prevent cracking). Remove from the waterbath, unwrap and let finish cooling on the counter, before placing the cake in the fridge for a few hours, until completely chilled. Unmold carefully.
To make the topping: Combine raspberries, sugar, and cornstarch in a small saucepan, and cook over medium heat until the fruit has dissolved into a smooth mixture, about 10 minutes. Purée with a hand blender if necessary. Let cool completely and chill in the fridge.
(Note: I think I will add some gelatin to the mixture next time, as my topping was still liquid enough to slide off the cheesecake if tilted for too long!)
When ready, spread the raspberry mixture evenly over the cheesecake, making sure not to spill over (like I did). Line the edges with whole raspberries and have fun making patterns with the almonds and mint!