Thursday, November 4, 2010

Triple-Threat Cheesecake

I could also call this the Battle of the Birthday Cakes or Why I Should Always Let My Children do My Food Photography. For the latter, you'll see for yourself. If it's fuzzy and out of focus, I probably did it. If it looks beautiful, chances are it's Julia. See?

But on to the battle. It's Halloween, and we're helping host a Sunday lunch at Sami's parents' house: one of Sami's school friends, his brother, his son, and his 88-year-old pistol of a mom. The mom could be a blog entry unto herself. She takes lengthy hikes through the forest and yet remembers living through the Normandy invasion like it was yesterday. Wow. So far, so good.
So after lunch, we're cleaning up the kitchen, and Sami's mother asks me, "So, what do you have planned for Sami's birthday?"
"Well, I was going to make a cake..."
"Well, I was going to make the cake I always made him for his birthday."
"Ah. What time should we come over?"
How are you going to argue? Number one: it's his mom--the one who caused the birthday to take place. Number two: it's a good cake. My mother-in-law can make it in her sleep, and we always eat it up. It's light and fluffy and definitely not Triple-Threat Cheesecake. Number three: Even if I were to "win", I would still lose. In-laws would push said cheesecake around on their plates, mutter something about "so rich" or "so sweet" and then ask whether I didn't like MIL's cake better.
So what did I do when we got back home? I baked cheesecake. We ate it at lunchtime, before we went over for birthday cake. Who says you can't have one cake and then eat two?

OK, on to the cheesecake. From this dimly lit, poorly focused picture, you see that the usual suspects are at work--cream cheese, eggs, sugar, butter, chocolate. Who could ask for anything more?

Part one: crust. They don't sell graham crackers or even digestive biscuits at my grocery store, so I used some butter cookies. One kind doesn't like to be crumbled. Oh well.

Next comes the cream cheese filling, which I blended in the food processor instead of the mixer so that I'd have fewer dishes to wash.

And now comes the triple-threat part: this chocolate sauce stuff, which involves unsweetened chocolate, semisweet chocolate, and cocoa, along with butter, cream, and coffee. I bet it would be heaven on vanilla ice cream. Maida says that whatever I did, I shouldn't let the sauce fall in globs. Oops.

Finished product. Can you tell who photographed this? Look how cute it is--I halved the recipe and baked it in a 6-inch springform because 1) I don't have an 8-inch springform but I do have this one; 2) we were going to go have more cake later. How much cake can a person handle?

Oh, yeah--that is a birthday cheesecake. I'm sure if I had done better at drizzling the sauce, the chocolate would have been more evenly distributed. No problem--it was still delicious. Pictured above is what was left about 20 minutes after I put the cake on the table. Then Julia had friends over. Then Claire got up early and beat Sami to "his" breakfast piece.
Definitely this was a success overall. Maybe my in-laws lost out by not getting to try this. I just know we gained (tight jeans, I'm looking at you) by having this to ourselves.

Here's the recipe. Cut it in half if you're feeling restrained; do the whole thing if you want more than one piece.

Triple-Threat Cheesecake

1 c. (5 oz.) graham cracker crumbs
1 T. sugar
1 T. cocoa
1 t. cinnamon
1/2 t. instant espresso
2 oz. (4 T.) melted butter

[Before you start anything, get your cream cheese out to come to room temperature.]
If your crumbs are not already crumbly, get out your food processor--you can wipe it out and use it for the cheesecake as well. Also get out an 8-inch springform and butter just the sides. Wrap the bottom in aluminum foil, and find a large roasting pan or casserole dish you can fit the springform in with room for a water bath.
If you're doing the food processor thing, pulse together the graham crackers, sugar, cocoa, cinnamon, and espresso until the graham crackers are finely ground. Then pour in the butter and pulse until that holds together. Turn the mixture into the pan and carefully press into the bottom and as far up the sides as you can go--I couldn't go very far. Let that sit while you make the other stuff.

2 lbs. cream cheese (I've always used a mixture of regular and low-fat)
Pinch of salt
1 t. vanilla
1-3/4 c. (12 oz.) sugar
4 large eggs

Heat the oven to 350. In the bowl of a mixer or food processor, mix the cream cheese until it's perfectly smooth. Add the salt, vanilla, and sugar and mix until that's smooth as well. Then add the eggs one at a time, beating just until incorporated. Set that aside and make some chocolate sauce.

1/2 c. cream
2 oz. (4 T.) butter
2 oz. unsweetened chocolate
3 oz. semisweet chocolate
1/3 c. (2.3 oz.) sugar
1/3 c. (2.3 oz.) brown sugar
2 t. instant coffee/espresso
Pinch salt
1/2 c. (1.5 oz.) cocoa

In a medium heavy saucepan over medium heat, heat the cream, butter, and chocolates; whisk until the chocolate is melted. Then add the sugars and coffee and whisk until they are all dissolved. Take the pan off the heat and mix in the salt and cocoa; whisk until smooth.
Now work faster than I did to make sure the sauce doesn't get thick right away.

Pour half of the reserved cheese mixture into the reserved crust. Now drizzle half the chocolate sauce over that. Pour half of the remaining cheese mixture over the chocolate and drizzle the rest of the chocolate over that. Finally, pour the remaining cheese mixture over all that. If it's not already there, put the springform pan in the larger pan and put that in the oven. Very carefully, pour enough hot water into the larger pan that it's about an inch or so up the side of the springform. Bake for 1-1/2 hours--mine was done after less than an hour, but it was smaller. If you have an instant-read thermometer, you want the temperature to be over 150 but under 160, according to what I've read. Mine was about 156 and perfect. Take the springform out of the water (Careful! Don't get your potholders wet!!) and let the cheesecake cool to room temperature. Then chill 5-6 hours overnight and enjoy the victory.

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