This New Year's Eve was a series of changed plans. At first, we had invited friends to come over for dinner and to watch fireworks from our balcony. Then the plan was for us to have dinner at their place and then come over to ours for dessert, Champagne, and fireworks. But finally we had the whole party at their house, since they had invited more people than could fit into our small apartment. No matter--especially since the Eiffel Tower fireworks had been cancelled due to austerity or security or both.
It was quite the lively international gathering--at least six nationalities and four languages going on simultaneously. We shared stories and ate delicious food and drank delicious wine. The kids and many of the adults set off illegal fireworks at midnight, and the rest of us watched the countdown on TV--in France, instead of the ball dropping at Times Square, you get half-dressed showgirls. To each his own.
And there was this cheesecake. In my usual disorganized rush, I had brought the cheesecake still in the pan, still somewhat warm, and put it out on our friends' balcony to chill. Much later in the evening, someone came in from the balcony--where she had probably been smoking--with the cake. "Are we going to eat this?"
Um, yes. The cake was nicely chilled by that time and was unmolded to oohs and ahhs. "What kind of cheesecake is that? Is it American or German?"
"Chocolate Brownie Cheesecake," I replied. Stunned silence, followed by a rush to get a piece.
My friend Gabrielle, who was at the party, calls the Maida recipes "Disney desserts". She has the feeling that birds twitter around the kitchen while I randomly throw ingredients around to create a miraculous dessert. And certainly some of the desserts have elements that can seem random and unexpected to the French palate. But let me just say that a brownie cheesecake brings together the best of American desserts in the best of ways, and this was a great dessert to end 2010 with.
Here's the recipe. Make it when you have a lot of people to impress.
1/2 c. (4 oz.) butter
3 T. (0.6 oz.) cocoa powder
2 oz. unsweetened chocolate
1 t. instant coffee or espresso
1/2 t. vanilla
1/4 t. almond extract
1 scant cup (6.5 oz.) sugar
2 large eggs
1 c. (4 oz.) sifted flour
1 c. (3.5 oz.) walnuts, in large pieces
Heat the oven to 350. Line an 8-inch square pan with foil or parchment and butter the foil. In a saucepan or the microwave, melt the butter with the cocoa and chocolate. Stir in the coffee, vanilla, almond, and salt. Add the sugar and then the eggs one at a time, mixing well after each addition. Stir in the flour and then the walnuts. Pour into the prepared pan and bake for 20-25 minutes or until a toothpick comes out just barely dry. Cool and then freeze or chill--you could and probably should make these the day before you make the cheesecake. When you are ready to make the cheesecake, cut the brownies into 1/2 inch dice. You will only need 3/4 of the brownies for the cheesecake, which gives you a nice "cook's bonus". Put the diced brownies back in the fridge or freezer until you are ready to mix them into the cheesecake.
2 lbs. cream cheese, room temperature
1 t. vanilla
1-1/2 scant cups (9.5 oz.) sugar
4 large eggs
1/3 c. (1.3 oz.) graham cracker crumbs, optional
Heat the oven to 350. Get out a deep round cake pan--a 9-inch springform wrapped in aluminum would probably work--and butter it well. Also get out a baking dish large enough to hold your cake pan--probably a jelly roll pan will work here.
Beat the cream cheese with an electric mixer until nice and smooth; scrape the bowl often to be sure you don't have any lumps. Add the vanilla and sugar and beat some more. Then add the eggs one at a time and beat just until mixed. Pour enough of the mixture into the prepared pan that you have about a 1/2-inch layer. Now carefully mix the brownies into the rest of the cheesecake batter and pour that in the pan. Put the cheesecake pan into the larger baking dish and put all that in the oven. Pour enough hot water into the baking dish that it goes up 1-1/2 inches (I just poured in as much as I could--my baking dish wasn't that deep) and then let the cheesecake bake for 1 hour 30 minutes. The cake will be a lovely shade of brown (see first picture) and if you want to be picky, its temperature should be 170-175. Let cool a few hours.
If you are organized and love crust, unmold the cake upside down, sprinkle the bottom with the graham cracker crumbs, and then turn it right-side-up for a fabulous presentation. If you just want to dig in, unmold, chill, and slice at will.
Maida says this serves 10; the 16 of us were all completely satisfied.