Tag Archives: cheesecake

Seriously, Cheesecake Factory People–Seriously? Are You Trying to Kill Us?! Or Homemade-by-the-Light-of-the-Moon Nutella Cheesecake

30 Apr

Nutella cheesecake

Hello, dense, creamy Nutella cheesecake. I garnished him with lightly sweetened sour cream, a swoosh of Nutella, a dusting of cocoa powder, and some chopped up mixed nut brittle. That dark part at the tip is part of a Nutella swirl.

Friends, I have recently discovered BJ’s.  No, not that kind of BJ.  Get your mind out of the gutter, people.  For those of you who don’t know, BJ’s is one of those buy-in-bulk membership warehouses like Costco and Sam’s Club.  There is one close to our house, and we went and checked it out, trying to decide if the savings would cover the cost of the membership.  The answer is Yes.  We’ll make that back in a month or two in coffee savings alone.

So, we went ahead and Joined Up, and so far we’ve been pleased.  So far.

We have two groups of guests staying at our house this weekend.  The Beloved’s oldest friend (meaning they’ve been friends the longest, not that the friend is 114) and his wife (who is also not 114) are joining us tonight as a stopover between Florida and Maryland.  Then tomorrow, Jane and Howard, my esteemed parents, will be coming and spending Saturday night with us.  We feel like innkeepers.  This weekend, anyway.

For tonight, we’re having Vegetabletarian Fare, because Betty happens to be a Vegetabletarian.  Her favorite dessert in the universe is cheesecake.  That alone makes her Okey Dokey in my book.  Add to that that she is an amazing gardener and landscaper person and has a cool Israeli accent, and you have one keen wife-of-Beloved’s-oldest-friend.  I figured that I would Avail Myself of BJ’s vast selection of goodies and purchase cheesecake from them.  I know what you’re going to say–I should have just gone ahead and made one from scratch, but with all the Inn keeping and cleaning and writing and What Not, I figured that a sampler pack o’ cheesecake made by The Cheesecake Factory people would certainly suffice.

But first, I looked at the ingredient list.  It was made up of about 15 lines of small ingredient-list-sized print which were all about 5 or 6″ long.  It was probably 9 squared inches of ingredients.  That’s a lot, considering that there are really only five or six ingredients in a Normal Cheesecake.  Even allowing for “raspberry puree” in the raspberry cheesecake and other add-ins, the ingredients should have taken up no more than 2 square inches.  So, I squinted and read them More Closely.  And guess what?  Right there on the side of the package was listed High Fructose Corn Syrup.  Dun dun duuuuuuunnn.

Really?! I was Annoyed, to say the least.  I mean, you’re called The Cheesecake Factory.  That’s your whole blooming raison d’être right there.  And what do you do?  You take something Good and Pure and Decadent, and you cheapen it, literally, in so many ways.  For shame, Cheesecake Factory people.  For shame.  You don’t even get to be called The Cheesecake Factory anymore.  From now on, I shall refer to you (if I do refer to you) as The Stupid Stupid Factory.  So there.

Anyway, I of course needed a Plan B.  Plan B could’ve been to just serve cheese and crackers and call it a day, but it was for Betty, and I did not want to disappoint.  So, with an I Know What I’m Gonna Be Doing Tonight sigh, I purchased Ye Olde Sixe Packe of cream cheese and some eggs.  I was just planning on making a plain cheesecake when I passed the Nutella.  The large jars of Nutella.  And they spoke to me.  They said, “We know you’d rather watch Bones tonight, but we’re here for you.  Use us in your cheesecake as consolation that you have to make one at all.  Mix us into the batter.  Swirl us in.  Top it with us.  We are here to make your cheesecake making better.  And less Onerous.”  Not that I generally mind making cheesecake, mind you.  It’s just that I didn’t really want to on top of Everything Else.  So, I allowed myself to be swayed by the Siren Song of the Nutella and reached out as if in a dream, choosing the jar that I perceived to be Most Eager to be Helpful.  And I took him home.

Now, I’ve never made Nutella cheesecake before.  This did not make me nervous, however.  I went forth into The Hinternet and discovered a Plethora of references to Said Dessert as well as recipes for making one.  But most of them called for one or one and a half pounds of cream cheese.  And only a couple of eggs.  And I didn’t want no Stinkin’ Short Cheesecake.  I wanted a tall and proud cheesecake.  So, I just modified the recipe right there on the cream cheese box.  The one that starts with FIVE blocks, or Two and One Half Pounds of cream cheese.

I know that I should have been well behaved and used my scale and taken notes and measured and stuff, but I had a sort of Devil-May-Care attitude about the whole process–I mean, I decided that if I couldn’t watch Bones that I was not going to measure (self-defeating, much?!), so I kind of free-formed it.  After all, cheesecake is a custard, so making sure I had enough eggs to make it set up was the primary concern.  As long as my thickening power was there, I could afford to play a bit.  And with four eggs, I figured that I was safe.  So, here’s what I did:

No-Bones Nutella Cheesecake
For the Crust

  • about 20 of your favorite crispy/crunchy cookie, or whatever you have at home.  I had TJ’s cinnamon grahams.  Not the best choice, perhaps, but it was what I had.
  • melted butter
  • pinch of salt

If I were more dedicated, I would’ve used chocolate wafer cookies and ground hazelnuts.  But I’m not, so I didn’t.

For the Filling

  • 5 8oz packages of cream cheese, or 2 1/2 pounds, softened
  • 4 whole large eggs
  • about 1/2-1 teaspoon salt
  • about 1/2 cup of sour cream
  • roughly 3/4 cup of sugar–to taste, mainly
  • one large jar Nutella (I think it’s 26 ounces), divided
  • one teaspoon vanilla
  • about 3 tablespoons AP flour

To Make the Crust
You can whir up the cookies in a food processor, but I didn’t want to do a ton of dishes, so I put them in a heavy-duty freezer bag and rolled/bashed them with a rolling pin until they turned into fine crumbs. So do what you want.

Melt some butter–I think I used about 2-21/2 ounces.

Toss a pinch of salt into the bag with the crumbs.  Shake the bag.  Close it first, for what should be obvious reasons.  Then, pour in the butter and smoosh everything around until the crumbs are all buttery.  If you need a little more butter, go ahead and add some.

You can add a little sugar if you want, but just know that adding extra sugar to a cookie crust can result in Iron Crust That You Can’t Cut Through.  Because it caramelizes and turns all hard.  And then you break your fork.  Or your teeth.

Press the crumbs in an even layer over the bottom and a bit up the sides of a 9″ or 10″ spring form pan.

Bake it for about ten minutes at 350F.

Take out the crust and turn the oven down.  The lower, the better–but lower takes longer.  I turned mine down to 285F, but I would’ve gone to 250F if it wasn’t already dark outside.

To Make the Cheesecake Filling
Make Absolutely Sure that your cream cheese is very, very soft.  Don’t use the tub kind, though.  Let it sit out for a good hour before you bake.  Then, throw all the cream cheese in your mixer and mix on Low Speed for as long as it takes to get the cheese Completely Smooth.  You will need to scrape the sides of the bowl frequently, and you will become impatient.  Have a drink, and Simmer Down, because you can’t rush this part.  If you don’t get All the lumps out at this point, you never will.  Then you will have little white specks in your cheesecake.

In the spirit of Truth and Transparency, I must tell you that this last piece of advice falls into the category of Do As I Say, Not As I Do.  I usually do follow this advice, but it was late, and I was feeling rushy.  So, I do have a few wee specks of cream cheese in my cheesecake.  I can live with that.  This time.

Once your cream cheese is Lump Free, add the sugar, vanilla and salt.  Continue to mix on low speed.  You will be Tempted to turn up the mixer, but you’ll just be whipping air into your batter.  Then it will rise up in the oven and Crack.  Don’t let that happen to you.

Add the eggs, one at a time, until they’re all incorporated.  Add-mix-scrape-mix-add-mix-scrape-mix, etc.

At this point, taste the batter.  It should be a little less sweet than you want it to be, because the Nutella will further sweeten it.  Then, mix in half(ish) the jar of Nutella, also on low speed.  Add-mix-scrape-mix.  The Nutella flavor will be fairly mild, but it will be a lovely light chocolate color–kind of like hot cocoa from-a-box.

Taste for salt and sweetness, and add a bit more of each if it needs it.  Add-scrape-mix-scrape.

Pour half the batter into the prepared pan.  Put a couple of blobs of Nutella on top.  Add the rest of the batter, and blob on a bit more Nutella.  Then, take a knife and cut down through the batter to swirl the Nutella in.

Bake at whatever low temperature you’ve set your oven to for as long as it takes for the whole top to be set, the sides to be firm and the center to still wiggle.  It took me about 1:45 at 285F to get there.

When the cheesecake is done, turn off the oven and open the door a little.  Let the cake hang out in there for another hour.  Take the cake out and plop on the last of the Nutella.  Let it sit there for a minute or two until it gets all melty, and then spread it out with an offset spatula.  You can make it smooth or make it swirly-swirly.  I opted for swirls.

Let the cake sit out until you absolutely have to go to bed it reaches room temperature.  Refrigerate overnight, or at least eight hours to make sure it’s nice and firm.

Cut with a hot knife, and wipe the blade clean between cuts.

Or you could just start in the center with a big old spoon and eat it standing in the light of the refrigerator at 4am.

Either way, this is really, really good.  Creamy, dense, smooth, just-sweet-enough, full of Nutella-y flavor-y goodness.  I tasted it for you, so I know.

Oh, and I only missed five minutes of Bones.  The trade off was cream cheese bits in the cheese cake.  Fair trade.

And Since We’ve Been Talking About Custards….

23 Apr
Hello, gorgeous.

Hello, gorgeous. Enjoy your Special Day.

…today is National Cherry Cheesecake Day.  I don’t know who comes up with these holidays, but I am All for it.  But, wait a minute, Jen.  You said custards; I heard you.  What does cherry cheesecake have to do with custards?

Friends, cherry cheesecake is a custard.  Not the cherry part.  The cheesecake part.  A custard is thickened by the Power of Eggs.  And there are eggs in cheesecake.  And dairy.  Yup, custards hide in all sorts of places.  Scrambled eggs is just another term for “very curdled custard.”  And then, there’s quiche and fritattas and baked macaroni and cheese and pumpkin pie.  Custards are sneaky and must be Ferreted Out.

Anyway, back to our cheesecake.  As far as I’m concerned, there are three categories of cheesecake, two of which are custards:  baked-with-starch, baked-no-starch, and no-bake.  The no-bake kind is the odd man out here, since it doesn’t contain eggs.  For a nice and light no-bake cheesecake, go check out Drew‘s site.

That leaves us with the starch versus no-starch custard versions of cheesecake.  The starch is generally there to bind up some of the water and help keep things from curdling.  Starch is why you can boil a pudding mixture but not an ice cream base.  Anyway, cheesecakes that contain starch tend to be a bit heavier than the no-starch varieties.  The no-starch kind are smooth like flan, whereas the starch kind can sometimes sidle up to crumbly.  When you fork through a cheesecake, if your fork passes through leaving a smooth “cut” behind, the cake probably was made without starch.  If the “cut” is kind of shaggy looking, the cheesecake probably has starch in it.  Some people have Strong Ideas about which kind is better.  I don’t think of one as Better than the other; I just see them as Different from each other.  I like them both.

Starch-thickened cheesecakes often are baked in a crust in a moderate oven–maybe around 325-350F.  The crust acts as a bit of an insulator for the custard, serving as a kind of Cookie Bath as opposed to a water bath.

New York Style Cheesecake
32 ounces (4 – 8 ounces packages) cream cheese, room temperature
1 cup (200 grams) granulated white sugar
heavy pinch of salt
3 tablespoons (35 grams) all purpose flour
5 large eggs, room temperature
1/3 cup (80 ml) heavy whipping cream
1 tablespoon lemon zest
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

Topping (Optional for some.  Necessary for me)
1 cup (240 ml) sour cream
pinch of salt
2 tablespoons (30 grams) granulated white sugar
1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

First, you need your cookie bath, so make a graham cracker crust and smash it in the bottom and up the sides of a greased 9″ springform pan.

Now, the whole deal with the dreaded Cracking of the Cheesecake can be avoided by not whipping any air into the cheese cake mixture.  After all, a Cheesy Mixture with a lot of air whipped into it is called a soufflé for a reason.  It Rises Up and then settles and Cracks most unattractively.  So, the cardinal rule of cheesecake making is Mix on Low.  If you’re in a hurry, make something else.  A hurried day is not Cheesecake Day.

Make sure your cream cheese is at room temperature.  It should be Dead Soft.  On low speed, mix it all by itself until it is completely smooth.  Then, add the sugar, flour and the salt and keep mixing on low until the sugar is mostly dissolved and the mixture isn’t grainy.  Only then can you consider Adding Eggs.  If you don’t get every little lump out of your cheese Right Now before the eggs come into the picture, you will never get them out.  I swear, it’s like trying to fish a wee piece of eggshell out of a cracked egg.  Those little lumps become slippery when the mixture is thinned out a bit.  You’ll sit there and actually See the beater hit a lump, and you’ll think, “Yay–that’s gotten it!”  But that little lump will surface unscathed.  And you might curse.  Not to belabor a point, of course, but make sure your mixture is Completely Smooth.  And do it on Low Speed.  Right then; moving on.

Add the eggs, one at a time–gee, this sounds Suspiciously like The Creaming Method.  So far, except for the ingredients, it’s exactly like it.  The only difference right now is that you’re doing everything on low speed.  This is the Slo-Mo Creaming Method.  Anyway, scrape the bowl Often and only add the next egg when his friend that has gone before him is completely mixed in.

Mix in the cream, zest and vanilla until smooth.  You can also substitute some sour cream or crème fraîche for some of the cream, depending on how Tangy you want your cake to be.  Really, it’s okay.  Now, taste it and make sure you have enough salt.  This is a pretty neutral cake, so play up the flavor by making sure you’ve added enough salt.  Not a tablespoon or anything, but just make sure there’s Enough in it.

Pour/scrape the batter into the pan and smooth the top.  If this completely fills your pan, and it probably will, don’t worry.  If you have done everything on low speed, it shouldn’t rise at all.  Or maybe just the wee-est bit.

Put the pan in the center of a 375F oven for fifteen minutes.  Then, turn down the heat to 300F and bake until the center is just a little jiggly like Jell-o, maybe another hour or so.  It might take longer, so Keep an Eye on it.  If you bake until it’s completely set, it’ll be over-baked by the time the carryover cooking has Had Its Way with it.

Take your lovely cheesecake out of the oven and mix up your topping.  Spread this on top of the still warm cake and put him back in the oven for 15 minutes.  Now, take him back out of the oven (yes, there is a lot of In and Out with this guy), run a thin knife around the inside of the pan and then let him cool at room temperature.  Then, cover him with plastic wrap and refrigerate him overnight.

Goat Cheese Cheesecake (no starch)
Since this guy doesn’t contain any starch, he’s baked in a water bath at 275F.  If you have the time, you could even put the heat lower.  The more slowly you bake a no-starch cheesecake, the smoother and creamier he will be.

15 oz. goat cheese
10 oz. cream cheese
1 cup sugar
salt, to taste
1 cup crème fraîche
1/2 cup heavy cream
2 eggs
2 yolks
2 TBSP lemon juice
1 TBSP lemon zest

Put this guy together just like you did the New York Cheesecake.  If you’re not a fan of goat cheese, use all cream cheese.  If you don’t have crème fraîche, use sour cream.  Or use all heavy cream.

This guy doesn’t need a crust. Wrap your springform pan with two layers of foil,  put a piece of parchment in the bottom and pour in your filling.  Put the pan in a larger pan and add hot water until it comes halfway up the side of your cake.  Bake him at 275F until just set–this will take awhile.  Start with about an hour and then check on him until he is still just a bit woogle-y in the center.  Remove from the oven and from the water bath.  Run a knife around the outside of the pan and let him cool at room temperature.  Then, refrigerate overnight.

Oh, yeah.  It’s Cherry Cheesecake Day.  Sorry.

Cherry Topping
4 oz. Port
20 oz. sweet cherries, pitted (duh), fresh or frozen is fine
1/2 cup sugar
pinch of salt
lemon juice (to balance sweetness)
equal parts cornstarch and water
splash o’ vanilla

Combine the Port, cherries, sugar and salt in a sauce pan.  Bring to a boil and boil for about five minutes, until the mixture is syrupy.

Add lemon juice, a little at a time, until you’re happy with the balance–maybe 1-2 TBSP altogether.

Mix cornstarch and water together and stir about 1 TBSP into the cherries.  Boil for a few seconds or so until thickened and clear.  If you want it thicker, add a bit more.  It will thicken upon cooling, so don’t get carried away.  When you’re happy with the Thickness, taste it to make sure the raw starch flavor has cooked out.  Remove from heat and stir in a bit of vanilla.  Cool and then refrigerate.

Don’t think of that topping as a recipe.  Look at it like this:

Ingredient List
liquid
fruit
salt
sweetener
acid
thickener

Procedure
Boil liquid, fruit, sugar and salt.  Balance with acid.  Thicken.  Cool.  Eat.

Feel free to add some spices or some citrus zest.  Go play.

And that’s pretty much it.  Remember, if your cheesecake contains starch, it can take a higher temperature, but make a crust for him, just for insurance.  If the ingredient list does not contain starch, your cheesecake will be more delicate.  Bake him in a water bath at a lower temperature.  Enjoy National Cheesecake Day.  I’m celebrating by doing more packing.  Imagine that.

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