Even though it is one of my favorite things to make, it is on rare occasion that I unleash the cheesecake. Maybe it's the amount of time spent meticulously pressing the crust against the sides of the springform pan. Maybe it's the attention dedicated to getting the flavor just right. It could be the eternity spent with the hand mixer stuck in the bowl. Or,
maybe it's because each cheesecake takes 2 1/2 pounds of cream cheese. Yeah, that might be it.
This is what 6 pounds of cream cheese looks like, in case you were wondering.
Needless to say, I save the cheesecake recipe for special occasions. Last week, we had such a special occasion that it required not one, but two huge, rich, creamy and delicious cheesecakes. That occasion was my father's 60th birthday party, attended by some 2 dozen of his closest friends and family. While others would be supplying snacks and finger foods, it was my responsibility to create enough decadent dessert for all to enjoy. And that meant 2 whole cheesecakes.
I chose to stay safe for the first cheesecake. I kept the filling basic, and covered it with a homemade pomegranate jelly and strawberry slices. Can't go wrong with plain cheesecake and fruit topping. I got a little more adventurous with the second go around, and pulled together a chocolate espresso cheesecake that had people smacking their lips and licking their forks. Here's what we did to throw both of these desserts together:
Basic Cheesecake Recipe:
2 1/2 cups graham cracker crumbs
1/2 cup melted butter
1/2 cup sugar
5 8oz packages (2.5lbs) of cream cheese, softened
1 3/4 cups sugar
3 tablespoons flour
1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract
5 large eggs
2 egg yolks
1/4 cup heavy cream
Crust: Preheat oven to 375 deg. In a bowl, use a fork to mix the graham cracker crumbs with the sugar and melted butter until moist. Pour mixture into a 9 inch springform pan. Using a fork and your fingers, press the crust up against the sides, corners and over the bottom, making sure it is packed firm. The crust should reach the top of the pan, but it is up to you if you want it to. Bake the crust for 5 minutes or until golden. Remove and let cool.
Filling: Increase oven to 450 deg. In a large bowl with an electric mixer, begin to combine the sugar, flour, vanilla and cream cheese. Combine eggs and egg yolks one or two at a time. Beat in cream.
So this is the basic cheesecake recipe to work from. You can really go anywhere from here. For the two I made for the party, here is what you will need to do:
Plain Cheesecake With Fruit Topping:
Add the zest of 1 lemon, and the juice of 1/2 lemon into the filling mixture. Combine until mixture is smooth, and as lump free as possible. Using a rubber spatula, finish mixing the filling, and pour carefully to the top of your prepared springform pan. Bake at 450 degrees for 10 minutes, then reduce temperature to 250. Bake for one hour, until set but not firm. A toothpick inserted into the center should come out caky, not wet. Remove from the oven and let stand for about 1 hour before placing in refrigerator. Chill overnight.
An hour or so before serving, spread a thin layer of pomegranate jelly (or whatever sounds good to you) over the top of the cheesecake, and ring the edge with strawberry slices.
Chocolate Espresso Cheesecake:
Melt 1/2 of a 4oz Ghiradelli 100% cacao baking bar with 1/2 a stick of butter. Mix in 1 cup of sugar, and slowly stir in 1/2 cup of milk or cream. Whisk until chocolate is smooth. If it appears grainy or lumpy, add milk a little at a time until it is smooth. To the basic mixture, add 3 Tablespoons of instant espresso powder. Add more if you need, to taste. Slowly pour in the chocolate mixture, a little at a time, running the hand mixer on low as you pour it in. Taste your filling, and add more chocolate as necessary. Mix with hand mixer on high until most of the lumps are gone, and finish mixing with a spatula. Follow baking instructions from above.
An hour or so before serving, using a fine grater or microplane, grate a chuck of the baking chocolate, dusting the top of the cheesecake with chocolate powder. Then, using a sharp vegetable peeler, peel backwards against the edge of the piece of chocolate making little delicate curls. Use a spoon to shake the curls over the top.
The best part about the cheesecake is its adaptability. From that one basic recipe, branch off and try whatever flavor sounds good. go crazy. Just make sure you use high quality ingredients, and taste the filling often as you build flavors. And remember, there is such a thing as too much chocolate.
Everyone had a great time at the party, by the way. The cheesecakes were a hit, and I'm pretty sure I heard a chorus of "oohs" and "mmms" and "aaahs" from the gathered guests. It was great getting to see my dad enjoying the company of friends and family, all brought in to town to celebrate his day. It was a good day.