So it would seem that April is cheesecake month for the Daring Bakers. =) Last year, we had fun making cheesecake pops. This year we have a different cheesecake to play around with. The April 2009 challenge is hosted by Jenny from Jenny Bakes. She has chosen Abbey's Infamous Cheesecake as the challenge. We had to use the basic cheesecake recipe provided, including a crust, but were free to play around with flavorings of both the filling and the crust, as well as toppings. In fact, we were encouraged to be quite creative. =)
I've made cheesecake quite a few times, so I wasn't too concerned about the process. The cheesecake recipe provided was fairly straightforward, though a bit different than the one I usually make. My favorite one is from Rose Levy Beranbaum. It uses sour cream, while the one for the challenge uses heavy cream. And I usually use just egg yolks, rather than whole eggs. I always use a water bath, so I was comfortable with that as well.
The big question was how to play around with the recipe. I knew that I'd be making the cheesecake near the end of the month. As I've mentioned before, I tend to be the maker of birthday cakes wherever I work. One of my employees has a birthday on the 28th, and cheesecake is his favorite. But when I asked him what kind he likes, he said plain! Or maybe I should say, classic. =) With strawberry sauce. So I kept things simple. The big challenge for me was actually making different sizes of cheesecakes at the same time. I wanted to make a 7-inch cake to take into work, and planned to make several 4-ounce ramekins with the remainder of the batter.
One thing I knew I wanted to do was to use a pastry crust, rather than crumbs. I never seem to have good luck with crumb crusts. The butter leaks out of the bottom of the springform pan, and it seems like half the crust always stays in the pan when I try to remove slices. So I turned to my trusted source, Dorie Greenspan's Baking From My Home to Yours, and made the Sweet Tart Dough for the crust. I used it to line the springform pan and four 4-ounce ramekins. I wanted to make sure that the crusts wouldn't get soggy, so I baked them pretty well, until they were getting brown around the edges. While I let the baked crusts cool, I worked on the filling.
I like the bit of tang that sour cream usually gives my cheesecake. Since I wasn't using it for this one, I increased the citrus a bit. I used the juice of one lemon and one lime in the filling, about 3 tablespoons total. I reduced the vanilla to one teaspoon, and added about a tablespoon of rum as well. Other than that, I stuck to the basic filling recipe. Oh, and did I mention that I had the great luck to find Philadelphia cream cheese on sale for $0.99 a package?! The filling was enough for the pans I'd prepped with a little left over, so I filled two little 3-ounce ramekins as well (no crust). One of the difficulties with using a springform pan in a water bath is the chance that water will leak into the pan and make the bottom of the cheesecake soggy. Part of my plan to prevent that was using the pastry crust. Some people have mentioned wrapping the pan with plastic wrap and then heavy duty foil (the water bath keeps the plastic from getting too hot). Instead of that, I put my springform pan inside one of the disposable liners I use for my slow cooker (I trimmed it down a bit), and then wrapped it in heavy duty foil to hold it in place. The ramekins, of course, didn't need anything like that.
I knew that my larger cheesecake would take the longest to bake, so I gave it a head start. I put it in the water bath in my roasting pan and put it in the oven. After it had been in for 20 minutes, I added the ramekins to the pan and set the timer for another 20 minutes. At that point, none of the cheesecakes looked done, so I gave them another 10 minutes. The ramekins all seemed pretty done then, so I took them out of the pan. The 7-inch pan seemed to take forever. I gave it another 15 minutes. It was still jiggly in the middle, but that was expected. I turned off the oven and left it in for 45 minutes. The ramekins were pretty firm after cooking on the counter for a bit, so I just moved them to the fridge. I let the larger pan cool to room temperature and then refrigerated it as well.
The verdict on the big cheesecake will have to wait. But we did sample one of the little ones. I briefly considered trying to take the cheesecake out of the ramekin, but quickly decided that wasn't going to work. So we just attacked it with a couple of spoons. For the topping, I diced some strawberries and sprinkled them with sugar. I added a splash of rum and a bit of lime zest to echo the flavors that I added to the cheesecake. The verdict? This is a really good cheesecake recipe. The texture is firmer than the one I usually make--not a bad thing, just a bit different. That's probably due to the whole eggs instead of just yolks. I'm glad I went with a simple approach--it really let the flavor of the cheesecake come through, which paired nicely with the strawberries. Guess there's a reason why that's a classic combination, huh? =) Jamie and I really enjoyed it. The buttery crust was good as well, though a bit hard to get out of the ramekin. It should be easier to deal with on the larger cheesecake. All in all, definitely a recipe that I'd like to make again. (Oh, and I lied--we ate two. We had one of the extra 3-ounce ones to see how the cheesecake tasted on its own. Really good.)
The recipe for the tart dough can be found in this article. For the cheesecake recipe, head over to Jenny's blog. And be sure to check out the blogroll over at The Daring Kitchen to see what everyone else came up with this month!